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Boredom Is The Opposite Of Strength…Sometimes

I have mixed feelings about The 4-Hour Workweek, but I agree wholeheartedly with the following quote by author Tim Ferriss:

“Most corporate workers are bored and dangerously comfortable.  They are in that gray area between love and hate that leaves most with constant low-grade anxiety and an acute sense of wasted potential.  This is more common and more damaging than hate, because hate spurs action.  Tolerable mediocrity leads you to wake up one day and ask “what happened to the last 20 years?” … Boredom should scare people as much as hate.”


Change can be uncomfortable and violent

There is no way around it: it’s easier to stay in the same place than to make progress.  Boredom equates to comfort because–well, what is boredom?  It’s the routine.  It’s the expected. It is hard to be surprised when you are bored because if you are bored you have put yourself in a position where you know what’s coming.  And what’s coming is usually either nothing, or just more of the same.

Progress comes from discomfort.  Change can be uncomfortable and violent.  If you don’t believe me, ask the earth’s crust after some major tectonic shifts.

Boredom exists between love and hate

This is a fascinating way of looking at the Rat Race and Modern Man.  Substitute the word boredom for the word indifference and try to drum up some passion.  Nope.  Turn on a rock station today that features music written in the last ten years and you will hear endless variations on “I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all.”  Oh, the anguish!  And yet, there’s some truth there.  We are alive. Then we should feel alive.  Emotions should either burn you or freeze you.  Real emotion doesn’t settle in and fester discontent.  It bludgeons you, for better or worse.  It’s undeniable and shocking in its intensity.

How many people do you know who would tell you that they hate their jobs?  Too many, if you know the same people I do.  Anything can become a habit, including hating a job, but it doesn’t start all at once.  If you’ve ever landed a new job–even though it’s a job and means you’re now locked into another schedule–it feels really good to know you got it.  That you were good enough to be chosen.  But that feeling can fade quickly, and why is that?

It’s because as the learning curve levels out, we must continue to challenge ourselves or get bored.  Most choose to be bored.  I’ve spent too much of my own life in the box, cozy and dull.  Safe but unsatisfied.  Because the routine, any routine, cannot satisfy our innate need to be more than we were the day before.  That need doesn’t go away, and the cumulative effects of wasted time and potential are toxic.  Most often, their effects are felt by those closest to us as we fail to find appropriate outlets for our frustrations.

Strength can be an exception

It’s easy to jump from program to program as you get tired of doing the same training program.  But when you’re bored with your training, that’s when you should grab onto it with your teeth and refuse to let go…provided you are still getting results.  I’m the worst culprit when things are new.  I want to try every new tool and method.  And when I do, I abandon the progress I was making, long before I ever would have hit a plateau.

Real physical strength comes from perseverance.  That’s why our grandfathers are so strong: because they persevered at physical work, day in and day out.  They had to.  But we have to choose, because most work is physically easy these days.  Tolerating some boredom in our training programs isn’t like tolerating the easy routine of 9-5 work and TV from 6-10 . When you’re bored, you may be doing something right.  You may on the verge of that big breakthrough.  If you jump ship, you’ll never know.

It’s all about results, right?  Whether we’re talking about strength or life, there only need to be two measuring sticks to gauge progress:

Strength and health: it’s in the numbers.  Weights go up, fat goes down, your hearts lasts longer, you improve at your sport…quantifiable evidence

Life: You are happy.  You have joy.  You are content for the time being but far from satisfied.

It’s my two cents that you can’t have real joy in your life while you’re bored.  Boredom means your eye is no longer on the horizon–it’s on the TV, the PC, staring at the bottom of another bottle, or buried deep in the pages of People magazine.

If you’re making progress, you won’t be bored because progress is fun and satisfying.  If you know exactly what today is going to bring you and can’t say you’re thrilled about it, it might be time to think things over.

I’ll be doing the same,

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  • Letitia Sweitzer June 23, 2009, 6:13 am

    Good essay on boredom. This line in particular adds to my understanding of boredom:

    “I want to try every new tool and method. And when I do, I abandon the progress I was making, long before I ever would have hit a plateau.”
    I take an interest in boredom. See my ThePowerOfBoredom.com

  • Tim June 23, 2009, 10:04 pm


    Yep, I’ve been that guy who was glad to get a new job and that some company out there thought enough to hire me then I got bored and the new job excitement went away. I was also busy and bored (at the same time), too.

    I am as guilty as anyone out there for seeking comfort and familiarity — even if those feelings will keep me dissatisfied. Even now, in my job search I need to get out of my comfort zone.

    Thanks for this great reminder for me as I stand at the crossroads of my life.

  • Forest June 23, 2009, 11:16 pm

    Very thought provoking post Josh … there’s a lot that goes into making a decision to change what you’ve got going on … probably a lot more if that has to do with your life path than your training program 🙂

    I know for me, I felt like I wasn’t really accomplishing anything meaningful when I was working for someone else. The risk involved of going out on my own was there for sure, but I would rather take a risk and at least know that I tried rather than settle for a little comfort and never really knowing what could have been. Just some food for thought –

    Hope all else is well!

  • Willy A.C. Holmes-Spoelder September 20, 2009, 1:46 am

    Dear WorldStrongestLibrarian, a comment from another blogger about a comment from you, (with a link to this website) *intrigued* me. The first topic my (bored) eyes caught was about boredom – lets see what *he* knows, has to say about that unpleasant *partner* of so many of us. And: all true I nodded as I continued reading the (profound) article until the very end…..YUK,YUK,YUK, boredom is a debilitating, even deadly illness and albeit true…you have to *outsmart* the monster, which is not at all easy. Recognizing boredom is not enough, although much better than *programming* yourself that you are actually *liking* it – your life, your partner, your job, someone, what others recommend you should like, do now, join (because *everyone* does).
    As an observer and a critic with good intentions for myself wishing to make the most out of MY life, I managed to come up with a *wiseguy* quote some years ago already, based on my own experiences until then:
    Being alone is BORING, but being with someone who IS boring (me) – IS WORSE.
    Boredom !!! probably the nastiest invader of your GOOD life. How to safeguard yourself? Be alert. Ask yourself whether you want this, or that, and firmly SAY NO!! – to yourself, and to others. Like yourself, treat yourself well and start again, again, every new day – i.e. do not slump. Not easy!! I know, but in this one life you OWE it to yourself, besides you deserve the best.

    • Josh Hanagarne September 20, 2009, 9:40 am

      Willy, great points, all of them. I recently read a book with this goal in it: “Have no more unalert days and you’ll be happier.” I like your quote just as much, I think. Thanks for a thoughtful comment.