Training for Life: Boredom

Being bored kind of sucks, doesn’t it? Doubly so when you’re bored doing something that you know you should enjoy. Whether this happens at work, on a vacation, or on a long bike ride, I reckon that this is something just about everyone has experienced (if you haven’t, please tell me your secrets). Often, there’s not much you can do about it, either you trudge onwards anxiously waiting to finish or you quit (but that’s not cool and sometimes just not possible). While it may not be a pleasant situation to be in, you can definitely still benefit from dealing with boredom.

As any endurance athlete knows, you’re most often limited by your own mental willpower and ability to endure pain. You spend countless hours in your head often with little more to think about than the pain you’re inflicting on yourself. If the effort level isn’t too high, this can go on for hours and hours, making you excruciatingly bored.

I recently found myself in that place of utter boredom with so many more hours to go in my ride that I couldn’t foresee the end, yet so many hours past that I couldn’t just stop and have that all go to waste. Rewind to November 2018, when I found myself alongside my roommate and ultimate training partner attempting to become the first people to vEverest on the Innsbruck map in Zwift (if you haven’t heard of vEveresting or Everesting, check them out here). I won’t go into the details of this ridiculous feat since my friend wrote a great blog post about it already. But basically, we spent 12 hours riding on indoor trainers, doing 23 reps of an, approximately, 20 minute climb. Overall, it took about 15 hours from start to finish, including breaks.

WhatsApp Image 2018-11-17 at 22.30.49

This. Was. Boring. The start was exciting, the end was exciting, some major milestones in the middle were exciting, but for the vast majority of the ride we were silent, in our own heads, trying to distract ourselves with the Lord of the Rings movies (which I often found myself ignoring or unable to focus on anyway). This gave me a lot of time to think…about everything I wanted to eat and how much my legs hurt. But also about boredom. From pondering on this ride and others, I see some applications for boredom.

Boredom for Filtering

First, it acts as a filter on activities and ways to spend your time. Say you really want to run a marathon, ride a century, or build your own website from scratch. All of these will take long hours of doing often very repetitive tasks. If you find yourself getting bored every time you head out the door for a run or sit down at the computer to practice some coding, then maybe that activity just isn’t for you. It doesn’t really matter how much you think you would enjoy the end result, if you can’t enjoy the majority of the process then you’ll likely regret spending your time on it.

It’s okay and completely normal to get bored sometimes doing a task you usually enjoy – it happens to the best of us – but being bored and wishing you were doing something else every time is not a good sign.

Boredom for Mental Stamina

Like going for a long run or ride, once you complete it you know that you could, if necessary, push yourself a little longer next time. Then the next time you go for your long ride you do push yourself a little farther. Now you know you can go even farther than that. Repeat this over time and your scale of what a “long” activity or “long” time to focus is really changes. When you get to hour three of a four hour ride you know you can finish because you’ve been in this position before. Suddenly the task before you isn’t so daunting, you just have to get through it.

This transfers outside of just sport. Have a long drive coming up? A project that needs to be crammed into one day? Maybe the specific context is uncharted waters for you, but you know you can, if necessary, focus for that long and that, mentally, you can handle the task before you.

Boredom for Entertainment

Time for the obligatory technology rant…With the ever-connected state that smartphones bring us, in most historically boring situations, we can find entertainment and escape through the Internet and our phones.  This isn’t necessarily a good thing. It shortens your tolerance for unpleasant situations and can make you quick to agitate.

Learning to live with boredom and find ways to amuse yourself inside your own head is a powerful resource and one that doesn’t rely on having an internet connection or a charged battery. If you can amuse yourself or even just relax with no external simulation, it really makes waiting through any line seem trivial.

Boredom for Fun

When you do push through and finally finish the boredom-inducing activity, the sense of relief can be immense. And only then can you start to appreciate whatever it was you just accomplished. Often, this makes you feel like what you did just accomplish was fun and that you enjoyed it. It might take a few hours, days, or weeks, depending on how hard you pushed yourself, but sooner or later that feeling of Type 2 fun arises.

Just like how it took a couple weeks, but eventually I started pondering doing another Everesting…

So, to put it concisely, boredom is rarely enjoyable but it is also rarely without benefit. Next time you’re slogging your way through that three hour trainer ride, appreciate the adaptations you’re making to your mental strength as well as your physical strength.

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