Illustration by Catherine E. White. “Dreary, Flat, and Draining.” This small painting forms three distinct landscapes depicting diﬀerent aspects of a rather boring day that gradually became more interesting when I decided to take the time to explore and understand what was happening visually.
There you are, stuck in the middle of a day that is not going all that well. Important meetings were postponed, it’s raining, and friends are all out of town. Nothing exciting to do. The paperwork is mocking you, and none of the email is cheerful. You feel like you are plodding through the day and before your know it, you are BORED, Bored, bored! You are saying to yourself, “somebody do something quick before I stick this pencil in my eye!”
Before you click on the next cat video, consider the causes of how you got into this funk and weigh your options carefully for how to get out of it. Your long term goals may depend on how you respond. The cat video may cheer you up, but it will not really kick your to do list back in motion. And a string of six or seven consecutive cat videos is deﬁnitely not the answer.
There are three aspects to the day that have particular consequences that can begin a cycle of boredom that can easily derail what could otherwise be a major boost in your productivity.
Dreary - A dreary day aﬀects your mood. While a rainy day can be cozy, you are more likely to spend the day inside, under artiﬁcial lights. If ﬂorescent lights make you feel like you are turning blue, put on your best raincoat and go for a walk anyway. Take yourself beyond the arena of the boredom problem, on foot. A walk is good exercise and a healthy stress busting activity. In addition, simply being outside oﬀers a breath of fresh air. Where does some of the most creative artistic and scientiﬁc inspiration come from? Direct observation of Nature. So get out there, you may get soggy and chilled to the bone, but you won’t be bored.
Flat — If one moment is painfully dragging into the next, you are stuck in Flat. When water is ﬂat, typically there is very little wind. If your sailboat is trimmed incorrectly, it isn’t going anywhere. Time to stop what you are doing and regroup. You may need to abandon the plan, and make a new plan. (You can always come back to the current plan later, but right now, what you are doing isn’t working and you need to adjust.) Being in the Flat is sometimes a signal that you need to stop and really rest instead of trying to force yourself forward. However, more often than not, doing something to get moving is better than being stuck.
The opposite of Flat is Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, describes ﬂow as the pleasant state where time ﬂies by without you noticing because you are so engaged with what you are doing:
“It is what the sailor holding a tight course feels when the wind whips through her hair, when the boat lunges through the waves like a colt—sail, hull, wind and sea humming a harmony that vibrates in the sailor’s veins.”
To transition from Flat to Flow, you need to add a new texture to your situation. Reach for the next patch of wind rippling across the surface of the water. Rock the boat. Play.
Your goal for leaving behind the Flat is identifying and pursuing what ELSE you need to do to ﬁnd your way back to Flow.
Draining — Chances are your sour mood came to you as an oﬀshoot of someone else’s sour mood. Do not spread this to the next person. Do not amplify it in yourself by reviewing it repeatedly with heightened drama. Although it might ease your temporary state of boredom, imagining the slight more vividly only serves to etch a stronger memory and build resentments. Not helping! Breathe in the bright light, breathe out the dark smoke. Let it go.
Turn your attention away from the dismal scene. Do not follow the spiral down that drain.
Battle Boredom at its Source — We get bored when we feel like we’ve “been there and done that.” But, there is always more to learn about every subject. It is time to delve more deeply into the topic and discover some new angle or aspect to what you are doing. Let your senses, curiosity and creativity lead you away from boredom and into the delicate intricacies of life, where you will always ﬁnd a reason for fascination.
Remember also that you, are not …deﬁnitely not… boring. All the gazillions of atoms that give you substance came from the cauldrons of the interiors of burning stars.
Your own unique ﬁercely blazing spark will surely outshine the dreary!
You have permission to wrinkle the ﬂat into interesting shapes.
You have the power to become the cool spring of water that ﬁlls the well.