Managing Boredom

February 24 2021

Boredom is the moment-by-moment experience of not wanting to do something you’re doing now.

While it’s nice to be tuned into the where are you feel about some thing—whether something feels right to do in the bigger sense, whether it feels like the right thing for you—is this the same as whether it is “boring“ right now (to do a particular thing related to the bigger picture’s accomplishment) or not?

It seems to me that boring is more an impulsive level response, brought about by some low level reactivity. Perhaps the immediate steps being taken, does not in this moment feel thrilling to my nervous system. The trouble is that we are evolved as a species that is very capable of operating from a big picture—from long-term thinking that produces big benefits—and yet feeling “bored“ is operating from short term immediate impulsivity.

I know for myself that the very same thing that might seem boring to me at first attention can become more and more interesting the more that I focus on it. My diving into it makes it become interesting.

I know that everyone’s attention doesn’t work like mine, and some people don’t hyperfocus the way I do. Those people probably have an easier time in general not being “bored” with things broadly, but they also might not be as good as I am at becoming super interested in just about everything, once I really get into it.

Because of my particular make up, I have developed lots of strategies to direct my attention into things I want to do, so they become interesting to me. Of course, this is all related to the idea of so-called delayed gratification.

No, it’s not that we want to be a position to be constantly bored by things. Perhaps we are bored by something because it simply provides no inherent stimulation. (Inherent fear, meaning that even if I were to really get into it, it’s still wouldn’t be all that interesting.)

And yet, I don’t really trust (based on my experience) my impulses towards being bored, in that moment to be the determining factor as to whether something merits the work required for me to get into it or not. That level of impulsivity operates according to its own lizard brain rules, so to speak.

Starting projects usually sounds fun for me, and it would seem for most people. Also, managing crisis provides inherent attentio- grabbing features that can easily pull us in.

I am currently reading a book called Upstream, which asks why tend to handle and manage crisis, rather than handling root causes. The catalytic converter for my Prius was stolen last week. Although I knew that this was a thing that was happening to Prius’s in the area, the type of preventative measures I could have taken to ameliorate this probable events (that is, based upon plenty of anecdotal evidence, it seemed reasonably likely that it could happen), I did nothing about it. It turns out that I did not have comprehensive insurance on it so it’s going to cost me a lot of money. Well of course, if you could invent a time machine to have someone go back in time 24 hours to make different decisions AFTER the fact, you could easily sell that feature to people for lots and lots of money. Why is this?

This, of course, is the question.

Playing with insurance, or health insurance or car insurance or renters insurance for home insurance stuff all of this sounds pretty boring. I think it is indicative that insurance agents are often seen as being in the most boring business. Of course they are—they deal with things our mind finds inherently uninteresting!

And perhaps the business doesn’t seem as boring to the insurance agents themselves, because throughout their day as they are processing claims, they are continually aware of how, from their perspective, they are preventing suffering for people.

The story “this could happen to you” is one of the major things that save people to take us around things. I live in a “safe, quiet“ neighborhood, so I thought car would be all right. Well, a friend lives a few minutes away in another “safe, quiet neighborhood“, and when he heard what happened to me, all of a sudden the urgency to take prevent his Prius from having the same thing happen to it, went up from, say a 1, to a 10! They became hyper-vigilant, making sure nothing would happen to the car before the preventative measures were taken!

I suppose the issue here is that what is boring, and what is important, can have a lot of overlap. Of course, boring is a very impulsive level response, greatly subject to the volatility; important is a very rationality-based, reflection-based behavior. At the other end of a spectrum, in a sense.

Wisdom is the result of experience combined with reflection and reasons (analysis). Wisdom is to do that would tend to be successful. I think as we grow older, we can become more and more interested in wisdom. Partly because it becomes more and more apparent that a simplistic approach the situation, based on responses to impulsivity, doesn’t really seem to work all that well. Perhaps, also, because our lives do tend to get more complex, and it becomes more and more apparent if we have any sense of ambition, we’ll want to use the very best ways of approaching something, that are available.

In an entirely different vein, it has become clear that actively allowing oneself to become bored can be a great doorway to creativity.

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.”

― Neil Gaiman

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© Alexander Feller 2018