How to Be Unborable

In this digital age, we’re constantly bombarded with inputs – most of them negative and/or anxiety-inducing:

Movie trailers, iPhone alerts, Instagram notifications, billboards, emails, new music, podcasts, and news of the world collapsing around us.

Cal Newport, author of Digital Minimalism has called this style of living Solitude Deprivationa state in which you spend close to zero time alone with your own thoughts and free from input from other minds.

I’m guilty of it myself. I find it unbearable to do so much as take the trash to the curb without first queuing up the latest podcast episode on Spotify, putting in my AirPods, and drowning out the drudgery of a 50-foot walk to the end of the driveway.

We’re lucky to live in a world in which we never truly have to be bored.

On our phones exists an endless stream of never-ending consumption possibilities. Being without my phone for more than ten minutes sends me into a frantic search to cancel the mundanity of everyday tasks.

How can I use the restroom without scrolling through Instagram for 90 seconds? What if I don’t respond immediately to the texts, DMs, and work messages I may have received in the last ten-minute window?

It’s not until you experience the uncomfortable feeling of a 30-minute walk without your phone that you realize the tranquility and awe of the world around you.

I first started experimenting with phone-less walks during the pandemic when I lived in Long Island City. I’d go for long walks at night when there was no one on the street. Without a podcast to listen to, I started noticing things I never picked up on in the previous daily walks I took along the exact same path. I never noticed the neon sign in the fifth-floor apartment building window next to the ice cream shop. I never acknowledged the stickers plastered on the traffic pole urging people to stop littering. Thoughts about my career, my relationships, and my personal growth began fluttering in. Why did my ankle click whenever I stepped off the curb?

This solitude unlocked a new sense of peace that I hadn’t allowed myself to experience previously. Was it uncomfortable? Embarrassingly so. And a little bit more than I was comfortable acknowledging.

On my next walk, I thought, “Well, that was nice. But I still need to finish that great podcast episode about a guy who traveled down to the Amazon jungle.” I immediately fell back into the comfort of digital stimulation.

Nature has a quiet way of offering clarity and perspective. Sometimes, the rhythm of our footsteps can echo the solutions we’ve been seeking. I’m not saying going for a walk will solve all your problems, I’m just saying there’s no problem that’s going to be made worse by going for a walk.

There is power in being comfortable with zero stimulation, because, let’s face it, if you never learn how to deal with boredom, you will never learn to enjoy peace and quiet.

Raise your hand if you’ve been on vacation with an incredible view of the ocean, palm trees, and sunshine only to be sitting on your hotel bed scrolling through TikTok. 🙋‍♂️

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” Blaise Pascal

The way you start your day is just as important as the way you end it. If the first thing you do when you wake up is pick up your phone, you are literally handing over your attention to other people and things. Most of the time, we’re simply avoiding the discomfort of sitting quietly with our own nagging thoughts.

Meditation, a practice I’ve written about extensively, isn’t about achieving a zen state of mind, but rather how to put your mind at ease with zero input. If you can be comfortable in a vacuum of your own making, then you can train your mind to be comfortable in the most over-stimulating of situations as well. You don’t always need a plan, or a task to complete. Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go and see what happens.

Remaining calm allows your mind to find solutions. Calmness is also a state of trust. Instead of overthinking and overreacting, you simply yield for that brief moment and allow yourself to orient your thoughts.

The way to peace passes through boredom.

David Foster Wallace explained it perfectly:

“To be, in a word, unborable…. It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish”

― David Foster Wallace, The Pale King


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