Boredom is a serious psychological and existential problem for many people and an especially serious problem for creatives in recovery. If you’re creative, you’re likely to find boredom unbearable. That dreadful feeling is a trigger for using drugs or alcohol or engaging in compulsive behaviors like gambling or promiscuous sexual activity. The answer to the challenge that boredom presents isn’t to manically fill your days in ways meant to hold the experience of boredom at bay or to give up on recovery and return to your drug use or to your compulsive behavior of choice. There are much better answers. Here are six tactics to try.
1. Fear boredom less. Boredom is less the end of the world and more a mere psychological state that, like any psychological state, is amenable to change. Often the fear of boredom is a greater problem than the actual boredom itself. As the mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell put it, “Boredom is a vital problem for the moralist since half the sins of mankind are caused by fear of it.” Don’t rush out and use because you fear that boredom is coming! Rather than fall out of recovery out of a fear of boredom, tell yourself that you know what to do if boredom attacks (using the tips below) and that experiencing a little boredom isn’t a tragedy.
2. Treat boredom as a transitory state and not as an indictment of life itself. Boredom is a psychological state and like any psychological state passes. Yes, for some people boredom is the main coloration of their life: but if you learn the art of meaning-making (see next) you will be much better equipped to move past boredom when it arrives. You may even begin to think of boredom as a precursor to creative activity. As the artist Marianne Mathiasen put it, “I have noticed that after a day of boredom I get more creative, so perhaps our brain needs a rest from time to time.”
3. Learn how to make meaning. By announcing to yourself that you fully embrace the paradigm shift from seeking meaning to making meaning and that you are willing to identify, articulate and live your life purposes no matter how much meaninglessness you experience, you can put boredom in its place as a hiccup interrupting your meaning-making activities. You can even make mindfully avoiding or effectively dealing with boredom one of your life purposes. As the cartoonist and illustrator Saul Steinberg put it, “The life of the creative man is lead, directed and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes.”
4. Treat boredom as a motivator to get right back to your creative work. If you know that working regularly and productively keeps boredom at bay, work regularly and productively! As the sculptor Anish Kapoor put it, “It’s precisely in those moments when I don’t know what to do, boredom drives one to try a host of possibilities to either get somewhere or not get anywhere.” The artist Gustav Klimt expressed it this way: “Today I want to start working again in earnest – I’m looking forward to it because doing nothing does become rather boring after a while.”
5. Do a little investigating. Is it really boredom or is the boredom masking some other feeling like anger, resentment, or rage? Often boredom is the “safe” feeling we tolerate so as not to have to deal with the darker, more difficult feeling underneath the boredom. That feeling “underneath” the boredom may be the feeling that more threatens your recovery, so identifying it and ventilating it may prove really useful. As the theologian Paul Tillich put it, “Boredom is rage spread thin.” The novelist G. K. Chesterton expressed the same idea in the following beautiful aphorism: “A yawn is a silent shout.”
6. Upgrade your personality. You may not yet be the person you need to be in order to meet your recovery needs and handle psychological states like boredom effectively. Maybe your formed personality even creates boredom, in which case you will want to use your available personality to change yourself in the direction of an improved you that is more like the person you would like to be. Become that better you! As the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard put it, “Boredom is the root of all evil – the despairing refusal to be oneself.” When you become your best self, boredom may vanish as an issue.
If you’re working your recovery program and you know for a fact that boredom is a trigger for you and that it threatens your recovery, then it is your job to discern what will help prevent the experience of boredom from arising. If you can’t manage to keep it from arising, which is indeed a tall order, then you need to know what you intend to do when it does arise: what will extinguish it or at least reduce it to a manageable level.
Who isn’t tempted to use alcohol or drugs or engage in some compulsive, soothing behavior in the face of boredom? Face that reality squarely and create a plan for yourself using the above tips so that you know what to do when boredom appears. A little boredom may prove an innocent matter and hardly a problem at all. But chronic boredom is a serious issue that requires your full attention. Your recovery may rise or fall on the extent to which you can effectively release boredom’s grip on your mind.