Raising Richmond: Intentional boredom

Letting yourself just be bored is a luxury we should—and often do not—take advantage of. Once we tune into our boredom, says Sam Davies, we start to appreciate smaller, more important things.

Photo by: Pattys-photos

Ever since the Flying Squirrels season ended last fall, my oldest daughter has been repeatedly asking to go to a “fireworks game.” Having spent almost all of her eight years a resident of Northside Richmond, she has experienced the sounds of a fireworks display at the Diamond whether she wanted to or not. And a few weeks ago, we went to a Thursday night game with the promise of fireworks.

And it rained. Not enough to cancel the game outright, but enough to make it unclear if we should wait out the rain delay, or just head home and try another night. I let my daughter make the call, after telling her that there was a good chance we’d wait around with little to do and still not see the game. She chose to wait.

— ∮∮∮ —

I’ve been trying to be intentionally bored more often. Not the “there’s nothing I want to do!” whiny-type of boredom, but the “I’ve decided to be in this situation where there’s nothing to do” boredom. I used to not be able to see the difference. The former is a paralysis of indecision, of not knowing what should be done, so nothing is done. The latter is a choice, that comes from knowing what could or should be done so well that you deliberately make a choice to do nothing in that moment. The former was often a leading symptom of my anxiety and depression. The latter, a luxury available to me after being treated for those things.

I started being more mindful about boredom specifically, after listening to a podcast called Cortex, starring Myke Hurley and CGP Grey. In the third episode, Grey mentions that he doesn’t have Twitter on his phone because he wants those five minutes here, and five minutes here to not have stimuli, that being bored regularly is actually good for your brain.

Ten minutes here, five minutes there, nothing huge, but I found even those small boredoms rejuvenating.

I took Twitter off my phone, put my phone away, and looked for situations to be bored in. If I didn’t feel like doing anything, I’d just go in the backyard and just sit. If the girls complained about being bored, I wouldn’t try and fix it, I’d just be bored with them.

Removing Twitter, in particular, was necessary to making this work for me. While doing the dishes, or waiting in line for something, I’d pull out Twitter, and release my idle thoughts into the electronic ether. Getting those 140 characters out into the world gave my brain just enough dopamine to keep it at a constant level of base activity. Now, those thoughts have to bounce around in my brain for longer. Most of them just dissipate into nothingness, but some become larger than 140 characters and turn into actual real-world ideas.

Ten minutes here, five minutes there, nothing huge, but I found even those small boredoms rejuvenating. Small, niggling tasks that survived OmniFocus Reviews for months, somehow started getting done. Giving myself permission to not do anything for five minutes, made it easier to do things later.

Sometime the whole family joins in. You know the cliche of lying in the grass, looking up at the clouds, and describing the shapes you see? My wife, my daughters, and I actually did that the other day. We saw dragons, and elephants, and ponies. We did nothing together and it was fantastic.

— ∮∮∮ —

So, sheltered from the elements under the Diamond’s concrete roof, my eight-year-old daughter and I stare out at the storm a few feet from us. We watch the storm roll over Northside. We watch dark clouds hover over the city south of us. We listen to the rain fall and the occasional voice on the PA giving us an update. We don’t really talk, we don’t really do anything but watch the rain and wait. And I couldn’t be more content.

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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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