I write every Monday night, every Wednesday morning, and every Sunday afternoon. The schedule usually goes something like this:
Monday night- I don’t know what the hell to write about. I find an entry point. And then I proceed to write a thousand words.
Wednesday morning- I’m fired up about the topic and write another thousand words.
Sunday afternoon- I tinker with sentences and play with paragraphs until everything is just right, queue it up for publication and call it a day.
Tonight, Monday night, I’m sleepy. I’m antsy. And I’m faced yet again with the question, “What on earth do I want to say?”
Because I am disciplined, I sat down to write tonight, even though I sOoOoo do not feel like it.
But because I value honesty, I will level with you- I don’t want to write about minimalism. I don’t want to share something of value, and I don’t want to post it on LinkedIn. I don’t want to gloss over this feeling with a sheen of something new to say. I just want this feeling to exist, on paper, in words.
That feeling, is boredom.
It’s Wednesday now.
Because I committed to publishing a brand new blog every Monday for my 12 Week Year, I did write for a full hour on Monday, but it was the most painful hour of writing of my life. I had a long day, my motivation was gone, I was dehydrated and would have rather been sleeping. I was bored. Squirrely. Couldn’t find a topic and struggled every second until the 60 minutes was up.
The words I wrote were mostly just a processing of my sadness about the state of the world, and the principle of tact requires that I not share any of that with you until it’s truly processed. When I couldn’t find something to write about, I’d look at the clock and write out the time.
“I have 25 minutes left. I want to focus up, write something interesting, but I don’t have it in me tonight. I can’t.”
“I have 22 minutes left. I read this post from the beginning and made a few edits. I liked that butterfly thing.”
“I have 15 minutes left.
I have 13 minutes left.
If I stare into space does that count as writing time?”
This inability to write freely disheartened me to my core. I’m a writer, dammit, and an anxious introvert on top of that. I thought it funny that I couldn’t pluck one single thought from the river that is always running in my mind, and sculpt it into something worthwhile.
When I had 12 minutes left and had to actively resist the urge to spin around in my chair, just for funsies, I asked myself again, “What on earth do I want to say?” And what was really on my heart let itself be known to me.
I read recently that the difference between Olympic athletes and regular athletes is a boredom threshold.
I learned this from James Clear’s (outstanding) book, Atomic Habits. He writes in the book that by happenstance met with an Olympic trainer and asked him what the difference was between the best athletes in the world and everyone else.
The trainer responded with the usual factors of athletic success, like, genetics, luck, and talent, but then said something Clear found interesting: “At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over and over.”
How about that? I’m a writer not because I have endless reserves of words and wisdom, but because I write when that reserve is bone dry. You’re an athlete not because you have boundless vitality, but because you click into the cycling bike when that vitality is nowhere to be found.
Not only is perseverance in hard times critical, but perseverance in monotonous times is critical as well.
Those who are successful in their chosen habits have made a commitment, in sickness and in health, in boredom and in boundless energy, to show up every time no matter what.
Here’s how they do it:
Dig into your why
After I clicked off my computer on Monday night, moaning “I’m screwwwwed oh my goddddd,” I shuffled through my 12 Week Year papers to grab my life vision journal entry. This life vision is supposed to be aspirational and encapsulate all of your life goals- those in the near future, and those in the far future.
I looked to this vision to reconnect with my reasons for writing. Why do I put myself through this anyway? Does anyone read these? Am I helping anyone? Am I making a fool of myself by posting about it online? In these moments of doubt, it’s critical to remember why you got so fired up about this habit in the first place, and why you have the power within you to continue.
The aspirational vision is the one that extends far past this singular blog post into the fabric of who I aspire to be. My “why” for writing, I realized, is to service my aspirational goal of inspiring others to live a Beautiful Life by their own standards, free from societal norms.
That’s the gig.
When I reconnected to this “why,” suddenly the “melodramatic teenage B.S.” I wrote in my blog post Monday night, the “processing,” didn’t seem so bad. I knew that some diamonds in the rough could be woven into a new blog about what I was really feeling- un-inspiration. Boredom. And THAT could inspire others to live their own Beautiful Lives.
I like using athletes as an example because they do the thing that a lot of times we would really rather not do- move, in a society that is so motivated to sit. Just like I couldn’t bear the thought of pushing my mind to the limit for 60 minutes, athletes pushing their bodies to the limit every morning in perpetuity need a darn good reason to do so. I bet my pinky finger that the likes of Michael Phelps or Lindsay Vaughn wake up some mornings and want to roll right back over at the thought of going into the gym, again, to push their bodies to the breaking point. It gets boring. It has to. No one has endless reserves of passion, motivation, or bliss. But they get up, put their headphones in, and bench that 150 pounds, even if The Sound of Silence is their song of choice that morning.
Why do they do it? Because they have a vision. They have a “why.” No one else is going to hand them the ability to be the best athlete in the world, so they need to wake up, today, and demand of themselves greatness. Even when lifting weights and running a few miles is the last thing they want to do.
A lot of our goals and habits are not as extreme as an Olympian’s, but having a “why” is pretty much a guaranteed show-stopper for the entertaining and tempting act that the self-sabotaging part of your brain is performing in order to kibosh your new habits. Your subconscious mind is all, Glitter! High kicks! If you go big you’ll be visible and therefore susceptible to pain! When you’re not motivated to write or don’t feel like leaving the warm comfort of your snuggly bed to run, your subconscious can tempt you with these shimmering thoughts of quitting in order to “keep you safe” in your comfort zone. But reflecting on your “why,” on the reasons that “going big,” however you define that for yourself, is more pleasurable than throwing in the towel, clears out the dancers and leaves just you on the stage of your mind with a smile and a dream.
You need a “why” that’s greater than your BS, greater than your boredom, that you can anchor into. Motivation and willpower are limited at best, nowhere to be found at worst. Establish a why, remind yourself of it constantly, and I believe you are truly unstoppable in the face of whatever goal you have.
Face your feelings
I don’t know the difference between feelings and emotions and frankly don’t care. I just know that I have a lot of them, all the time, about everything.
I learned through therapy and self-helpery how to address and “be with” these emotions in a way that works for me, whether through journaling or meditation or just a lot of crying. But I’ve noticed that there’s a difference between feelings that signal some sort of underlying issue that needs addressing, i.e. I keep remembering this sad thing from my past and really need to cry it out, and feelings that our subconscious mind throws our way to sabotage our progress.
One feeling that I am very susceptible to is boredom. When things get a little too cozy, monotonous or routine, I’m apt to cause a mess just to shake things up and prevent the feeling of being “settled.” (If you settle down and get married you’ll be a pawn of the patriarchy! A’five, six, seven eight!)
When I feel bored, of course, my immediate temptation is to give into that boredom and distract myself from the task at hand. Instead of sitting for a full hour to write this blog, with just one little click I could log onto YouTube and catch up on my favorite SNL skits, or check my email, again, for the fortieth time that day. Maybe your feelings are less monotonous in nature. Maybe you’re dealing with a huge project at work and feel “too stressed out” to complete your meditation practice. Or maybe you’re suffering the loss of a loved one or grieving a major life change, and that dry January challenge is looking less and less appealing as the night goes on.
Our immediate temptations, however, are just that- immediate. Through the very act of acting on our commitments, we can start to choose sustainable action over fleeting emotion and not let boredom, fear, or general malaise get in our way.
I’m not saying don’t feel your feelings, I’m saying take a deep breath and (bravely!) consider if this feeling is genuine and needs tending to, or if it’s a shallowly-disguised trickster on your road to real change. If you tune in and realize that your feelings are indicating something’s wrong, unrelated to your success, by all means address them in a healthful way and take a pause on your habit-building. But it would behoove us to remember that feelings are fleeting, and that we rarely regret pushing forward towards our goals in the same way we regret giving into trickster-y feelings later on.
Ask for what you need
This may sound corny, and that’s okay, but you know deep down that it’s true. You have a little voice within you that gives you amazing life advice, and I’ve found that pretty much 10/10 times that I ask it a question it gives me a spot-on answer.
A lot of times we struggle in the day-to-day throes of our lives when there’s a perfectly excellent life coach, available to us at all times, just waiting to bestow upon us the wisdom that will get us through. When I get quiet and ask that little voice within what I need, the answer is clear as a bell and cuts through all the 80-mph other thoughts/worries/quirks that are running through my monkey brain. When I don’t do this, I run around in further circles and dig ruts in my carpet from maddened pacing.
Einstein said something about insanity being the doing of the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I’ve found that when I’ve gone over something a thousand times in my head trying to think my way through it, it’s much more helpful to tune into something that knows way more than I do to find a solution (or at least find a little bit of comfort that I’m on the right path).
The getting still and quiet part is what’s really important here. Some people call this meditation, others call it praying. Whatever it is, it’s great, because it takes us out of the Isness of our problems and into the Isness of what simply is. Just last night, when I asked for what I needed, the voice just said, “Amanda, go to sleep,” and that solved just about all of my problems. But sometimes it responds with “bravery” or “patience” or guides me to pick up an old book I haven’t read in a while and flip to a random page. These responses are like bread crumbs, my daily reprieve from Thinking that keeps me on the right track to fulfilling my goals and staying the course of this long, winding thing we call life.
If you’re struggling with boredom in your current habit, or really don’t know why you’re still pursuing it, have you tried asking yourself/your Self for what you need to get through it? The answer may have never occurred to you otherwise. Even if it’s something as infuriatingly simple as “Just keep going,” roll with it. That’s life advice from Life itself.
If you’re not 100% on the whole “something else is out there and it’s a part of me, too” train yet, that’s okay. Maybe you ask for what you need from a friend or trusted mentor and seek their advice. But do know that all the answers that you’re looking for already exist inside of you. If your sounding board gives great advice, they’re probably just mirroring what you knew inside all along.
Let it go
If all else fails and your eyes are rolling so far back in your head from boredom, you ultimately need to make a decision that no “3 tips” blog like this can help you with. Is this a habit you should want, or a habit you truly want? It takes courage and openness to ask these kinds of questions and be honest with yourself, but a lack of honesty in any relationship will cause strain and stress, including the one you have with yourself.
If you’ve connected to your vision, faced your feelings, and gotten quiet and asked for advice, and you still feel like you’d rather dip a toe in lava than drink one more kale smoothie, it’s possible you’re pursuing a habit based on shoulds rather than what you truly desire. If I feel like I should make 50 sales calls a week in order to advance in my company, but deep down I want to take over my aunt’s fishery in Idaho, of course picking up that phone is going to feel like torture. It’s in direct opposition to what you truly want. Maybe you shift your focus from building a habit of advancing in your company to another habit that can support the future you truly dream of.
I can’t tell you when it’s time to let go, or push forward. Words on a screen can only do so much. That’s the beauty of being human- that little voice, it knows it all. And it can guide you towards what truly works for you.
I’ve decided to include what I wrote about on Monday night (when I didn’t know what to write about) in service of my overarching “why”- to empower people to live a Beautiful Life without letting societal norms get in the way.
I have 13 minutes left.
If I stare into space does that count as writing time?
I have nothing left to say, I have so much left to say…
What on earth do I want to say?
I want to say that I think a lot of us, especially the ladies, believe that there is some Perfect Person out there that we should be comparing ourselves to. (Dangling proposition, I know.) She is very fit and her hair is very shiny and she balances it all with a smile on her face.
I wonder if this image has always been around, or only the rise of mass advertising- think the 1950’s housewife- forced women to be perfect? Is it because we’ve always been taught our brains were smaller? Because we’ve always been ridiculed and wolf whistled at and not taken seriously? Or is it because our fangs gleamed so sharp against the white of the snow that they muzzled us and fed us to the winter wind… replacing us with a Pomeranian that does. not. shut. up?
I compare myself to this Perfect Person all the time. She is thriving and glowing and smiling, always smiling. I step into her Barbie Dreamhouse whenever I feel in pain, whenever I feel bored, whenever I’m on my period and feel the weight of the world pull my shoulders to my ears. How is she smiling at a time like this? I ask myself. Seeing bared teeth but no smile in the mirror, I wonder what’s wrong with me.
There is not some Perfect Person out there. A Swiffer commercial or Instagram post may have you think this, but it’s just not true. If she existed she would be, honestly, the most boring, saltine-cracker-ass stale person on the planet and utterly infuriating. It’s tempting and self-flagellating, which we for some reason love (learned behavior?), to compare ourselves to this Perfect Person. My Perfect Person owns a business and gives her friends and family all the love and attention they deserves and never, ever, never not once lets her period affect her positive demeanor. Your Perfect Person could have her doctorate and give her partner amazing back rubs and never, ever, never not once put a stitch of makeup on her face in defiance of “patriarchal bullshit.”
I think our Perfect Person can sometimes illuminate what we want. Jealousy can be a very strong motivator. I know I want kids and a business and to be fit and healthy for the rest of my life, just like my Perfect Person. But this version of ourselves can also push us into deeper self-dissatisfaction. My hair will never be glossy or shiny (it’s curly and awesome). My chin hair will remarkably spring back, and with a vengeance thank you very much, every time I wax it off. Dairy will never not give me a pimple, and my period will never not make me want to throw my phone into the ocean and escape to Mars. These “flaws” are just realities that reflect the richness and complexity of life, something the Perfect Person will never experience. This is likely because the Perfect Person is an airbrushed quasi-model in an advertisement for perfume or cigarettes. She’s not real. She’s not strong enough to be.
Even if you never put on a stitch of makeup in defiance of patriarchal bullshit, you’d still be comparing yourself to the Perfect Person. Don’t wear makeup if you don’t want to wear makeup. Wear makeup if you want to wear makeup. Do whatever you want with the time that you have. Just don’t do it in spite of or in service of the Perfect Person.
The churning rapids of the river, shit-brown and dark with pain, can sometimes sour the sweet, still waters of the ocean floor. That floor is who you are. Sit your ass in the quiet sand, take a deep breath, and figure out what you want. Not Swiffer, not Instagram. Not me, not Hermione. You.
Through boredom and change, through war and peace, there will only ever be you and your experience. The Perfect Person is a construct of society, and irrelevant to those of us who know who we are. You… You are a construct of chaos and sunsets and every day of your life, your pain, your boredom, and your happiness combined. You are reality made real. This makes you more perfect than Perfect could dream to be.
I say we wish the Perfect Person well and leave them to their Swiffering. They were only ever meant to sell an idea anyway… and I think we have what we need.