Degrees of Boredom
Time without purpose is a prison
~ Jessica, Rick and Morty
There are differing degrees in how bored you can be, and how difficult it is to get out of it.
Centre: desirable activities + means + desire
The centre of the boredom circle is what happens when you have many things available to do, you know which you want to do, you have a way to either make sure you do it or are naturally drawn to it, and you enjoy it.
This is freedom, this is the goal.
The centre of the circle is when you have fun activities available and the means at which to do them or ensure you do them.
Activity: Me creating specific web app
Desire: finish the app. It was fun.
Means: Scheduled coworking with design sprint partner each morning, energy from caffeine
Level 1: desirable activities + no means
This is when you have things that you want to do but are unable to do them.
Eg. Beginning of holiday: I knew I wanted to program but didn’t know how to get started exactly or what to work on, so I put it off.
You’re alright if you’re in this one because you have something clear to work towards, which is getting yourself to do the task. You know that any boredom is temporary and it’s because you’re not doing a specific thing, but with enough effort you’ll be able to do it.
This is not a prison, it’s a temporary state.
Level 2: undesirable activity + means
Pica + school
This is when you have an activity you don’t enjoy, but you’re being forced to do it.
Eg. school and work.
This state isn’t too bad, because it’s also viewed as temporary from the inside. You know that any boredom you feel isn’t your fault, and that if you were away from this place you could enjoy life. Thus you don’t feel like boredom is inevitable and hopeless.
(Nevertheless, we must end school slavery.)
Level 3: no desirable activities + no means
This isn’t as bad as level 4
This is of course pretty bad and I tentatively hypothesise leads to wanting to die.
The only example I can think of is to the woman in Black Mirror (mild spoilers for part 2 of season 2 episode 4 White Christmas).
She’s been uploaded into a smart home device, and is told that she needs to be the smart home slave for her real self. She refuses, and so to break her in she’s placed in a totally bland environment. White walls for infinity, no paper, no pens, no books, no other people. For 2 weeks at first, but then for 6 months. She can’t even kill herself.
In the end she’s broken in and begs for something to do, and agrees to work.
Perhaps then this one is good, or neutral. As long as afterwards you do the work to find a truly desirable activity and not a fake desirable activity.
This is like a balancing pole. It’s neutral, but whether you spiral up or down depends entirely on which side you fall on (and the downwards side is more tempting, particularly in modern day.)
Level 4: fake desirable activity + means
Experiential pica is any craving which doesn’t fulfil the need behind it.
The second addiction was RPG games, which served as improvement porn. In Diablo III, the Gem of Ease that boosts your levelling speed on all future characters to go from 1 to 70 in about an hour; I’d start a new character every couple months to get watch the level up messages roll in. MOBAs are perhaps the worst offender in this regard, taking your character from level 1 to fully equipped level 18 every single game.
I know these are pica because the first and third cravings largely subsided when I entered a committed relationship, and the second when I started seriously working on self-improvement.
This is where ‘experiential pica’ takes place. Experiential pica is when you have a desire, but instead of meeting the need behind that desire you substitute a fake solution.
For example, you have a need to socialise, but instead of going out with your friends to the park and seeing them in three dimensions face to face, you communicate with them through text symbols and get a sense of conversation from their status updates.
Your life would probably be a lot more rich if you spoke to people irl or even over the phone instead of speaking to them over text, but the latter feels like a substitute for the former so you feel empty but can’t know why and have no desire to do the thing that actually fills you up.
This gets prison-y, because the only ways out are all non-obvious and super precarious:
- Have large opportunities to talk to people irl anyway that you don’t turn down that keep coming without your influence
- Have [means to fake desire] removed long enough until either a) you to realise permanently that real desire was better b) never, you just never get it back
- Know enough about psychology to work this out for yourself and restrict your usage of [fake desirable activity] and/or purposefully get [real desirable activity]
If you’re not lucky enough to get any of these, you’ll just be unable to know that a more fulfilling life exists and you’ll feel empty without knowing why and without being able to fix it, and you’ll assume it’s the world’s fault and that the world is just an empty and dull place and this is just what life is.
This swiftly leads into the next level of scariness:
Level 5: no desirable activities + means
This is when nothing seems desirable, everything seems bland, no matter what you do.
But you won’t have any desire to try anything anyway, because everything seems boring anyway.
This is the scariest, because you don’t think that this is because you’re tired, or because you’re not around enough people, or because there’s nothing that you’re good at enough right now for you to feel competent at — your only hypothesis is so often that life is just meaningless and boring.
And when you think this, you can’t escape, because you don’t see that there’s anything to try escaping from.
You don’t even have any desire to learn things, so you can’t get new thoughts and viewpoints in your head about things you can try.
You’re usually doomed.
This can lead to depression and suicide.
Possibilities of escape:
1) You’re forced into doing things (undesirable activity + means)
2) You somehow manage to learn enough psychology to try things (maybe your friends forcefully tell you things? Force you to read a book? Seems extremely low probability)
You always have means.
The only example I could come up with where you outright have no means to any activities is fictional, and it’s literally an entirely empty world.
As long as you have paper, a pen, and something to read, you have means to entertainment and activities.
Kindle your learn drive and make some sort of habit to learn or to remind you of the things you’ve learned, so that if you somehow get onto level 4 or 5 you can learn enough to free yourself, or at least know that freeing yourself is an option.
The worst option is to be trapped, and to not know you can be free.
Boredom is a special emotion. The enemy isn’t anger or (to a lesser extent) sadness, because those are still interesting. With those, you’re still invested in life, you still have states that you want to bring about in reality.
With boredom, you have no states you want to bring about. You have nothing.
Avoid it at all costs, but NOT with pica.
Let’s assume we have 10 goals and we achieve them—what is the desired outcome that makes all the effort worthwhile? The most common response is what I also would have suggested five years ago: happiness. I no longer believe this is a good answer. Happiness can be bought with a bottle of wine and has become ambiguous through overuse. There is a more precise alternative that reflects what I believe the actual objective is.
Bear with me. What is the opposite of happiness? Sadness? No. Just as love and hate are two sides of the same coin, so are happiness and sadness. Crying out of happiness is a perfect illustration of this. The opposite of love is indifference, and the opposite of happiness is—here’s the clincher—boredom.
Excitement is the more practical synonym for happiness, and it is precisely what you should strive to chase. It is the cure-all. When people suggest you follow your “passion” or your “bliss,” I propose that they are, in fact, referring to the same singular concept: excitement.
This brings us full circle. The question you should be asking isn’t “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” but “What would excite me?”
Remember—boredom is the enemy, not some abstract “failure.”
Living like a millionaire requires doing interesting things and not just owning enviable things.
~ Tim Ferris, The Four-Hour Work Week