AI Image based on the pre raphaelite painting Flaming June.  A women in an orange dress lies in a landscape holding a glass of wine and surrounded by balls of yarn and painting materials

New Year resolutions still feel important to me.  It’s a bit unfashionable as we are overrun with wellness and self-improvement articles at this time of year which so often read as guilt trips that you are not having ice-baths and running marathons.  But still, I persist each year with my precarious tower of minor ambitions. My resolution ‘process’ has now evolved into an over complex to-do list for the year.  I am a bit of a nerd and very visual, so I draw with felt tips on an A3 sketch pad colourful statements in pretty colours.  ‘DO this!’ ‘ENJOY More!’ ‘STOP being SAD!’ 

I quietly fail throughout the year on the results of this amateur mind mapping, never fully achieving what I imagined.  For I am always distracted.  This year will be a little different. As usual, I would like to be fitter and stretch more, drink more water and of course, improve my knitting.  I would like also to be bored.    

In learning to knit and essentially trying to develop all my desired ‘good’ habits it is the constant distraction that I feel is at the root of the failure a complete inability to sit and just. Be. Bored. 

I remember being ‘bored’ as a child, but this was not a terrible thing as being alone in my thoughts or hanging around with other equally bored pals was great.  We would invent games or talk nonsense. We would go for long walks and make up grand schemes.  If I was on my own then my mind would wander and I would make up films that I would star in, or imagine a painting I might do or places I might visit.  I don’t ever really recall being anxious about being bored as it was a fluid, relaxed state that led to creativity.  The anxiety over boredom came much later.

Adam Philips, a British psychoanalyst writes about this at length in his essays. ‘Attention Seeking’ and ‘In Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored’. In our daily life, constant distractions are seeking your attention. He argues that we should lean into the reasons why we allow them to take us away from our focus and examine what is happening.  Philips explains that maintaining your attention is both to seek pleasure (getting good at something) but also can invoke anxiety (what if I am not good enough?) The distractions we allow ourselves to be consumed by could be our subconscious attempts to protect us from this failure.     

To be bored then, is to not give in to distractions and become anxious over ‘finding something useful’ but rather to ‘risk the solitude’.  The risk comes in awareness of all the thoughts that might flood into this quiet space we are trying to create, anxious feelings will invade of ‘being useful’ or ‘active’, and ‘getting things done’.  We accost ourselves with the accusations; if we did not have these useful things that we must do, then what would we be?  The answer is, of course, we would be just fine without a never-ending task list and whisper it, maybe a lot better off.

The huge paradox here is I, like many, don’t have time to be bored.  We are never ‘bored’ as such, as we never stop.  There are always bills to pay, and things to worry about, appearances to be kept up.  Knitting and hobbies can feel like little islands of luxury we afford ourselves from time to time.   Yet I still look at social media for way longer than I intended or move furniture about and clean endlessly to avoid my task list.  To assuage the guilt of having pastimes, I make my hobbies hyper-productive or even try an monetise them as  ‘side-hustles’.  You must now take your hobby and imbue them with significance to justify your burgeoning to-do list.

Hobbies must have a point! You must be seeking self-improvement and be productive!

And here is the balancing act, yes, they can help with ‘improving yourself’ and I am a great believer in this. But also they can be about nothing at all, and in that nothingness can come great often unexpected, outcomes.   Precisely because you are in relaxed state with a focus on the present moment.  The goal (if there is one) becomes simply the framework to ‘hang-out’ in. The doing is what is important.   ‘Im making a jumper’ or maybe it’s a blanket…or maybe ill start something else…’ 

Philips describes being bored as ‘restlessness which contains the most absurd wish, the wish for a desire’.  I like this idea of ‘wishing for a desire’ as it suggests looking for something to do just for the sake of it.  For it not necessarily to have a purpose.   For me knitting sometimes feels like the proverbial mountain.  I want to produce something amazing but fear it will never be finished, or never be that good. And why can't I just go and buy a jumper anyway? I am coming to realise it is not the end result that is the issue, but my worry of the potentially difficult journey.  My anxiety of being exposed as wasting time, of the guilt over doing something purely pleasurable.

Being bored then, is to conquer the anxiety about being distracted, to lean into the stillness, to quiet the internal chatter.  Choosing then to fill that boredom with your personal practice is a privilege, but one we should all be allowed to take. You are choosing to do something for the sake of it, to live in the moment.  Of course, you will be distracted by things, but the challenge is to allow that distraction to disappear as easily as it arrived.

Julia Cameron, author of ‘The Artists Way’ puts it another way and frames the negative:

‘Boredom is just “What’s the use?” in disguise and ‘what’s the use?” is fear and fear means you are secretly in despair. So put your fears on the page.’ 

So then my to-do list and New Year’s resolutions can be summed up by this.  To seek out boredom and in that space put my fears on the page.  For it is there I intend to find my flow and conquer my fears.


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