Here at Life Advice Headquarters, I am lucky to receive thoughtful, genuinely excellent advice to try from readers and friends like you. So far, I’ve successfully tried making my life decisions in sixty seconds and meeting a stranger every day, but neither of those experiences could prepare me for this week’s challenge. This week, my BFF, Lauren, threw down the gauntlet on advice and challenged me to be bored.
This Week’s Advice: Be Bored
The Adviser: My BFF Lauren
Lauren*, who is maddeningly good at life, explained that when faced with down time, she immediately bypasses boredom and checks in with her phone or laptop for entertainment. I can completely relate to this brand of escapism. When waiting in line for coffee, I can easily fall down the rabbit’s hole of social media only to end up, minutes later, disoriented, staring at a photo of a friend of a friend’s wedding unable to remember why I am standing in the line to begin with. What would happen if instead of tuning out I tuned into my own thoughts and saw where boredom would take me? I was about to find out.
Test 1: Stop Using My Phone For Entertainment
My chief weapon in the war against boredom is my iPhone. It is the first thing I look at in the morning, the talisman I clutch to during the day, and the last thing I look at before going to bed. Sometimes in the morning, while still half-asleep, I reach for my phone and immediately look at Instagram. I REPEAT: before my brain has turned on, my first instinct is to look at a feed of hastily taken cell phone pictures.
In order to give myself the mere chance to be bored, I needed to treat my phone as just that – a means to call people and nothing more. No texting, no photos, no tweets, no Googling Prince’s life history (his first name really is Prince). When walking the streets of SoHo, I found myself tempted to check my e-mail but resisted; when riding on the NYC subway, I found myself itching to flip through old photos but contained the urge; when waiting in a Doctor’s office (for forty minutes, mind you!), I only narrowly escaped checking in with Facebook. Sensing that at any minute I could fail at being bored, I took a drastic measure and ditched my phone while entering the most boring human interaction possible: the office meeting.**
In the meeting I immediately felt a slight panic. What was I supposed to do without a phone to keep me company? Was I supposed to listen? Worse than this, I was the only person not compulsively checking in with a screen, which genuinely made me angry. It didn’t seem fair: why should I have to pay attention if no one else did? I was going through withdrawals. In that conference room, ready to lunge at my co-workers, I realized that I had a much larger problem then refusing to be bored. I was addicted to my iPhone.
TEST 2: Quit My iPhone Cold Turkey
By admitting that I had an addiction, I had begun my road to recovery, but I had no time for the traditional twelve steps. If I was going to succeed in trying on Lauren’s advice, I would have to quit my phone cold turkey and find a situation in which to be bored. As luck would have it, I had the perfect conditions for boredom on my schedule- a flight from NYC to LA. In order to force myself to sink into boredom, I banned all forms of entertainment: no iPhone, no US Weekly, no music, no computer, not even SkyMall. With only a pen and paper to document my time, I would be forced to experience boredom. THE FOLLOWING ARE EXCERPTS FROM MY NOTES ON THAT FLIGHT. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
– Some lady just ran over my foot with her roller suitcase because she was staring at her iPhone instead of, oh I don’t know, WATCHING where she was rolling her bag. I AM A GRUMPY OLD MAN.
– Everyone on this plane is looking at some fancy Apple device. This would be a great place to rob.
– Delta is having a sale on a half bottle of wine and a cheese plate. GAME CHANGER!
– The clouds look like…clouds. Aren’t the clouds supposed to look like something else? I have a deal: If I can just see something in the clouds and use my imagination THEN I can watch a movie. Deal? Deal!
-Do I spot a UFO?
-The man next to me is watching something called The Real Housewives of Vancouver. How have I not seen that before? I have lost my touch.
-Here is what I don’t get about The Hunger Games: what was Elizabeth Banks’s actual profession? I get that Lenny Kravitz was the stylist and Woody Harrelson the redeemed mentor, but what was Elizabeth Banks? The hype man?
– I have demolished a cheese plate, two bags of pretzels and a LOT of wine. I do not feel good about my life choices.
– Is it weird to ask Lauren if I can be friends with her parents? They are cool.
– Why can’t I just see something in the clouds? Didn’t I use to do this for fun when I was a kid? Didn’t that mean I was using my imagination when “bored”?
-Make-up is fun. I like to make my eyes look like Cleopatra.
-This experiment is AWFUL. I am SO bored and anxious and feel like a child who is about to start putting stickers on the car windows just to make my parents upset. UGH.
-LIFE CHANGER: The man next to me has informed me that not only is there a Real Housewives of Vancouver, but also there is RH of Israel. AMAZING.
-In 50 years I will only be 77. I have plenty of time to accomplish dreams and become a better writer.
– I CAN SORT OF MAKE OUT A TOILET SEAT IN THE CLOUDS! SUCCESS! SUCCESS! I’VE DONE SOMETHING!
– NOW I can watch This is 40! Success!
– Who are the people in This is 40? I am too distracted by how nice their house is to pay attention.
– The sink faucets in This is 40 are like thousands of dollars each! No wonder they have money troubles.
The Lesson: I Am Addicted To My Phone
Carrying out this experiment made me realize that I have a problem with media. Some people eat too much, some people drink too much, I binge on my phone and computer. While I went into this experiment merely attempting to “be bored”, I came out of it questioning how I spend my time and my relationship to entertainment. Perhaps it’s okay to look at my phone once in a meeting (let’s be real – sometimes it’s survival) but it’s not okay to live my life looking at a teensy screen in my hands. Because that’s actually boring and might mean I have a problem being alone with my thoughts. Being bored is something I will be working on for a long time to come. Or at least until I can look out into the clouds and imagine something better than a toilet seat.
* Lauren is most certainly an adult who has her act together. Career? Check. Met her soul mate and is about to be married? Check. Is still incredibly fun and spontaneously creates dance parties? Check. She is someone I hope to be like one day.
* *To the people I work with: I am ALWAYS paying attention to whatever you are saying. You are fantastic and have great ideas. It’s other people who bore me.
Featured image via Shutterstock