If You’re Bored, Then You’re Boring

Today is Veterans Day. Join me in thanking the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. Their willingness to serve us at home and abroad in the defense of freedom deserves our respect and humble honor. May God bless them and their families, keep them from harm, and bring them home safely.

Kudos to anyone who recognized the Harvey Danger lyric reference in the title. It’s probably a little harsh, but it felt like a good way to start a conversation about something that almost all American adults experience in their daily lives.

An article in Psychology Today, “Eight Reasons Why We Get Bored”, explains boredom as a crisis of desire. The reasons for this state can come from internal sources (within our mind) or external sources (related to our circumstances and culture.) Interestingly, boredom has only been a problem since the late 18th century when the industrial revolution made it possible to have leisure time.

I have a problem with boredom. I don’t get bored in the sense of moping around saying, “There’s nothing to do.” Rather, when I am bored, I create things to keep my mind and my attention occupied. I wasn’t sure how this could be true since I am never without a rather long list of things to do. How could I get bored? However, I noticed that when a major project I am working on stalls, while I am getting moving on the next thing on the list, I often create something else to work on. A diversion if you will.

I was talking to my therapist about this and that’s when she told me that boredom equals me not using my gifts and not being creative. In the aftermath of a major project ending or stalling I am experiencing several things:

My brain is tired. Even when we are working on something that interests us, we can experience fatigue. It is like running or walking a race. We may feel tired during the race, but we keep going. Once we reach the finish line, we experience a much greater feeling of exhaustion than we did right before we crossed the line. When a major effort is completed or stalls, we may feel fatigue and an absence of desire.

I miss the flow and excitement. Flow is when we are immersed in a task that matches our abilities. If a level of effort and excitement I am used to is suddenly diminished I experience boredom as a feeling of loss. I am used to having my creativity and skills engaged at a more complete level and it can feel like withdrawal when it is not there.

I am not practicing self-awareness. If I am not paying attention to what my mind, body, and soul are telling me, I may find myself drifting. This is an existential problem, a problem of existence. I know what I am searching for when I am engaged and self-aware. Conversely, the inability to discern what my goals are, even for a short time, leads to the experience of boredom.

External sources can also create the experience of boredom. If we are doing something that is predictable and repetitive, it can become boring. Tasks that are too easy tend to be boring. People who feel trapped and have few options to choose from can feel bored. Also, our culture sends us signals about what we should be and what we should be doing and when we do not live up to those unrealistic images, we perceive that as boredom.

What is interesting to me about boredom is that if we let it, it will cure itself.

A study published recently in the journal “Academy of Management Discoveries”, found that boredom can spark individual productivity and creativity. When we are not using our skills and our creativity it causes us to feel bored. Feeling bored causes our brains to be more creative and more productive, which relieves us of the boredom. However, we often short circuit this process by filling that important space between boredom and the creative spark with things that create small doses of dopamine, like scrolling through Facebook.

Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K is the author of “The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good”, and a proponent of embracing boredom, negative connotations and all. Mann says, “We’re trying to swipe and scroll the boredom away, but in doing that, we’re actually making ourselves more prone to boredom, because every time we get our phone out we’re not allowing our mind to wander and to solve our own boredom problems.”

In order to benefit from boredom, we need to allow our mind to wander without outside stimulation. Try picking an activity that requires little or no concentration — like walking a familiar route, swimming laps or even just sitting with your eyes closed. You may be surprised by what you come up with when you do.

This all underlines the importance of time off and time away. Without a break in the routine and effort we all put forth every day we are likely to become “bored” and stop using our skills effectively. We encourage all our team members to use their vacation every year, and to use some of it in a single larger block. During vacation time we should completely disconnect from work. No phone calls, no texts, no emails. Vacation is a time to rest and become “bored” so that we can return refreshed and full of creativity and energy (the opposite of boring.) That is certainly not a bad thing for the company, but it is a very necessary thing for each one of us, and it is the Kimray Way.