“Life swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom.”― Arthur Schopenhauer
When I was 15 years old, my life took a step towards hell. Well, to be honest, it seemed like heaven. Only now do I realize how deluded I was.
So what happened when I was 15 years old? I got a smartphone. Unlike most of my friends, I never asked for it. My parents needed a way to contact me while I was on a school trip. So they gave me a new sim card, and I put it into an old smartphone lying around the house.
One of the first things I did was download Instagram. Snapchat, Subway Surfer, and Twitter followed. That’s when the damage began. One day at a time.
Life had never been more amazing. Or so I thought.
The problem was not that I was stuck to my phone all day long (although my parents thought it was). The problem was the content I consumed gave me a false narrative of success.
At 15 years old, I started following entrepreneurs on Instagram. I neither knew the name of their company nor what they were ‘entrepreneur-ing’ on. I was simply too amazed by the glamorous photos, the cash lying on the bed, and the models around their swimming pool.
I also watched documentaries of Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Evan Williams, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos — you name it.
And so the seed was planted. As soon as I finished high school, I learned how to code. Combined with my knowledge of accounting, I thought I’ll change the world. I ‘founded’ three startups in college. One almost raised 120,000 euros.
Three startups in 2 years. Not bad. To me it was persistence. Trying as hard as possible without giving up — just as the Instagram quotes told me to do.
Except I was wrong. It was not persistence.
It was plain old boredom.
The Desire For Novelty
“Men desire novelty to such an extent that those who are doing well wish for a change as much as those who are doing badly.” — Machiavelli
According to Tony Robbins’ Six Human Needs Framework, Uncertainty or Novelty in life is significant.
While the desire for novelty helps us take new risks, it can also take a wrong turn. Those who desire an unusual amount of novelty, Tony says, “engage in frequent job or relationship changes for the sake of variety, or take unnecessary risks to achieve the adrenaline jolt they crave.”
That is exactly what I did. The first three months of starting a company were amazing. Decide a new name, get a website running, start coding, speak with users, go to business plan competitions, and email VCs.
In months three through six, reality hits. There are no customers. No revenue. And I just missed all of my university classes to look cool on LinkedIn.
And then, in the name of Lean Startup, we’d pivot.
Well obviously, the products we made were not complete sh*t and we earned some money. Two companies were totally bust. Maybe if I’d stuck with one of them, I would’ve been in a different place than I’m at today.
That’s the danger of boredom. It deludes us to the point of failure. It convinces us that the road ahead is full of thorns. But the other road on the side seems very smooth. It tells you, “Let’s take a turn and achieve our goals”
It has happened to me so many times, that I’ve almost become a master at noticing this. When I started writing on Medium in 2017, I quit in less than 2 months. I wrote crap articles and wondered why no one read it. Imagine if I continued writing for 3 years, how would my life look like right now?
The problem is, we have an ever-increasing amount of novelty around us. Centuries ago, if I was bored, well, I was bored. I had no choice. It’s just a fact of life. Every moment of life was not supposed to be filled with something exciting.
This helped us stay focused and realize that long-term success takes time. That there will be pits of boredom you need to come out of.
Micro and Macro Boredom
The greatest threat to success is not failure, but boredom. We get bored with habits because they stop delighting us. The outcome becomes expected. And as our habits become ordinary, we start derailing our progress to seek novelty — James Clear
Micro boredom is what you experience in your day-to-day life. You sit down to write an article and your mind starts to race after 30 minutes. It needs artificial stimuli because the writing process is boring. Most times you’re struggling to join sentences and maintain a flow of thoughts from one paragraph to the next. You’re thinking from different perspectives while trying to make a point to convince the reader. In short, it’s cognitively demanding.
And in these moments, it’s important not to give in to boredom. To not check your phone. And not web surf in the name of research (speaking from personal experience, unfortunately).
Macro boredom is what we talked about before. It’s when you’re on one path for a long time but somewhere down the line, you stop seeing the results you were hoping for. Maybe your writing is getting fewer views as compared to others. Maybe your company is not getting new customers. Maybe you’re not able to add any more weight to your bench press.
Therefore you switch paths. You write on a different platform. You give up on your business. You switch workout programs. All for nothing.
With time, we keep jumping from one idea to the next, one workout program to the next, never really giving ourselves the time required to grow and master a skill.
The Cure For Micro Boredom
“When hit by boredom, let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. In general, with things unpleasant, the rule is: The sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface. The idea here is to exact a full look at the worst.
Boredom is your window on the properties of time that one tends to ignore to the likely peril of one’s mental equilibrium. It is your window on time’s infinity. Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.” — Joseph Brodsky
Well, the cure for micro boredom is simple — embrace it.
Your ability to produce great work is directly proportional to how much boredom your mind can endure. If your mind is trained to turn to a distraction at the slightest hint of boredom, you’ll not go far.
To fix this, you need to adopt the mindset of an athlete. It’s the only way to get to a point where you can perform ‘mental calisthenics’ and skyrocket your career.
Just like an athlete takes care of his body outside of training sessions by feeding it the right foods, you need to take care of your mind, by training it to concentrate.
Over time it will wane your dependence on distraction. Doing this is simple, but not easy. You have to intentionally carve out moments of stillness and boredom in your life. Here are a few examples,
- Not listening to music or podcasts while you commute or walk (a good strategy is to leave your earphones at home)
- Not taking your phone with you every time you go out
- Keeping your device away from the room you sleep or work.
- Checking social media and emails at a scheduled time every day
The Cure For Macro Boredom
Most things in life take time. Especially if you’re starting a side hustle, a new company, or learning a new skill. The dips of boredom are inevitable. In fact, you’ll face them within the first week or month.
Let’s take writing for example. When I committed to writing three to four posts per week, it was easy at first. I’d been writing before. I just wasn’t regular.
During the first month, I had a lot of ideas. And so I wrote about them. But as my ideas ran out, I faced the inescapable demon — boredom. It became difficult to wake up every day and write. I then had to read more books, watch documentaries, and be more observant to get new ideas.
It was a small challenge. And it’s just an example of the many setbacks you’ll have on your path. The only way to endure them is to have the right context.
In other words, the key to overcoming macro boredom is to contextualize it.
This means you need to be absolutely realistic about the timeline of your current project. And then add a couple of years to it.
If you think building an audience online takes two years, it will take four or even five years of consistent effort. Once you put it into a long-term context, the next thing is to be mentally prepared.
Can you commit this long time to that side hustle or a startup or a job?
If you can, you’re free from worries. Becuase then, boredom is just one step of a long ladder. You’ll be okay with feeling bored because you know you’ll have to do this for the next 5 years.
There’s no way to switch paths in favor of the new shiny business idea that your friend thinks will make you billions.
Obviously, don’t throw common sense out of the window and keep pursuing a dead end. But my hypothesis is, most people give up way too soon. They give up because they get bored.
Ayodeji Awosika says most people give up before 90 days, let alone a year or five years. Once you go past the 90-day mark, it’s unlikely that you’ll stop. Before you know it, you’ll be on the 6-month mark and the 1-year mark.
What seems impossible now, would be child’s play then. Because the longer you stick to your craft, the lower your chances of quitting will be.
So the takeaway is simple — on a long-term horizon (let’s say five to ten years) monthly failures and losses don’t make you panic. You understand it’s just one moment in a long journey. Dust yourself and get back on the horse.
With this in mind, you’re prepared to face the greatest obstacle on your path. It’s time to commit, execute, and manifest the future you want.
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