In praise of boredom
Do you find yourself actively avoiding situations that leave you bored? Perhaps in a quiet moment you’ll idly play with your phone, go start doing little jobs that don’t really need doing, or find some other way of killing time. Perhaps stressing yourself out worrying, or planning something that doesn’t really need planning yet. There seems to be a security in just doing something.
We all get bored at times, but there’s less opportunity for this to happen with the technology we carry around with us. A mobile phone is an instant connection to the world carried around in your pocket. Having access to billions of pictures, stories, films and much more at the swipe of a finger is surely enough to keep anyone occupied. But perhaps there is something important about being bored?
Boredom often comes when you are left alone with yourself. In these moments of introspection, you may be confronted with the negative thoughts that have been lurking quietly in the background while things were busy. If you struggle with your self-esteem, you may search for things to do that will dilute or drown out these negative thoughts. Stopping and thinking about yourself and your life may mean you need to face the things that aren’t going well, the things deep down you know you aren’t happy with. Sometimes sitting and being with yourself and your true feelings can contradict the messages you may have picked up from society about what you ‘should’ be doing with your life. It can lead to an awareness of what you really want to be doing. However, change can be painful and a natural human aversion to loss means it may feel easier to keep going in the current direction, because nothing terrible has happened, instead of aiming for something riskier but more rewarding.
Keeping the negative voices at bay through doing and achieving things often means the opinion of others becomes very important, as their approval at the completion of something ‘good’ helps drown out the negative thoughts. However, there is a risk of focusing on what you do far more than what you are. This is why stopping and contemplating can be difficult, as it poses the question, “When I’m not doing all these things, who am I?”.
It can be difficult to accept, but those closest to you love and appreciate what you are, not what you do. When these non-judgemental, positive feelings towards you aren’t let in, doing things can be a refuge from self-criticism, a place where you can prove to the negative voices you’ve done something ‘useful’. But stopping and being with yourself, whether through mindfulness, meditation or counselling, can be a very powerful experience if you are self-critical, as you’re given the opportunity to be with yourself in a non-judgemental way for a short while. There can be a relief in leaving the negative voices behind and accepting who you are in that moment.
In counselling, you will not be forced to do anything you don't want to, or aren't comfortable with, and won’t be judged on what you have or haven’t done in therapy, or the rest of your life. You will be supported to explore and accept the you that’s there when all the activity stops.
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