Personally, I don’t know how anyone can be bored. Ever. It’s honestly not an emotion that I experience any longer.
Think about it: Because of the structure of your brain and all of the connections between cells, the number of possible thoughts that you can have is greater than the number of molecules in the known universe.
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Do you know how many MOLECULES that is?!?!?!?
If you’re bored, it’s simply because you’re not paying attention.
So what’s the cure for boredom?
There’s someone who knows quite a bit about curiosity that I’d like to introduce you to, and that man’s name is Brian Grazer. You’ve probably never heard of him (I hadn’t, before reading his book), but he’s one of the guys behind many major motion pictures you’ve probably seen, or at least heard of.
From the book, “A Curious Mind” on Amazon.ca:
“For decades, film and TV producer Brian Grazer has scheduled a weekly “curiosity conversation” with an accomplished stranger. From scientists to spies, and adventurers to business leaders, Grazer has met with anyone willing to answer his questions for a few hours. These informal discussions sparked the creative inspiration behind many of Grazer’s movies and TV shows, including Splash, 24, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Arrested Development, 8 Mile, J. Edgar, Empire, and many others.”
These are some of the thoughts that came together (or came straight from the book) while I was reading “A Curious Mind”:
#1: The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.
Man, I can attest to this one. As someone who reads hundreds of books every single year, I can tell you that the rabbit hole goes DEEP. It seems like every book I read references at least 5 more, and those reference several others, and then I’ll look up more books and articles and videos on the topic I’m interested, and there will be even more to discover and learn. It sure cured my boredom. But no way am I ever going to be able to get rid of this curiosity I now have.
#2: If you’re feeling unmotivated, curiosity can be the cure.
Is there any negative feeling that curiosity CAN’T cure? Serious question. If you’re not feeling motivated to open a savings account or get to the gym, or anything else, start by asking why.
Could it be that you don’t feel like you’re in good enough shape to go to the gym? That people will stare at you? Criticize you? How could you make the gym less intimidating? Is there someone you could go with that would make you feel less self-conscious? Is there a time when you could go when there wouldn’t be as many people? What makes you think that people have the time to criticize what you’re doing anyway? Do you really think people like that are deserving of your attention? Ask and answer these questions, and maybe you’ll find the motivation.
#3: Listen to the answers to all your questions.
There’s no use in asking questions if you’re not going to stick around for the answers. Even more important than listening to other people’s answers is listening to the answers you give yourself. Introspection leads directly to self-awareness and self-awareness is the key ingredient to self-actualization. Which, after all, should be the point of asking questions in the first place.
#4: Curiosity conversations can happen almost anywhere.
Almost everyone loves talking about themselves, and will gladly answer any questions that you have for them. Provided that you actually care about the answers and you’re not wasting their time. Don’t be caught off guard by not thinking in terms of questions all the time. I for one have never learned anything by talking, and I’m always ready with a question and interested ear whenever the opportunity comes to meet a fascinating person or someone who knows something that I want to know.
#5: Seek out the people you want to learn from.
It’s literally my day job to talk to interesting people. I interview human rights activists, authors, professors, CEOs, leaders, etc all the time for Godlike Discipline and I actively seek out the most interesting people that I can possibly learn from. If you have specific questions that can only be answered by certain people, then you need to actively get in touch with them. There’s all sorts of quality information available for free, but sometimes you just have to go to the source.
#6: You don’t get to talk to busy, interesting people unless you make a steady effort to persuade them to see you.
Even Brian Grazer had difficulty arranging some of his curiosity conversations. He’s a Hollywood movie producer and some fascinating people still weren’t taking his calls. But he was persistent. He knew who he wanted to talk to, he knew what he wanted to ask, and he kept after it until his target knew he was serious.
THEN he got the meeting.
So who do you think is out of your reach? How persistent would you have to be in order to get in front of them for 10 minutes? Can you do it without being needy or sleazy?
#7: The safest answer for any gatekeeper to give is “no”.
This applies to a whole range of scenarios, but if there is someone standing in your way, the safest thing they can say is “no”. And people, when given the choice, usually opt for safety.
Your task now is to get around this no any way you can, without compromising your integrity. You’re not going to beg for the meeting; that wouldn’t be very godlike, now would it.
But you do have to prove yourself to this person. Sometimes it’s a receptionist, sometimes it’s the person themselves. But to get past their “no”, you have to show them that you’re deserving of their time. And try being nice too. That usually tricks people into doing things for you!
#8: Keep asking questions until something interesting happens.
Never tell me that you’re bored ever again. I’ll just tell you that you aren’t asking enough questions.
What will happen if I apply for this job?
What will happen if I stick with my workout plan?
What will happen if I sell everything and travel through the Himalayas by myself for 6 months?
What will happen if I tell my wife what I really think?
What will happen if…
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#9: Consciously make curiosity a part of your routine.
Curiosity doesn’t usually just happen; you’ll need to make space for it in your day. Leave yourself some space between rushing from here to there in order to think more deeply about what you’re experiencing.
If finding answers is something that’s important to you (and admittedly, most people are so dead inside that they couldn’t care less…), then you’ll have to be intentional about creating space for curiosity in your life.
Set reminders. Prod yourself into asking 2 or 3 more questions than you normally would.
Myself, I have a list of questions that I refer to each day. They range from, “What’s the most important use of my time right now?”, to “What could be the root cause of XYZ experience?”, to “What could I be missing?”.
#10: Be respectful of other people’s questions.
Children deserve to have their questions answered. When we lie to them, or evade them, we are consciously or unconsciously deciding FOR them what they should know about their world.
The same goes with adults.
If a question is asked in a sincere way, with a real intent to find out the answer to a burning question, then I will answer to the best of my ability. When someone actually cares, as opposed to the throw-away “How you doin’?, I will take the time to answer.
#11: Disrupt your own point of view.
There was a time when we KNEW that the sun revolved around the earth.
There was a time when we KNEW ours was the only solar system.
There was a time when we KNEW that diseases were caused by angry spirits.
What will we KNOW tomorrow?
I apologize for the “Men in Black” reference just now, but it’s true!
Take, for example, the practice of a pessimistic meta-induction from the history of science. When you start out from the mindset that everything you have known in the past has turned to be wrong, then you can infer that you are also probably incorrect on a few things now.
Question everything that you think you know, and entertain the possibility that you could be wrong about everything.
Then start asking questions.
#12: Everyone around you has a story to tell.
Every single person that you meet knows something that you don’t. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to not let them leave until you figure out what that is.
I remember once when I was living in Russia, and we were in the food court at the mall. I don’t remember exactly which place this was, but the Indian guy working the counter spoke two languages that they speak in India, English, and Russian. He was here studying to become a doctor…and he was one of the most welcoming people in the entire city of 4.5 million.
This was in St. Petersburg.
My story is pretty interesting too, but you’d never guess it when I’m asking you for your ID at the front door of the bar.
Who else do you pass by every day that has a fascinating story to tell?
Do you think you could start asking them some questions?
What might they be able to teach you?
#13: Become curious about what you fear.
In our homogenized culture, everybody avoids discomfort as much as possible. Most people can’t spend time alone inside their own head’s because it’s too uncomfortable for them. So they’re “bored” all the time.
Well sit with that discomfort, and ask questions about it instead. You may or may not feel better, but that’s not the point.
In fact, the point is that there IS no point.
Just ask questions, become curious about your fears and/or insecurities, and see if you can’t gain some self-knowledge out of the whole deal. Our contemporary educational system makes students memorize facts, but it doesn’t teach these essential, humanizing skills. You’re just going to have to dive in by yourself.
#14: Being willing to admit what you don’t know is how you become smarter.
In 2015, I read 170 books. Straight through, cover to cover, with accompanying notes for each one. You’d think that I would feel pretty smart after reading that many books, but actually, the exact opposite happened!
I came to terms with the idea that there is so much that I don’t know, and that I would be fighting an uphill battle for my entire life. Even if your knowledge just came from reading books and watching documentaries…think about how many of each of those there are out there!
It’s insane, and when you read as much as I do, you develop this profound humility. Everything acquires a new sense of wonder and mystery, and you feel both lost and completely at home at the same time.
If I thought that I knew everything already, then I wouldn’t be as curious as I am. And I’ve established above, curiosity is the CURE for boredom!
So get curious and get smarter.
#15: Not knowing the answer opens up the entire world.
Reviewing my notes, this doesn’t sound like the type of thing I would write, so I think that #15 comes directly from the book.
And man, is Brian Grazer right!
If you think you know everything, then your world is going to stay very small.
At this moment, you don’t even KNOW what you don’t know, and getting curious is the answer to that too.
#16: There are things that people live for every single day, and you should at least try them and experience some of them for yourself.
As they say, people who read books will live a thousand lives before they die, and people who don’t read books will live but once.
There are people on this planet who lead lives completely different from your own, and they have just as much value as yours. There are so many different answers to the problem of human existence, and many of them are fascinating.
Get inside the head of an athlete from Romania, or a businessman from China, or a waiter from Spain. They are all going to have COMPLETELY different life experiences, alternate worldviews and value systems…and you can learn from all of these people. Every single person you meet, in fact.
Getting curious about things is the number one way that I know of to get rid of your boredom and existential anxiety.
Your world is huge, and you owe it to yourself to experience as much of it as you can. As Ray Bradbury says in his fantastic novel, “Fahrenheit 451”, “stuff your eyes with wonder; live as if you were going to drop dead in the next ten seconds.”
Finding out more about your world is also a voyage of self-discovery. It’s widely accepted in psychology circles that most individuals know next to nothing about themselves. Your depth inside stretches just as far as the world outside.
It’s by asking questions that we find out how our world really works, and it’s by asking questions that we come to truly know ourselves.
All the best,
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Matt Karamazov is a human rights activist, boxer, and writer who reads 200 books per year and throws 300 punches per minute. His website, Godlike Discipline, is dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.