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Wendy Ulrich

July 25, 2011

Summer is here, school is out, vacations begin – but we know what is just around the corner: boredom! Even busy adults are subject to boredom. In fact sometimes we let ourselves get so busy because we’d secretly rather overwork, overeat, or over-veg-in-front-of-a-screen than be BORED. Well, here are some non-boring options for your kids, or you, this summer:

1. Don’t just do something – sit there! Downtime has a very important function – including giving us space for dreaming. Take twenty minutes to write about what you’d like your life to look like in a year, or five. Turn yourself loose, even if it isn’t practical. Brainstorm a list of 7 jobs you think would be fun, 7 tiny changes you could make in your life, 7 things you might enjoy doing this month, and 7 things you’d like to accomplish this year. Daydreaming is all it’s cracked up to be!

2. Clean up your act. There is something gratifying about sorting, cleaning, repairing, and straightening, even though we resist it. Find the first thing you see that needs cleaning and spend just fifteen minutes tackling it. After fifteen minutes, feel the satisfaction! And if you like that feeling, keep going. But a hint: don’t take out more than you can put back in fifteen minutes today, and don’t do so much you won’t want to do another fifteen minutes tomorrow.

3. Make something ugly. It feels great to make something with our hands, voice, or mind – but first it just feels scary. We don’t know what to make or how to start, we don’t think we have the skills, even if we get started we don’t know how to fix it when it doesn’t work or when to stop, and throughout this process we worry others won’t approve. So make something ugly! Who cares! Don’t set out to make something gorgeous, just set out to make something. If it happens to turn out great, great! If not, you had fun, you learned some things, and you have a great story to tell.

4. Reach out and touch someone. Get out the yearbook, the address book, or just walk down the street to a neighbor’s. Nobody visits people much these days, but I’ve noticed that I love it when someone I like drops by. Look up an old friend, write a real live letter telling your 7th grade teacher you thought he was great, call your mother, email someone on your contact list you haven’t heard from in months. No one on your contact list? Sign up for a class, take bread to the new (or old) neighbors, go to the park and strike up a conversation. The happiest people spend six-plus hours a day in some form of contact with other people.

5. Look for trouble. What problem domains interest you most? (Poverty, health, war, environment, education, unemployment, community-building – even kids care about these things.) What kind of problems do you like to solve?    
  • Intellectual? (math, words, politics, science)
  • Physical? (building, singing, knitting, cooking)    
  • Emotional? (how to calm down, get excited, express anger, be happier)
  • Relational? (forgiving, befriending, listening, conversing)
Find a problem in your chosen domain, pick out one tiny piece of it, and take it on. Even better, get other people together and tackle it as a group. If you think you can’t make a dent, just make a scratch!

6. Line up your values. Write a list of your core values – the character traits and guiding principles you most identify with (like integrity, faith, kindness, creativity, open-mindedness). Benjamin Franklin had 13. The Positive Psychologists have identified 24. You can have 2 or 20, just write them down. Then choose one and brainstorm new and creative ways to express that value or put it in action. Maybe you’ll collect examples of people demonstrating that value and send your opus as a gift to a friend who epitomizes that trait. You could draw a picture, or keep track of ways you use that value for a week. Try creating a poem about it, rating yourself on it at the end of each day, or using it to help or strengthen someone else.

7. Get physical. Exercise is The Great mood stabilizer, energy builder, and immunity strengthener. Go for a walk, a swim, or a bike ride. Play tennis, Frisbees, golf. Get a pedometer and walk 10,000 steps a day. Make a goal and get started.

Sometimes boredom is the body’s way to slow down, relax and unwind. Sometimes it is a signal that we need to work past our fears and fix a problem, set a goal, or invest in a relationship. Either way, learning to constructively tackle boredom is an invaluable skill.