Boredom VS Burn-Out
First, you join all the Facebook groups and absorb the crumbs of information being handed out by the experts. You’re a googling, blog-reading, YouTube watching sponge! Then, you buy all the books and actually read them! Next, you sign up for a class or attend a seminar (or seven). Finally, you find a mentor and listen intently as they give you all of their pearls of wisdom based on their years of experience.
Slowly, over time, you start to gain some confidence in this new hobby, job, project, etc. You are gaining skills or getting results. The workout plan is working and you are rocking that new body. You actually know the answers to some of the questions in that Facebook group now! Or, you feel confident in your capabilities in your new job.
As my GPS loves to report to me, “You have arrived.”
You are there - living the dream that you had only imagined a few weeks, months, or years ago.
Until one day, you realize that you are bored. It feels so mundane. So routine. So uninspiring.
Now, at this stage, you might be annoyed that ANOTHER person has asked the SAME question YET again in the Facebook group (Use the search bar, please!).
Or, you order that newly released book on your favorite topic and let it sit on your bookshelf for weeks without even reading the first page (I will get to it one day).
You skip a few meetings or workouts or events. You decide not to renew your membership or attend that seminar. It all feels - blah.
People like to label this as burn-out, or in the helping professions, compassion fatigue. Burnout occurs when you are working overtime for weeks on end on a required work project. This happens when the clients that you are working with have demanding and high needs. It happens when you feel a lack of agency, or control, over your environment. But, it can also happen when you charge full speed ahead at a passion project for a long period of time (and, gasp) have some success in doing it.
What I’m talking about isn’t exactly burn-out in the traditional sense.
I’m talking about the thing that happens when something that you could’ve have spent hours doing without even blinking or eating becomes so commonplace and routine that it now sparks no excitement.
And it is a real problem.
One, it makes time pass incredibly slow.
Two, it makes you prone to careless mistakes or injuries.
Three, it can lead to depression, apathy and hopelessness.
Four, it can be really hard to change.
Side note: boredom is not a bad thing. In fact, for both children and adults, periods of boredom are necessary for our brains. During periods of boredom, our bodies rest, recharge and replenish. We become more creative. We become more imaginative. We come up with new ideas or solutions. (AHA!)
But, being perpetually bored throughout your day/life is not the same as intentionally having periods of unplanned, unstructured, quiet time.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to combat boredom and get “unstuck”
MOVE 27 THINGS:This is a Fung Shui thing that I read on Pinterest. I am not a Fung Shui expert or even a practitioner, but in my boredom induced Pinterest scrolls, I came across a few blogs on this topic. And, here is the jist of it: change your environment. Literally, move things around. Move your furniture or clear out the clutter. This does not require you to go on a shopping spree -in fact, you usually end up getting RID of stuff. Just move things around. (I don’t actually count to 27, but once you start the process, you can tell when it is finished).
*Also, I have never seen a recommendation to do this on a frequent basis (like daily or weekly). It is often a catalyst for a change in perspective, but if done too often, it becomes unproductive and chaotic. And, also stick to only moving your own stuff.
FIND AN ALTERNATIVE HOBBY:Give yourself permission to take a break and do something else. When creative people are suffering a block in inspiration, they often take up a less familiar, but related hobby. Writers have often reported that when unable to write, they turn to painting or pottery. This keeps the creative juices flowing, but in a new and novel way.
If you usually see all child therapy clients, start seeing more adults during the week.If you are typically use weights in all of your workouts, sign up for a 5k run.
Tired of playing the guitar...try another instrument for a while.
*Note, this works well for hobbies, not as well for relationships. Unless previously part of your relationship agreement, this is not the time to try out a new partner.
SAY YES:Be on the look-out for new and novel opportunities and get in the habit of saying yes. If co-workers mention a new restaurant, go try it out. When you see an ad for a new book club or basketball team or paint night, show up. This is especially true if there are things that you think that you will not like. Sometimes, doing new things that you don’t like helps you find more of the things that you do like. Or at least find a new appreciation for them when you return. Either way, shake things up by saying yes where you might usually say no.
*Use common sense when applying this method. It is always best to say no to things that could get you arrested, barred from your professional organization, fired, or otherwise in big trouble. But do not let anxiety (I could die skydiving) from keeping you from saying yes when logic can prevail (statistically, skydiving is safer than driving).
LEVEL UP:If you are bored in your current position, it might be time to level up. You have literally outgrown your old dream and need to create a vision of your new dream. Using your new skills, it may be time to offer a workshop, a seminar, become a mentor, or write a book. You might volunteer to take a leadership position in your organization, a volunteer agency, etc.
There is an old saying from Tao Te Ching,
“When the student is ready, the teacher appears”
but I believe the converse is true as well:
“When the teacher is ready, the student appears”
You would be surprised how many people want to learn what YOU know. You don’t have to be the knower of ALL things to be able to help a complete novice. In fact, you are often the best person to help a true novice, because you remember what it was like to be in that position recently.
And there is nothing like preparing to teach someone else that helps to re-invigorate your interest in a topic. And create some of the nervous “what if this goes wrong?” energy to get you unstuck.
FOLLOW YOUR CURIOSITY:This is my favorite of all. There are times when you have lost your passion. Or times when you are not sure what your passion is at all. And during these times, Big Magic author, Elizabeth Gilbert says:
Instead of the anxiety about chasing a passion that you’re not even feeling, do something much simpler, just follow your curiosity.
She explains it so well in this video here.
There are times in your life when the goals are very clear (graduation, certificates, marriages, etc), but there are other times when they are incredibly fuzzy. During those periods of boredom and passion-less periods, just follow your curiosity.
See where it takes you.
*This method may inspire you to do things that others find out of character for you or that makes them ask a lot of “WHY?” questions. Like, when I took off earlier this year to attend a writing workshop with Elizabeth Gilbert herself (in Canada!).
There were a lot of WHY questions.
These questions have not always been easy for me to answer. The need to justify the decision with a good reason like “for work” has always been something that stopped me from doing things.
But, thanks to Liz Gilbert, I now have a perfectly simple, go-to response,
“I’m just following my curiosity.”
Try it. It’s perfectly liberating.
And, by the way, curious people are rarely bored.
Try one of all of these methods and let me know how you’ve succeeded at getting unstuck.