Deconstruction of Ennui: Distraction, Consumption, & Weekday Target Trips

When last we spoke of the “deconstruction of ennui,” I made the case that being busy doesn’t mean you’re not bored.

original acrylic painting by jodie pablo - click image to visit shop

Today, I’m laying out the indicators of boredom. They are things that we all want less of but things we may not necessarily associate with the experience of boredom.

If you’ve ever been to Target on a weekday morning around 10:30am, you may have noticed that the store is populated by moms with toddlers in shopping carts. These moms are picking up forgotten groceries. They’re picking through clearance racks looking to stock up on childrens clothing for next year. They’re checking out the latest Disney DVD offerings.

I know. I was that mom. Still am sometimes. Now, my stay-at-home dad husband makes the morning Target runs.

The obligatory morning Target trip is a prime example of boredom being masked by busyness.

Despite constant demands on your time & energy, being a stay-at-home parent is a profoundly boring job much of the time. With no one but a very small person to talk to most of the day, we busy ourselves with household and familial upkeep. Of course, we enjoy playing games, singing silly songs, and dancing in diapers – well, the little people do that.

While there may be many parents gifted with staying engaged with the day-to-day routine of this lifestyle, I was not. But I would not have traded the two years I spent as a full-time mom for the world.

Boredom is inescapable and often a side effect of very satisfying situations. But, no doubt, there are real consequences to living an unengaged life.

Because we tend to spend money, eat more, and create patterns that exploit our free time when we’re bored, we lose energy.

The first consequence of boredom is distraction.

Distraction can wear you down like no other psychological state. Now that I am working from home full time, I have the privilege of working for long stretches without being distracted by the demands of my toddler or my man-child. In general, I am quite focused and productive – I love what I do and delegate much of the rest.

But there are still days when boredom drives me to distraction.

And I hate refreshing the Twitter screen every 90 seconds. I hate that my mouse is constantly hovering over the email tab waiting for a new message to curse at. I hate that I check my blog stats so often. This behavior is unproductive, uncreative, unsatisfying.

And yet, I do it.

At the end of a day when distraction has been the rule, I am not happy. Nor have I done my best work.

I am irritable, short-fused. I am often unable to relax properly knowing that the work I did was unsatisfactory.

I have made myself busy, filling a whole day of work, with tiny distractions – sheer boredom.

I’m lucky. These days are no longer my normal. But, for many, these kind of days happen much more often than not.

The second consequence of boredom is consumption.

In America – as I’m sure in other parts of the world – we’ve been conditioned to consume when we’re bored.

Have you noticed that?

I’m bored – let’s go to the mall.

I’m bored – I’ll get a snack.

I’m bored – has the Huffington Post published anything new?

We consume products, food, and information without thinking as soon as we start to get any inkling of ennui. We fill ourselves with meaningless action. We disengage from real life and seek out external experiences.

We consume to feel something other than our own voice telling us to get off our ass and do something.

Or to stay on our ass and rest. Breathe. Enjoy the peace.

Over-consumption is not just a personal problem. It’s at the root of modern society’s ills. We’re in debt, over-eating, and constantly barraged with uninteresting information. The end result doesn’t feel good – so we keep up with the feel-good action that produces it. Just to feel something.

When we’re bored, we consume. Everything.

Consumption doesn’t have to be the only way we feel connected to others & the outside world. We can choose to live, produce, relate, and engage without consuming.

Boredom shouldn’t be confused with rest.

Just as being busy doesn’t mean you’re not bored, resting doesn’t mean you are bored.

Rest is a mindful activity. It requires understanding what things wind us down, recharge our inner battery. It requires engaging our own inner peace.

But often, when we’re bored, we trick ourselves into thinking we’re resting. And yes, I’m talking about sitting on the couch mindlessly surfing the TV channels, letting an hour pass without watching a single program. Yes, I’m talking about thumbing through magazines without gleaming any delight from their pages. Yes, I’m talking about playing Solitaire on your iPhone – over and over again – not because you’re gaining pleasure from it but because it’s there (that’s me!).

Those things aren’t rest. They are a result of boredom with a capital B.

I’m not judging those behaviors. Just calling ’em as I see ’em.

You have to ask yourself whether you’re glad you spent your time that way. Or do you find yourself asking “Why did I do that?”

There are other choices to be made.

Choose to have a decadent meal, sleep in late, spend 2 hours on Twitter, & play video games. The behaviors themselves are perfectly reasonable – it’s when we don’t actively make the choice that they can become unhealthy. That’s when they’re clearly a sign of boredom – ennui – “lack of interest.”

And boredom actually makes for poor rest. Instead of disengaging from the world to create a false sense of rest, engage with your own inner desires for comfort and peace. You’ll find more fulfilling rest.

Boredom makes us ask: Why did I do that? When we’re distracted, over-consuming, or waiting for rest & release that just doesn’t come, we can alert ourselves to our state of boredom.

We can remind ourselves to engage with our surroundings and ourselves. We can create joy out of these moments too. But we have to know what to look for.

15 thoughts on “Deconstruction of Ennui: Distraction, Consumption, & Weekday Target Trips

  1. I absolutely agree with the consumption as a means of alleviating boredom. And by boredom, I mean a lack of excitement in what you’re doing with your creative self. I’m working on a blog post right now about all the books I’ve bought for the thrill of acquiring new info/skills/entertainment but have yet to actually read or absorb because I’m off buying more. Same with art and craft supplies. How many of us buy supplies thinking that new pen, journal, fabric, yarn, etc. will be the spark that gets us going, only to have it end up in the stash of supplies?

    That said, we want to make sure we don’t poo-poo consumption TOO much since so many of us earn money getting folks to consume the goods we create- lol! But I do think a more mindful, thoughtful approach to consuming is a healthy thing.

  2. Another great post Tara. You nailed some key issues for me regarding boredom and distraction. Most importantly though is the awareness of needing to rest, and differentiating that from boredom or laziness. This week after a particularly intense several weeks, and the knowledge that the holiday madness is encroaching, I found myself needing to chill and restore for a few days. However it was only after two very unproductive days of computer surfing and checking, and two new knitting magazines that I realized what I was doing. Yesterday I consciously took the day to rest. I read, and sorted my yarn stash, and knitted a pair of hand warmers. I took some snapshots of the blazing maple leaves with no thought of making ART. I baked muffins. I had a really nice day and feel refreshed and ready to take on the work again. Whew. Now the trick is how to catch myself before I waste two whole days.

  3. Wow. This post is me to a T. When I get bored at the day job, I obsessively check my Twitter account, visit all the blogs I love, windowshop on Etsy, etc. But it’s not fulfilling because I’m not doing it mindfully. Sometimes my ennui builds all day long and gets so bad that it bleeds into my evenings as well, which are supposed to be my creative time for sewing and building my small craft business.

    This behavior has been increasing all month, and I think I finally got to the root of why and started writing my own blog post about it–I spend a large portion of my day not acting on my passions or being engaged in something that feeds my soul. So now I need to start the tough work of figuring out how to do just that while still putting food on my table!

    Thanks again for another great series. You always really get me asking myself the tough questions.

  4. Boredom=Consumption was my mantra for the two years I spent at the most boring day job imaginable. I recently quit and am working for myself, slowly building my creative empire.

    As I whittled away hours at my day job, i put off what I was supposed to be doing in order to: read endless info on the internet {some interesting, some junk}, internet shop, and snack.

    Each day I said to myself “You have all this time in front of a computer, you should work on xyz in order to help your business so that you can quit sooner…”

    And instead I just snacked and shopped and read gossip blogs.

    At the end of every “work” day I was tired. Tired from boredom. Now that I am home and working for myself, I work hours and hours without stopping. I work in the evenings in front of the TV. I can’t stop, which is probably not the best, but I am loving it. It is amazing that when you love what you do, you want to do it.

    Great and insightful post, Tara!

  5. “The behaviors themselves are perfectly reasonable – it’s when we don’t actively make the choice that they can become unhealthy.” -SO GOOD. Active choices in themselves “activate” us, thus keeping boredom at bay. I find that I get bored when I don’t feel like making a definite decision!

    And I love the contrast you mentioned between “disengaging from the outer world” and “engaging with your inner desires.” It’s like the difference between taking a potentially unnecessary nap in the middle of the day and meditating for some mental clarity (the latter might lead to the former, but rarely the other way around!)

  6. I really love where you are going with this. It seems that many of us wake up to this profound realization at some point in our lives, and we either crack out of our conditioned ways of being, or we look for/find reasons to go back inside and turn on the TV.

    The quote in your first post about remembering to be mindful says it all. We are living in a way that even the most mindful need reminders to get back to what matters most (and defining that!)

    Thank you ~

  7. I do hope that you are continuing on with this topic. I keep waiting to hear what the answer is. It can’t be as simple as quitting your boring job. That would be too easy. I believe you have to take ownership for how you react to the situations you’re in, but you even said it, boredom seems to trap you until you see no way out. Throw us a life line if you can, please!

  8. This is all so true! Wow, great post one again! It brings so many questions that we should ask ourself before doing anything. Why do I do it? Is it because I am bored? If the answer is yes, we should rethink it!

  9. Exactly right: the key is *choosing* to be distracted.

    Over the last year, I’ve found that my busyness has pretty well vanished. Now, the challenge is making sure I’m doing the _right_ thing. Because doing the work isn’t all the issue!

  10. Thank you for this post. I needed to hear this. I’m a writer, a seminary student, an abolitionist and homeschool mom – and I tend to think I don’t know what boredom is. But I do. With all that I’ve got going on, and though I can never find the time to get all my work done, I seem to always have time to check my email or update my Facebook status. And though I try to take the time to rest every week, I never end up feeling rested because I fill the day with the types of things that you describe in your blog. I love how you say it’s a choice. I really need to remember that. Thank you, again.

  11. I am nodding vigorously at so many of the comments here! When I have to spend so much of my days at a job that don’t interest us in the slightest, it’s so easy to slide into mindless snacking, Internet use, etc. And sometimes the dullest days at my job are the most exhausting!

    I would love some ideas on how to cope with this when quitting one’s boring day job is not (yet!) an option. I don’t feel good about myself when I deal with my boredom by consuming (for me it tends to be endless Facebook/Twitter use and blog reading/commenting), but when I force myself to stop, I find myself getting really anxious. I think because without the distraction, I’ve got more room in my head to feel angry/stressed about all the creative work I can’t do because my butt has to be in that office chair for 8 hours a day. argh!

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