Monday, March 25, 2013

Allowing yourself to be bored is hard. Really hard.

I'm in the middle of reading "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff...And It's All Small Stuff." This is a book that, a few months ago, I would have dismissed as the flagship title in the fluffy/feel-good genre of popular literature. But I have to tell you, I can't recommend it enough.

Or at least, I can't recommend it enough if you're like me. You qualify for "like me" status if you're too self-critical, allow yourself to be bothered by ultimately unimportant things, and have a very hard time relaxing because you feel guilty that you're not "accomplishing" anything. If that sounds familiar, you'll find that "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" was written specifically for you.

I could write a series of blog posts on the insights I've gained from this book, which is really just a series of extremely short (1-2 pages) essays on various topics that relate to the overall theme. That theme, if I had to put it into words, would be becoming a more peaceful, caring and ultimately happy person.

Not that I'm not happy, mind you. I think I'm generally a pretty positive guy. But I do tend to be a little uptight and to worry about things that simply aren't worth worrying about.

By the way, at the same time I'm reading this book, I'm also making my way through "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." It's as if these two books were meant to be read together. That's how well they complement each other.

Anyway, the one chapter of "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" that has really resonated with me is section #18: "Allow Yourself to Be Bored." I am not good at doing this. At all. But the first sentence hits home:

"For many of us, our lives are so filled with stimuli, not to mention responsibilities, that it's almost impossible for us to sit still and do nothing, much less relax − even for a few minutes."

Yes, exactly. I'm always "doing." Very rarely am I just "being." And I think we were created with a need to just "be" for at least a little bit every day. The author of "Small Stuff," Richard Carlson, recounts a conversation he had with a therapist who suggested that if we allow ourselves to bored, even for an hour or less, the feelings of boredom "will be replaced with feelings of peace. And after a little practice, you'll learn to relax."

As Terry will attest, I don't relax. I don't even know how to relax. But this idea of learning how to do it and practicing "boredom" is one that has taken root in me. I'm not good at it yet, but I'm trying.

The first few times I just stood in front of a window looking into our backyard, I hated it. I thought, "This is weird. And pointless. I could be emptying the dishwasher, changing out the laundry, working on a freelance article, reading my Bible. Anything but...this."

But I've done it a few times now, and that therapist is right: Slowly but surely, I'm starting to enjoy it. I look out the window and stare at a squirrel, or a tree, or at nothing at all. I notice my thoughts a little more closely. I try and understand what "living in the moment" is really supposed to mean, and I feel this inner calm that seems to have been absent for years.

I have a long way to go, of course. I still get a little anxious about getting back to my to-do list, and I can't relax for any significant length of time just yet. But I'm getting better. And that right there is enough to keep me at it.

It took Mr. Carlson some time to get the hang of it, too. But he ends section #18 this way:

"Now, when either of my two children says to me, 'Daddy, I'm bored,' I respond by saying, 'Great, be bored for awhile. It's good for you.'"

And it turns out he's right. I had no idea.

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