We're Terrified When You're Bored

Like the headline states, your people are terrified when you’re bored. Why? Because you’re liable to do something crazy to spice things up. But that’s not really the terrifying part.

The terrifying part of breaking things because you’re bored is that you’ll be denying your firm the sort of steady progress that mature, disciplined, self-controlled leaders bring to an enterprise.

I do think we need to talk about how there are times when you should break things up, but let’s stick with the boredom thing, first, and then we’ll think about that other thing.

The Roots of Success

Yes, success comes from taking risks and being biased toward action. But that’s just how it starts. It doesn’t really land anywhere unless someone has the vision to stick with it long enough to see it through.

There’s something more in here, too. Routines are the things that layer that disciplined behavior to create a strong result. As Shane Parrish noted recently, "a lack of routine causes more problems than poor choices. Routines turn desired behavior into default behavior."

This works both ways, too, as you and I both know. I am still checking email first thing and there is no redeeming virtue in doing so. I also consume my daily dose of world news in the morning. The problem is that I’m mentally at my best in the morning, and neither of those tasks are a good use of that mental asset. I need to change my routines to be more disciplined, and I’m working on that.

My book writing routines are stellar, though. I use certain equipment in certain places of the world to get words written. We’re all making choices, here, but it can be charted like this:

Routines [lead to] Discipline [which leads to] Success

When you give boredom too much power in your life, you’re interrupting the beauty that discipline and habit can bring.

How We Got Here

Part of how we got here—the notion that we deserve better than boredom—is this inane belief that we deserve to love what we do. Hey, if you love what you do, that’s awesome and consider yourself fortunate that you have the freedom and ability to make those choices. But there’s no “right” hidden in there, and most of the world isn’t quite that fortunate.

So here we are, toiling away with a reasonably profitable business, maybe growing, paying people fairly, and keeping clients happy…and we’re bored?

What? Millions of people would love to exchange their business for yours, and here you are with this itch to shake up your world. Fine, I say, and you might be right, but you might also be leaving all sorts of results on the table because you just didn’t stick with something long enough.

What About Reinvention?

I hear you asking the question that I’m asking myself: “Isn’t it good to shake things up? Shouldn’t you make quick course corrections when the results aren’t what you expect? Have you ever even heard of The Innovator’s Dilemma, David?”

So this brings up the age-old problem of sticking with the status quo too long, or switching to something new too soon. I think both extremes are equally dangerous, but each of us has a tendency, and that tendency needs to be countered. My tendency is to switch things up too fast. What’s yours? What do other people think yours is?

The level of certainty that we crave is not possible, and all we can do is get better and better at making decisions. I like some of the suggestions that Jason Cohen has to offer. When you’re not sure whether to keep going or pivot in a new direction:

  • Timebox it. Set a specific time in the near future and pay even closer attention to the signals between now and then. And when that time comes, don’t extend it without a really good reason.
  • What are the trends telling you? Are you still learning at the same rapid rate? Is the market getting harder or softer? What sort of price pressure are you feeling?
  • Ask outside advisors—the ones who don’t just tell you what you want to hear—what they think of your situation. There will likely be a small consensus among the two or three that you ask.
  • Be very careful to not let sunk time or money influence your decision. None of that matters.
  • Are there big opportunities that you’re missing by staying the course? Or bigger opportunities in actually staying the course?

After considering all that, don’t make the easy choice; make the courageous one.

Boredom is a Symptom

Yes, it’s a symptom. But of what? All that’s really happening is this: as humans, “repeating certain behaviors causes positive and negative emotional responses to wane,” says Wendy Wood, a psychologist at USC. And “when our emotional response weakens [over time], boredom begins to build.”

Boredom is a symptom of time, then, and quite possibly nothing else! So instead of trashing all your money-making service offerings, maybe just take a fresh look at them, rename them, illustrate them better, try selling them differently, inject some data quantification, or whatever. The idea is to do more refreshing and less starting over.

Richard Sima, in the Washington Post, wrote this blather:

“Boredom is a warning sign. Here’s what it’s telling you: it’s our brain’s way of alerting us that things aren’t going well and to do something more meaningful.”

That’s not even remotely true, and that exact sentiment is what has led so many of us to be less successful than we could be. No, boredom is a sign that you’re a human and that you itch for excitement. So before you pull the rug out from your team and your clients, make sure you’re mixing things up because they need it and not just because you’re being selfish.


I’ve never actually tracked it, but I would guess that the question I’m most frequently asked in podcast appearances about entrepreneurship is this: “what does it take to succeed as an entrepreneur?” I always say some version of this:

It takes some base level of intelligence (not a lot), quite a bit of risk-taking, a huge dose of luck…and discipline. Give me a choice between a genius and a disciplined operator, and I’ll take the latter every…single…time.

One more good quote from Mark Manson:

The older I get, the more I realize that success at most things isn’t about finding the one trick or secret nobody knows about. It’s consistently doing the boring, mundane things everyone knows about but is too unfocused/undisciplined to do. Get good at boring.

Get good at boring…and get good at business.

  • Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors

    Secret Tradecraft of Elite Advisors

    Covert Techniques For A Remarkable Practice

    Buy Now