Do More Boring Things (Seriously)


Do More Boring Things

One of the things I liked most about living in Morocco a year ago was that I got to speak French on a regular basis. I’m good at it, but not quite fluent.

I’ve never actually tested how much I know about French, but it’s at least conversational. I know enough to be comfortable speaking to locals for long periods of time.

I still occasionally strain to understand them and vice-versa, but the sharing of verbal information does happen.

The end result is good enough that it impresses many people. I’m proud of my French speaking abilities.

Sounds cool, doesn’t it?

But here’s the ugly truth about this accomplishment:

It took a lot of hours to get here. That time was spent memorizing words, practicing by myself and reviewing.

In short, it was a lot of dull boring work.

The same goes for most skills:

Learning a musical instrument means hours of practicing your scales.

Becoming a good writer means hours of writing spent on your computer.

You have to spend hours reading dozens of books to understand any subject in-depth. Once when I was learning economics, I checked out textbooks from the local library so I could better learn the subject.

Let’s look closer at all the things I do to get into great shape:

  • Eat healthy meals every day
  • Eliminate all junk food
  • Stick to a consistent workout regimen
  • Switch out soda and other sugary drinks for water

These are all boring things, but they’re also very necessary for my workout goals.

If you want to be in the best shape of your life, you need to do all of those things. It’s all done so you reach an end result that will make you feel good about yourself.

Funnily enough, I do a lot of things other people consider boring so I can have crazy, fun adventures later.

People think it’s boring how I don’t spend a lot of money on fancy cars, big screen TVs, clothes or expensive drinks in clubs.

That may be true, but I do these things so I can save money for traveling.

It’s boring to them, but I treat it as an investment for an adventure later on. To me, it’s worth forgoing these items so I can see more of the world.

The Problem of Needing It to Be Fun

For someone who writes a lot about doing crazy things, it might seem odd that I would advocate for doing dull activities.

You might ask: couldn’t I reach my goals and have fun at the same time? That would be ideal, wouldn’t it?

I know there are a lot of things out there that try to incorporate fun while building skills. For instance, there are computer programs that will teach you a foreign language in a fun way. There are countless workouts and diets that incorporate fun too.

What’s wrong with taking one of these routes?

There’s a lot wrong with them, actually. The trouble is that trying to make everything fun doesn’t work.

It seems as if more and more things try to be fun in order to get more people to do them. I can’t count how many late night TV commercials try to get people to buy the latest workout equipment whose biggest feature is that it combines working out with fun.

Everyone I know who gets into great shape puts in a lot of time and effort. No one gets there with the latest gadget saying it can be fun to get there.

I’ve tried programs that try to make learning a foreign language fun. Many work really poorly because they focus too much on having fun instead of learning the language. Others work moderately.

But none of them come anywhere near the dull activities of memorizing words, reviewing and practicing. It’s not the most fun way to learn, but it’s the most effective way.

Boring Can Be Great

You have to do what works.

It’s boring to eat right and exercise regularly.

It’s boring to cut costs to save money for traveling.

It’s boring to memorize French words.

It’s boring to drink water instead of soda.

But if you want to get anywhere, you have to embrace these boring things and stop trying to make things fun. Besides, it won’t all be for nothing. When you put in the time, you can achieve some really impressive things.

I know it might seem counter-intuitive, but boring can be pretty awesome.
photo credit: Jesse Millan

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  1. “I know it might seem counter-intuitive, but boring can be pretty awesome.”
    Right you are, Steve.
    Most of the things that can help to improve ourself are usually the things that are boring. It takes a load of passion and discipline to commit oneself to do them on a daily basis but the rewards are seriously worth the effort.

    • I like to think about what I’m building to get discipline. That’s what keeps me going when I want to do something on a daily basis. I look into the long-term and that seems to keep me on task.

  2. I can always tell if an activity is worth it to me to learn by seeing if the repetition seems boring. If it does, I stop, because I know I won’t put in the hours. When I was a competitive ballroom dancer, my partner and I would often work for a couple hours straight on a single figure – anywhere from 3 to 8 steps. At the end of the that practice session, we would be a tiny, marginal bit better. Over and over and over, yet I was never once bored.

    Not being bored by never-ending repetition lets me know that my priorities are in line with actions.

    • Yes, you have to be ok with repetition. I was reading something about a football player who would rehearse the basic drills for hours – the ones he learned when he first started out. The same goes for musicians; they play their scales a lot too.

      It’s about repeating the same things over and over again and making marginal improvements. That’s how you get good.

  3. You’re right Steve. Doing the boring things consistently leads to great results.

    No one ever wants to do them but getting through them is the only way to get to the good stuff. You can’t just skip over it. It’s like paying your dues.


  4. Steve, a very good point. You just have to put in the hours of practice or make sacrifices to get to what’s important. The alternative is short-term gratification which never lasts. To get through boring stuff or make sacrices you need to really care about the end goal and keep it in mind. I’m taking a year off and I can do it because I don’t spend big money on cars, clothes and exotic holidays. I’ve seen many people spend, on cars especially, but I always think about how long that money took to earn (doing a job they hate) or how long I could live on it.

    • It’s good to think in the long-term, it keeps you on your goals. I could give in to short-term gratification and spend more money on fun stuff, but I’d rather save up for traveling.

  5. Sadly Steve, some people won’t understand our ways. I mean being a loner, spending time making content instead of watching TV, just like you said, doing the boring stuff but these boring stuff we do makes us happy and productive so boring, in our case, is not a negative thing at all

    • Yeah, it’s the boring things that make me feel productive. I like building up skills and creating things. Like I said, it’s boring to do things such as studying a foreign language, but it pays off in the long run.

  6. Boring, mundane, tiny tasks done every day are the real indicator of success. As Jim Rohn said: ‘Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day’.
    I can vote for that. Since I’ve started to implement this kind of disciplines, I’ve started to getting results.

    • A little bit every day can really add up over time. When you practice something regularly like that, you can see big results in the long run. That’s why I focus a lot of my daily routine to make long term improvements.

  7. Hi Steve,

    I’ll be honest, I was reading this thinking “hmm, not sure I agree with this at all.” Then realised I completely agreed and it was just semantics. To me “boring” has a tedium / frustrating element to it. It’s a signal for doing the wrong thing. To be avoided at all costs. This is a different to disciplined repetition and / or sacrifice. To an outside observer those things might look or sound boring but to you it’s an investment. There’s an eye on a bigger prize.

    Nice post. Cool blog.

    • I see what you mean. It can mean tedium and frustrating too, but I took a productive angle to it. I see it as an investment too. You have to get through all the boring stuff a lot before you can do the really awesome stuff later on.

  8. Great post here, the task of growth (in any area) will be boring at times, but we need to keep doing it if we want to become better people.

    • It’s good to see the growth behind boring things. That can help you see what you’re trying to build in the long term and is good motivation to keep you going.

  9. You’re spot on Steve. Life is dynamic. We need both ends of the spectrum. Without the boring we cannot have fun. Without failure we cannot have success. Without sadness there is no joy.

  10. So far behind on reading…glad I picked this one to read today, though. I love these thoughts. I think what most people would deem “boring” I find wonderful. I don’t find tedium or boredom in repetition of basic thing, but rather a sense of meditation. Works for me. This was a nice reminder that maybe I’m not so crazy after all! :)

    • That’s a good way to look at it. I get into a meditative state too when I’m doing repetitive, routine tasks. Although it does depend on the task too – not all seem to get me into a meditative mindset.

      What also helps is thinking in the long-term each time I’m doing the task. It helps keep me keep doing it because I know what I’m building up.

  11. Gloria Jean says:

    Awesome article Steve that is “Oh so true!” Thank you. I, too, happen to enjoy the French language, and this article has just given me the motivation to get out my French grammar books and start re-learning this beautiful language again—the tried-but-true “boring” way! LOL!

    • I’m glad to hear that you’re going to re-learn French. Learning grammar is boring, but it pays off when you get to immerse yourself in such a beautiful language.

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