When we’re bored, it’s natural to think excitement and novelty will cure us, which they can, but only for a while.
A vacation, a new toy — these offer diversion and excitement in the short term. Things that are new, vivid and even explosive have a way of grabbing our attention. Fireworks, for example, are interesting.
Once or twice a year, we might spend an hour or two watching in wonder as fireworks light up the night sky.
But, imagine two straight days of fireworks. You’d pass out from boredom.
A spectacle can capture our attention, but meaning is required to sustain said attention. If we forget this, we are liable to hop from spectacle to spectacle, entertainment to entertainment, diversion to diversion.
People who lament, “I’m bored,” are usually complaining about an absence of diversion — a lack of spectacle.
But often, I think, they’re lamenting a lack of meaning. Without meaning, everything becomes spectacle, and spectacles can be exhausting. So, in the long run, the only cure for boredom is meaning.
We all know what it’s like to do work that doesn’t engage us. In this scenario, everything — the thought that you need to wash the dishes, a movement in the corner of your eye — becomes a distraction. Because of this, distracted people try to eliminate distractions.
They create processes, rules or tricks to help them do their work. This is helpful, sometimes, but most of the time, the drive to kill distractions can be a huge distraction itself.
There will always be distractions in life. Even the sound of silence can unnerve us.
Focus comes not from working without distractions, but with a devotion so intense that distractions fall from our awareness.
When we see people whose talents lay fallow, whose energy is engaged in pursuits they see as trivial, or worse, in pursuits others see as destructive, the problem usually isn’t too many distractions, so much as too few devotions.
The best cure for boredom is devotion to work you find meaningful.
So, how do we find meaningful work? That’s a bit of a misleading question.
It’s very hard to “find” meaningful work because meaningful work is something we must create.
Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and author of "Man’s Search for Meaning," said we create meaning three ways: by the people we love, by the way we deal with unavoidable suffering and by the work we do.
Our most meaningful work may be the work we do at our jobs, but often, and for many people, the most meaningful work is not what we get paid to do.
My dad, for example, worked for the Department of Agriculture. I know he took pride in doing his work well. But, I also know my grandfather died when my dad was 6 years old.
Having grown up fatherless, my dad swore he’d be a father to his sons. He often left the house around 4:30 am so he could put in a day’s work and be home when we came home from school.
He coached our teams. In many ways, being a father was my dad’s vocation.
It’s a tough task to create meaningful work in our lives.
Giving a baby a bottle at 3 am isn’t often exciting, but being a parent is meaningful in a way that riding a hundred amusement park roller coasters can never be.
Being an entrepreneur or an artist means thousands of hours of work with no sure reward, but the satisfaction of creation is meaningful in a way that indulging a thousand cravings can never be.
Most of us can only create meaning when we are devoted to something larger than ourselves.
If you find yourself bored, don’t seek diversion, but devotion.
Do this and you’ll likely find you have untapped reserves of courage and energy; you’ll find yourself passionate about life in a way that you might not have been before, and that is very exciting.
Eric Greitens is a Navy SEAL, Rhodes Scholar, boxing champion and humanitarian leader.
Founder of The Mission Continues and the author of New York Times best-seller, "The Heart and the Fist," Eric was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people. His book, "Resilience," has just been published.