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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Is it OK to be bored? 3 ways to enjoy it for recovering overachievers

What do you do when you get bored? This question often comes up in a client’s coaching journey. It’s sometimes because they start to slow down the pace of life and prioritise what’s truly important, cutting out noise, distractions, dead end projects and energy drains.

While a part of you enjoys the spaciousness and relaxation, another part of you gets anxious about what it means and whether you’re giving up on life.

As one of my coaches says: focusing on just one thing is the hardest challenge. I would add that, as a recovering overachiever, having nothing to focus on is harder.

As a recovering overachiever, I know the discomfort “boredom” can bring up.

And as Olympic athlete-turned-business woman Goldie Sayers reminded us on last week’s webinar, identifying and going for your next challenge is the raison d'être of the high achiever.

But what happens if you’re in between challenges and you’re not sure what your next challenge is? Or if the challenge is so big that you can only see the next step while the rest of the path remains uncertain? What happens if your reference points for success are changing and you’re afraid of the consequences?

I remember this feeling about eight years ago when I started to wake up to a new idea of success. Almost overnight, the “hunger” for achievement seemed to evaporate. My boss at the time was an internationally recognised figure who’d achieved enormously and he noticed it, too.

Unfortunately, there was no turning back. The “hunger” was gone.

Yet, despite this loss of hunger, what ensued was one of the most externally successful and internally enriching periods of my career.

Here are 3 insights I learned about boredom:

[Read on or watch the video]

1) Embrace it!

What you resist persists.

The best way to prolong boredom is to fight it. After all boredom is a negative perception of the state of low stimulation or activity. Let go of trying to find something to do, when your mind and body would benefit from the time off. Face what you perceive as boredom and see if it has a message for you.

2) Have a deliberate sensory experience.

“The day will come when a freshly observed carrot will start a revolution.”- Cézanne

About 80% of your sensory input is visual and 30% of your cortex is devoted to vision (8% to touch and 3% to hearing). So why not switch things up a little and give your neglected sensory processes a massage?

If you’re bored, pay closer attention to what’s going on in the moment using your five senses: 1) to your natural environment the sounds, the smells, the surface you’re in contact with, etc. or; 2) within your own body. For the latter, rub your hands vigorously for a few seconds and notice the rush of blood and stimulation of nerve endings. It will bring you back to the present moment, instantly. Notice how the sensation moves. Notice it in other parts of your body.

3) Notice what comes out of boredom.

As you tune in to the present moment through your senses and relax into it, you should start to feel more ease. Notice what happens after. If you let go enough, you’ll naturally and spontaneously know what to do (or not to do) next. And NO, you won’t become a slob just because you embrace a little boredom and slow down. On the contrary, embracing boredom is the fastest route to your next great idea.

But why don’t we like boredom?

As a recovering overachiever I know how hard it can be to sit with boredom.

Two big reasons at least, exist for resistance to inactivity which is perceived as “boredom”:

- The culture doesn’t accept inactivity (and pushes for constant productivity), especially if it’s built on ruthless competition.

- You inner-critic doesn’t accept inactivity. One study from the University of California reported that people would rather be electrocuted than sit alone with their own thoughts…Well, if you live with a raging inner-critic, that’s understandable.

Of course, meditation was suggested as a remedy. But you can use any number of ways to help you embrace boredom and hear its message so you can rest, learn and move onto the next big idea.

In the end, boredom is not the enemy. The inner-critic and the culture that created it are.

So as you finish reading, take an extra moment to breathe and enjoy where you are. Your next big challenge is just around the corner.

Have ever reached a big idea or breakthrough after a period of boredom? Share it in the comments.


Other insights this week: Brief thoughts from speaking at the Meaningful Human Leadership conference, on slowing down conversations (read here).


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Dr Amina Aitsi-Selmi works with high achievers to create success beyond the walls of conventional, old style careers, leadership and work culture. Book an exploratory conversation:

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