We all feel bad from time to time. Some of us might experience intense negative feelings daily. How can we handle such negative feelings?
I will use boredom, a feeling that we are all familiar with, as an example. The approach is the same for any negative feeling, though, so you can substitute the negative feeling you’re experiencing for boredom.
To handle boredom, I like to use two complementary approaches.
To begin with, we can accept that we feel bored. Boredom is a feeling just like any other feeling, which means that it is temporary and constantly changing. The experience of boredom will change in intensity and eventually will disappear altogether, without us having to do anything. Some time in the future, boredom will return. This is normal.
The perspective shift here is that boredom isn’t something to avoid or to resist. Being bored doesn’t mean something is wrong. It doesn’t mean that we must make changes or else risk feeling this way forever.
We may believe, subconsciously or explicitly, that being bored is somehow a failure. Perhaps we think it is a failure of our curiosity or a failure of our attempts at creating an interesting lifestyle. The trite saying that “only boring people get bored” might come to mind.
Boredom isn’t a failure, though. It is simply a phenomenon that occurs. To help us accept the phenomenon and to remind ourselves of its transitory nature, we can say: “boredom is passing through my consciousness“.
Now, after we experience boredom multiple times, we might like to understand it better. We can investigate why we feel bored, for example by meditating. Doing so can help us see patterns.
Let’s say we notice ourselves often feeling bored at a particular location. We can then ask ourselves what about this location seems to encourage the feeling of boredom. For example, if we find ourselves getting bored in the library, and we end up not getting any work done, then we can try to work in a different location, where there is some hustle and bustle. This is a reasonable, pragmatic action we can take to try to feel less boredom in the future.
As long as we don’t go overboard—by perceiving any feelings of boredom as failures that we must prevent—taking pragmatic steps is a complementary approach to accepting the feeling of being bored.
In fact, for all negative feelings, not just for boredom, it is usually skillful to match acceptance and investigation of the feeling with pragmatic steps to reduce the feeling’s frequency or intensity. The key is to take pragmatic steps within reason—not to try to banish the negative feelings once and for all.
We want to take practical steps to reduce the frequency and the intensity with which negative feelings appear, without resisting these feelings or wishing that they would not appear at all.
It’s a paradox: a seeming contradiction. It seems like a contradiction, but if we look closely, we find out that it isn’t.
P.S. Accepting, in particular, is simple but not easy. If you need help, we can work on acceptance in my coaching program.