Boredom: from Problem to Opportunity

[Guest blog by Rick Kuplinski, SMART facilitator in Henderson NV]

Many SMART Recovery participants say boredom is a HUGE problem. Boredom may have fueled our addictions as again and again we reached for our “something-something” to get us through rough patches when we felt we had nothing to do or lacked the focus or energy to get things done. For some, just the anticipation of boredom set plans in motion to engage in addictive behavior before ennui even arrived! And in recovery, boredom is identified in the SMART Recovery Handbook as one of six “danger situations” for backsliding, a.k.a. lapse or relapse. (See Page 56).

But what if we looked at boredom differently? What if we saw it as opportunity instead of a problem and then applied our SMART Recovery training and tools to treat it as such? Here’s what we might find:

Opportunity of “found time.” Boredom during addiction is bad enough. But boredom in recovery—at least early on—can be even worse. Two reasons. First, we are facing it without the crutch of our addiction to fall back on. Second, we “find” a lot of new time, i.e., hours now unused since they are not needed to formulate our plans to drink, use, act out; the time to carry out those plans; and then the time for the aftermath, like spending a better part of a day with a hangover or being dope sick. But in recovery, this “found time” can be a newly discovered asset to be invested toward living a more healthy, balanced life. Now let’s turn to how we might do that . . .

Opportunity to challenge unhelpful beliefs. Is it boredom itself that is so troublesome? Or it is our beliefs about boredom that torment us? Here’s just one example. When a participant in SMART Recovery was pressed to identify what he believes when bored, he answered, “I feel guilty. I believe that I should be better than this. I believe I should be productive, like getting things done or doing something to improve myself. So, the guilt comes from just sitting here and not doing any of that.” A-ha! So what if we challenged this belief as helpful or unhelpful as we learn to do in SMART Recovery?

  1. Is it true that you are an unproductive person or without ambition to better yourself?
  2. “No.”
  3. Is it logical to be productive or engaged in enriching activities all the time?
  4. “No. Of course not.”
  5. Is this guilt when you are bored something that is usually helpful or harmful when you act upon it?
  6. “Harmful. Because that’s when I usually drink; to numb the feeling of guilt and not feel so bad about not doing anything.”
  7. Okay, now that we disputed this belief as unhelpful, what if you tried to use self-talk to formulate an effective new belief—one that is more helpful to you?
  8. “Well, it is probably better that I remind myself that I am a productive person. When I have things to do, I usually get them done. And I often try to do things to improve myself, but it’s not realistic to do that 24/7. Maybe my effective new belief is that boredom is nothing to feel guilty about because sometimes I truly have nothing urgent to do; and that is okay.”

Opportunity to develop prevention strategies. Can we anticipate boredom (like when or where it will usually happen), or is boredom something that normally sneaks up on us unexpected? Most people in our meetings say it is the former; we can normally predict the days, times and conditions when we usually find ourselves bored. So, make a plan. For example, let’s say boredom is a big problem for one person on Saturdays when their partner leaves them home alone while going out to lunch and shopping with friends. So, what preventive measures can be planned? One can plan to get out of the house, too, so as not to be trapped alone in a predictable setting for trouble. Or, invite a friend over. Or, schedule an engaging project to do . . . anything other than just sitting there unprepared when boredom arrives on schedule!

Opportunity to “baby step” some VACIs. Vital Absorbing Creative Interests are described by the SMART Recovery Handbook as activities that bring the simple pleasure of life back into focus. (See Page 62.) Free of our addictions, we are in a better place to discover new and enjoyable things to do as we also regain the will to rediscover old ones that might have gotten set aside during addiction. But if taking on a VACI seems too big in the moment, we can take “baby steps” leading up to larger commitments. For example, we might research a route for a hike later in the week. We may watch trailers and read reviews of movies we are considering going to see. We might browse the internet for recipes for a special meal we might make for an upcoming occasion.

Opportunity to “swat flies” or just be at peace with having nothing to do. Sometimes pursuing a VACI just doesn’t fit the mood or situation. That’s when I use a strategy I call “swatting flies.” This is tackling a series of small, discrete and low-commitment tasks during a time of boredom (some of which I might have been procrastinating). These are things like paying bills, organizing a drawer or doing some simple household maintenance. Getting a manageable list of these tasks done makes the time go by and leaves me with a sense of accomplishment. No flies left to swat? That’s a good time to just to sit still and listen to music, pet the dog a little longer, or just watch the clouds go by. Which leads us to . . .

Opportunity to observe the progression of recovery. Just as urges become less prevalent and challenging the longer we abstain from our addiction; the problem of boredom also diminishes as we build upon our physical and emotional recovery. As we grow stronger in our recovery, we are likely to find that the problem of boredom is almost fully replaced by enjoying the opportunity of “found time.”

Bored? Bring it to a meeting. SMART Recovery is a science- and evidence-informed program that provides educational and peer support to those who want to abstain and gain independence from all addictive behaviors, whether or not they involve alcohol or drugs. The program emphasizes building motivation and self-empowerment skills, employing strategies to control urges, managing thoughts at the root of addictive behaviors and living a healthy, balanced life. Go to the “Meetings” tab at to find an in-person or online meeting to attend.

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