Just the other day someone asked my son if he was, “bored?” To which he responded, “What’s ‘bored’?”
He’s not that old yet, and, for him, each day is still brimming with possibilities: things to do or learn or discover. He may not like everything he’s told to do, but the feeling of being utterly uninterested in whatever’s around—although he may experience that feeling on occasion—is not something he’s overly familiar with.
For children, the world is a big, wondrous place. Things that adults may overlook, like bugs and leaves and scraps of paper, can captivate the attention of a child; as can stories they’ve already heard dozens of times, or worn out toys they’ve already played with for hours on end. They can stay interested and fully engaged in things that would soon tire others. In children, we see the gifts of imagination and curiosity in all their glory.
Granted, young children are in a different stage of life. They don’t have the pressures and responsibilities of adults. They’re not forced to work in a cubicle all day, or attend dull meetings that last way too long. They don’t have to worry about bills, or budgets, or 5-year plans.
But maybe bouts of boredom have little to do with our age or responsibilities or season of life, and more to do with the state of our imagination and the level of our curiosity. Children can take the most “boring” items and, with a little imagination, come up with ways to keep themselves occupied for hours. They can stay curious and engaged, even in doing the same thing over and over.
What would it look like if we grown ups engaged the world around us in the same way—using the gifts of imagination and curiosity to keep ourselves occupied in what may be an otherwise “boring” situation? What if we saw these situations as opportunities to learn and grow, instead of times to simply be endured?
Could we identify lessons to be learned, for instance, from the situation itself—possibly things to do, or to not do, in the future? Could we come up with an internal challenge—one where we consciously practice a skill we want to work on, like paying attention or keeping eye contact? Could we see how much we’re able to learn from those around us, through both listening closely to what they’re saying (or not saying) and staying attentive to their body language? And even if there’s nothing external to focus on, are there things on our mind we could give our attention to—plans to be formulated, problems to be solved, feelings or thoughts to be explored?
It may take a little imagination and curiosity, but there is no shortage of ways to keep ourselves occupied, even in the most “boring” of situations. The challenge is—and it seems this is happening earlier and earlier—we can easily grow dependent on other people or things to keep us occupied. But once we’ve grown dependent on them, and we find ourselves in a situation without them, we don’t know what to do.
And yet, even then, we still have a choice. Even in the most “boring” situations, we can still choose to look for ways to make the most of the moment we’re in. If we’re going to have to be there anyway, we might as well find something profitable to do with our attention. And sometimes all that’s needed to do so is a little curiosity and imagination.