Boring is Beautiful
Life is not an action movie sequence.
I kind of scoff every time I see the well-worn article or book titled “How to Do Nothing.” It has become really common, though I think as more of a safety blanket, because the author knows that we all struggle doing nothing. Or, those with anxiety or intrusive thoughts do, which seems to be just about everybody since 2020. I have read quite a few books that analyze the subject, including, coincidentally, the book “How to Do Nothing” by Jenny Odell. It’s all the same, whether in Dopamine Nation or in Stolen Focus, the constant drip of activity in our brains (damn you Tik Tok!) goes against the hibernating instincts of our ancient ancestors. We seemingly are at a constant state of readiness for what is next thanks to YouTube DIY and hustle culture and streaming notifications. The truth is I don’t have a great answer — I detest doing nothing. Those with addiction problems go through a painstaking ordeal just to make sure they stay busy.
One anecdote from Johann Hari stayed with me. He talks about how if he does “deep work”, or undistracted put-phone-away Wordle like concentration, on a matter at hand, his brain then gives him permission to read the news or scroll Twitter. The guilt of wasting time or feeling on the clock sifts away. I have felt this as well. Since I was little, I was born with some sort of internal alarm clock buzzer that starts to tick with those flashing pulsating “time is running out” seconds when doing any activity. I especially feel this with long articles now. It’s like the time for it to be relevant or for me to finish is constantly at risk of missing its train. The concept of “what's next” is simply intolerable inside me. I focus so much on what’s next and productivity that truly nothing gets done, or not nearly as much quality awareness or comprehension built as those stubbornly curious and calm type B personalities. Surprisingly, this is why my long-distance commuting for work has actually been good for me. All I can do is sit there and listen to my audiobook. I can’t shift activities out of some sense of dread.
Wait a minute, didn’t the topic say Boring is Beautiful? Oh yes, Brett enjoys digressing about what he does wrong and going on tangents about some book before getting to the helpful reason for writing. What I like to do during these slow days of questioning one’s existence/disapproving of one’s job/wishing one had more responsibility or had climbed the ladder more by this point — is to remember days of utter chaos. I work in the investing/trading industry and once every few years or so trade errors occur. On these days, it is harrowing, it is as if time stops and everyone's antennae goes up to the pending doom. Seemingly every uninvolved party wants to weigh in as to the best course of action to take. Trading is more apt to happen when markets are volatile with more trades occurring during this whipsaw. Hence, the larger the quantity the harder to go through all with a microscope. If one buys when they meant to sell, or puts in a wrong amount, or ticker, or trade type, there is a moment when you feel as if you are absolutely submerged with water and struggling to breath in which you mentally try to calculate just how large the dollar value of the error. The wilder the market, the greater the chance of losses. They never happen on calm days, they happen when people are at some worried state of unrest to begin with and are busy, hence dropping what they are doing to oversee your error is costly and could not make one feel more small. You have to involve the trading counterparty that you did the trade with and the awkward wrangling as to who pays for the error is done.
In that moment of shear dread, all one wishes for is to idly be clicking between websites and/or proofreading some email. One craves to be bored and alone with ones thoughts. This is how I try to rationalize my boredom.
It’s not dissimilar to the mixed emotions done while doing taxes. You hum and haw over deductions and if you should put the value dollar of that clothes donation as higher — feeling as if you are justified amid a backdrop of resentment for even having to pay the government. “Fudge” is too brash a word, but round up is more like it. Compare this feeling of “okay, well that's better” to the stomach lurching feeling of getting a tax audit. In opening that mail, the emotional rollercoaster forces you to want to pay whatever immediately just to get this problem to go away. The feelings could not be more at odds with each other. When it feels as if you may be doing something to alleviate the painstakingness at life at risk of “being discovered” — just remember, boring is beautiful. 98% of days go by like tumbleweeds, and yet the awfulness of the 2% of personal fire-drills makes you appreciate the monotonous routine.
So, advance yourself and fight your fight and try to not feel guilty about being in a state of rest. If your mind fights you, which it will, just remind it that boring is beautiful.