One of the most common questions I get asked is whether I am bored now that I am not working full-time. Dealing with boredom therefore is probably something that’s on people’s minds and worth discussing here. The healthcare professional can fall into the cycle of working to prevent boredom. The problem with that is that plugging in work to fill the boredom gap is often not much better than turning on our phones to swipe through content.
We do a lot of things because we don’t want to get bored, such as hopping on our cell phones, checking our email, reading an article, or flipping through a magazine.
Our modern society has trained us to constantly be productive and digest information. We are out of practice when it comes to sitting still with nothing to do and nothing to think or worry about.
Everyone gets bored. It’s as normal of a feeling as being hungry, in pain, lonely, sad, happy, hypomanic, inattentive, or worried. But these are almost always fleeting emotions.
It’s wonderful to have these feelings – without them life would be a little more bland. With these so-called negative feelings, we get to really enjoy the feeling of being involved, feeling cared for, and having fun.
The Working Healthcare Professional
Ever since college we have been on the go – testing, licensing, learning, CME’s, taxes, job changes, and more testing. Even after starting the practice of medicine there are always things to worry about and do. If it’s not any of the above then it’s dealing with a patient complaint, a board investigation, or a lawsuit.
Do this routine for a decade and going back to normal will feel strange. In fact, studies show that it takes only 6 weeks for us to develop new habits. Imagine then trying to have an empty morning or even worse, an empty week.
It’s okay to be bored because you just don’t know how to fill the unstructured time. It’s not that you can’t, it’s just not a habit that you have practiced for years.
The natural instinct is to replace boredom with working. Working makes us feel productive, distracted, and it’s a socially accepted excuse. The unfortunate side effect is becoming a workaholic.
Are you a workaholic? If you have to ask yourself that question then you are. Hi, I am Dr. Mo and I’m a workaholic and I’m trying to change that.
A good friend of mine is a very successful medical entrepreneur who has been on the go ever since she finished residency. She has multiple businesses and an incredibly busy working life.
Every Time she’s tried to cut back on work she’s had to spend most of her energy on preventing boredom. She will text me and tell me that something is wrong with her head because she doesn’t know what to do with her free time.
I remind her of that growing list of projects she shared with me a while back but there are conflicting emotions at play. Either she isn’t feeling like doing anything on that list at the time or there is the feeling of guilt because she isn’t working.
She admits that when she’s bored she starts having a lot of negative thoughts, worrying a lot, and feeling unproductive. She misses the feeling of being productive at work right up until she goes back into work, when she wishes that she had the time to pursue all her other passions.
Unfortunately, the lists we make when we are overburdened with work are just a way to distract us from working. And when we get the free time to pursue anything on that list, we feel guilty or overwhelmed by that list.
1. Boredom is Fleeting
Boredom comes on like a wave, at least for me. I get hit with it, then I feel a little bewildered and panicky. It feels like it’s not going to resolve and it’s here to stay permanently – but I know better.
There hasn’t been a single time when I haven’t resolved the feeling of boredom by just letting it pass over me like an ocean wave.
I often will make a tea, or I’ll take a seat on my chair by the window, or even better, I refer to my list of “things to do” – not so much because I will engage in one of those activities but more so to remind me that I’m not actually bored, just mentally amped up.
2. Create Go-To Options
My list isn’t the traditional “to-do” list of unpleasant things that I have to get done. Instead it’s filled with tons of fun stuff that I jot down throughout the year. It’s a massive list.
It includes things like:
- take an online photography course
- go hike at Washington park
- work on a couple of book projects
- make a new vegan lasagna recipe
- bake a loaf of bread
- make vegan pesto
- go standup paddle boarding at the river
- bike across the Broadway bridge
- go to the jacuzzi at the gym
- watch a local amateur pool tournament
- help my buddy work on his house
- invite someone out to lunch
- take a community college course
- work on my business plan for the STD clinic
- research the non-lucrative visa requirement for Spain
- walk over to the bookstore and do some people watching
- hop on the Amtrak for a day trip and read on the train
Meditation in the traditional sense isn’t very helpful when dealing with boredom. You can’t just sit by a fireplace with your eyes closed all day and meditate your life away.
Active meditation when you count your steps, count your breath, focus on your breathing when doing tasks, hearing and feeling everything in your environment while exercising is a much more effective way to meditate.
4. Clean Out Your Cranial Clutter
The more to-do tasks are brewing in that cranium of yours, the less likely you are to want to engage in new tasks. The subconscious clutter is a heavy burden on the productive mind.
Your mind keeps wanting to run scenarios and drills which prevents you from escaping into the moment. If it’s IRS taxes or a bill or a letter that you have to deal with, get on top of it and get rid of it – it’s a wonderfully unconstipating feeling.
Cleaning out your mind’s clutter will allow you a little more breathing room which allows you to really lose yourself in tasks which interest you.
Retirement And Boredom
The most effective way for me to deal with boredom is to first accept it as a feeling. Just like pain, it’s okay for it to exist and I practice not having them ring my alarm bells.
Next, I structure my days. I write in my journal before going to bed and usually when I wake up in the morning.
When you’re retired and there are minimal external influencers on your free time it can be even harder to deal with boredom.
It’s perfectly fine if I don’t do the things that I outline in my journal but the act of creating a schedule and plan helps me feel focused and manages my boredom quite well.
Working To Prevent Boredom
A healthcare professional wants and needs to feel productive. But it’s important to realize that this is a habit that we’ve learned over time. It’s not like we’d die if we just sit by the window playing a guitar.
Working feels productive because it earns us an income and it’s a socially acceptable way to spend out free hours during the day.
Of course, few of us feel the same way when it comes to volunteering. And I could make the argument that volunteering is a much better use of one’s time from a global perspective.
So the money factor plays a role. Working to prevent boredom because a habit, a cycle, and soon a standard to live by and teach our children to abide by.
Our brains have never had so little rest in all the years of the modern civilization. It’s okay and normal to need to shut the mind down and accept that the feeling of boredom will be with us for a few minutes.
There is nothing wrong with taking a nap. In fact, you’ll be so much better off emotionally if you take a nap. There is nothing wrong with sitting down to read a book, watch a movie, or lounge on your patio. Enjoy a leisurely day.
I think there is something wrong with picking up an extra shift just so that we don’t have to deal with a boring Saturday. It feeds the cycle of boredom and is no different than fiddling with the doorknob or aimlessly flipping through your cell phone.
Complicating Our Lives
What I have noticed in my own life is that when I have waves of boredom, I set out to complicate my life. I plan complicated projects or start dealing with all sorts of things that I’m not really interested in but doing to pass the time.
I look back and realize that, shit, all I needed to do was to go and lounge in a cafe and read instead of creating more work for myself just to feel distracted from boredom.