How to Renew Your Interest in Pretty Much Anything
A simple thought exercise for when you’re experiencing boredom or burnout
Over the weekend, I walked into my living room to see my kids bored to the point of physical incapacitation. They were strung out across the sofa, apparently crushed by the weight of, I don’t know, having all of their basic needs met. Their sighs were deafening.
For kids their ages, five and nine, boredom is an existential crisis. So I proposed an existential solution.
“Pretend this is the first time you’ve ever been to this house,” I told them. “This is an AirBnb now, and you just walked in the door. What would you do if it was your first day here?”
And you know what? It worked.
Kind of. They weren’t exactly bouncing around the house, but they were no longer bored. They rediscovered toys. They played. They overcame inertia. For like, an hour, but still.
At the risk of infantilizing both of us, I’d like to propose asking this question any time you’re experiencing burnout or boredom. A job. A relationship. A vacation on the fifth day when you kind of want to wake up in your own bed. Anything, really.
Pretend it’s your first day all over again. Pretend the landscape you see before you is new and unexplored. Pretend you’re experiencing all of this for the first time. What would you do if this was your first day?
What would you do if this was your first day in this role or at this company? Who would you want to grab a coffee with? What possibilities would excite you?
What would you think about this person if you’d only met them hours before? What qualities would you be most intrigued by? What nuances about the way they talk and think would you focus on?
What if this were the first full day of living where you live? What would you want to go do? What kind of people would you like to meet? What street would you want to walk down?
I think what I was asking my kids to rediscover was a sense of awe. Do you remember the perpetual awe of childhood? Awe was one of three key states I experienced growing up. The others were wonder and boredom. Having a good time meant combatting boredom with wonder in hopes that something awesome would result. It may be that kids need more help than I did growing up, that “screens” make it harder for them to feel wonder, and thus, awe. I’m sure that’s true for adults.
But it’s worth seeking out. The University of California, Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner writes in a 2016 essay about the transformative power of awe: “My research has led me to believe that one simple prescription can have transformative effects: Look for more daily experiences of awe.”
I hope this simple “first day” thought experiment can help us see possibility in the things we assume we fully comprehend. My hunch is that if we occasionally pretend to not know our surroundings or our co-workers or are partners very well, we can access a sense of wonder that has faded. Anything mundane to us was likely once amazing to us. Maybe we can recapture that feeling.