What’s your #1 resolution for the new year? Mine is to be bored more often.
It recently dawned on me that I live my life in a state of perpetual distraction. If I’m not actively engaged with something, I listen to podcasts or audiobooks on my headphones or scroll on my phone in search of something interesting and engaging.
So it made me think, what do we miss when we fill our lives with distractions too often?
The downside of the distraction state
Podcasts, audiobooks, and articles can generally be considered “mental health food.” That’s how I’ve always justified immediately picking up my phone and being “plugged in” whenever I do the dishes, walk the dog, or wait for my daughter to finish dance class.
The downside is that distraction like this has two costs.
The first is the energy cost. The energy cost is the steady mental drain that comes from processing information; even information we are excited about. Our brain only has so much processing power in a day. We should be at least a little mindful about how we spend it.
The second cost is the opportunity cost. This is the cost of not doing things because we are too distracted to recognize the opportunity.
Waking up to my distraction state
Late last year, I got tapped for jury duty. First thing in the morning, the bailiff took all of our phones away and didn’t give them back until we went home at the end of the day. I found myself, along with a dozen other jurors, sitting around a table day-after-day with nothing to do. Unable to grab my phone to read an online newspaper, I was bored. The situation pushed me to fill my time by getting to know the people I was with.
I talked to the other jurors about the case, of course, and I also talked to them during the breaks. We talked about the case, and during breaks, we shared stories about our hobbies and families. Picture a strange version of that 80s movie The Breakfast Club. We all came from very different places, but we found that we had a lot in common and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.
I couldn’t help but reflect on how that discovery happens rarely in our modern, plugged-in world. And my resolution to unplug and be more bored more often was born.
Unplugging to engage more in the moment
Since taking up this resolution, instead of listening to, reading or watching media, the most wonderful things have happened. Instead of checking my email, I’ve found myself laughing with my technicians. Rather than tuning into another podcast or watching Netflix, I spend time talking with my wife and playing board games with my kids. And I am getting mental rest breaks during quiet walks with my dog… at least until the neighbors see me without my headphones and come out to say hello.
The point here is not that I am now distracting myself in different ways than before (because I totally recognize this. I hate being bored). The point is that by skipping the easiest, flashiest, most common solutions to boredom, I’m falling back to more rich, restful, and fulfilling ways of occupying my free time.
If you’re missing a resolution for 2023, maybe it’s not too late. Maybe you can be bored more often. Maybe if you’re bored and I’m bored, we’ll bump into each other and actually talk about it. Wouldn’t that be lovely?