Greetings and Salutations Dear Marshmallow Peeps!
Every year, when March rolls around, my mind flashes back to this clip from The Simpsons where Homer is on his way to a meeting about the school’s misprinted calendars.
I urge you to watch the full episode of The Simpsons Treehouse of horror VI, Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace, it is amazing, but I digress. Homer’s “Lousy Smarch weather” quote seems to sum up my sentiments aptly about this time of year. We are still in late winter, solidly in the doldrums right before spring starts to show its first signs. The weather seems to echo the quality of our resolve to sticking to the New Year’s goals. It’s not happening. Winter plods on, we are tired, we are not seeing any signs of change, and our enthusiasm is rapidly waning for seeing The Long Game plans through. All the chaos, noise, and sometimes boredom of daily life can get the better of us. It can veer us off course as we watch our long term goals drift farther and farther away from reach. Sound familiar? It is a pretty common experience.
How do we preserve the resolve for our long term goals? Why are our daily short term challenges so all encompassing? I guess it comes down to how you look at it. There has been a lot of talk about perseverance in the past few years. Grit has become a buzz word (not to mention also the title of Angela Duckworth’s NY Times bestselling book about this very thing). Countless articles have been written about how to cultivate this quality in ourselves and our children. How do we stay persistent and passionate about our goals and how do we teach this lesson to our children?
The truth is, I’m not sure, I’m figuring this out as I go! It’s a multi-faceted problem and as I mentioned before, a lot has been written about it recently. However, one less-examined piece of perseverance and grit is how we use our boredom. Many adults who are also parents tend to think about boredom as having “nothing to do”. For many, having nothing to do is a rare luxury! But boredom sneaks into our lives even when we are at our busiest. Just because we are busy doesn’t mean we are mindfully engaged with what are doing. The proverbial donkey work is always there. How we frame the tasks at hand can create the difference between drudgery and a more meaningful experience.
The same goes for our children and their boredom. Boredom is the moment before the next spark of inspiration or adventure happens, but unfortunately many kids today don’t have much of an opportunity to be bored. “In a much-read story in The Times, The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting, Claire Cain Miller cited a recent study that found that regardless of class, income or race, parents believed that ‘children who were bored after school should be enrolled in extracurricular activities, and that parents who were busy should stop their task and draw with their children if asked.'”(Pamela Paul, Let Children Get Bored Again, The NY Times, 2/2/2019)
It is understandable why, as parents, we don’t want to deal with our children’s boredom. It’s annoying. It feels privileged (how can you be bored when there is so much to do?). And kids plunk the burden of their boredom on us, their parents, which is probably the most dreaded byproduct of their boredom. But, hear me out, studies show that boredom spawns creativity and self-regulation for children.
I had a friend back in Portland who responded to her 6 year-old daughter’s complaints of boredom with, “Well, clearly you aren’t bored enough yet. Go be more bored, you’ll think of something to do.” And she did! Usually within 20 minutes of claiming boredom, she’s be actively engaged in some little art activity or playing an imaginary game with her stuffed toys.
On a personal note, when my family first moved from Oregon to California midway through the school year, my daughter’s empty time, which was plentiful upon arrival at our new home (with no after school activities or new friends yet), lead to some of the largest developmental jumps I have witnessed. Since then, lamentably, she has a lot less spare time, and I can see its impact on her.
Not only does boredom teach self-reliance and discipline but additionally, as we try to exit our boredom, our minds wander and integrate everything we have experienced. It’s the time when our lessons become generalized and put into practice. It is during these flights of fancy that we visualize ourselves achieving those elusive long term goals in new ways. Without this time to be bored, we can’t absorb the world around us as deeply or reflect on changes we may want to make.
The seeming tedium of our Short Game challenges can actually lead us to a productive reframing and even achievement of our long term goals. So take heart, the Smarch weather will pass and leave in its stead a more interesting path, but we have to be willing to be momentarily under-stimulated! Perseverance is not just filling the time with practice and tasks, but accepting boredom as a guide to better things and an opportunity to think more creatively about our present moment.