“…millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” –Susan Ertz
My dad used to tell me that only boring people get bored. That kept me from admitting I was bored until I was in my twenties, at which point I realized two things: a) if you can’t admit when you’re bored, you can’t fix it, and b) boredom had become my worst fear in life.
What makes it so awful? The same thing that makes exercise awful: it’s exhausting. But let’s be clear: there are two different sorts of boredom. There’s the one (inaccurate) notion of boredom, where you find yourself alone and with time on your hands and you say “I’m bored. I wanna do something.” Problem solved- do something. (And if you’re lucky enough to have time on your hands and can’t think of anything to do, that’s what gets you the ‘boring’ label from my dad). The ‘boring’ I’m talking about is when you’re stuck with a task that’s a) cognitively unchallenging, b) repetitive, and c) goes on for a long, long time.
The funny thing is that brain-wise, one might think that boredom is unpleasant because, as we all know, the brain seeks to be stimulated. Boring tasks fail to stimulate, leaving a ‘feeling’ of dissatisfaction. But not only is there a lack of stimulation, there’s the effort involved in maintaining that unstimulated state. That is, engaging in a boring task actually requires more overall brain effort than does a cognitively challenging task. You might not have thought about it that way, but it really is intuitive- maintaining attention to something boring is hard and requires effort, whereas tuning in to something stimulating/interesting is comparatively easy. Good luck if you’re just inherently dumb, but so long as you understand what you’re perceiving- attention to new and complex ideas requires minimal effort.
It may be worth pointing out now that for every perception and sensation, there is also an emotional reaction. Say three people stub their toes. One person feels the pain and is stopped in their tracks and has to sit down and wail through the agony. The next person feels the exact same pain but is content to stop for a moment, shout a curse word, and keep going. The third person feels the same pain but by virtue of brain physiology is simply not very bothered by it. Such is the case with boredom – some people weather it better than others. And if you’re like me, you deal with boredom by wailing through the whole thing – biting your pinky fingers and stubbing your toe repeatedly just for the sake of distraction. Fortunately, boredom is somewhat different than other sorts of pain in that you can build a tolerance to it, much like exercise. If you’re looking to build your boredom tolerance, I suggest the following:
1) Sew something by hand. If you don’t have the time to create an entire garment by hand, then just mend something by hand. If you don’t know how to sew by hand, google it. Anyone with hands can mend a tear with a needle and thread.
2) Clean your grout – everyone gets mildew. Wear a mask and gloves, get out the bleach and a toothbrush, and clean the grout. If the grout is un-cleanable, you’re in luck, because removing and replacing grout is even better. Google it. Anyone with hands can clean or replace grout.
3) Do you groom? Put away the razor, get out your tweezers, and tweeze. One hair at a time. You’d be surprised how much you can tweeze in an hour, and it lasts for two weeks.
4) The most painful of all by far – so painful that not even I am willing to do it – exercise in silence. Nothing will seem boring after that.
The truth is, even interesting people get bored. Sometimes you can eliminate the problem, sometimes you can’t. But everyone can adapt.
Story By: Sarabeth Fox
I am Sarabeth Fox and I was born in San Antonio,Texas. I have one brother (2 yrs older) and several family members who also live in my town. I’ve had cats and dogs; I like them both and wish I had some now. I have a 3 yr old daughter instead. I received a BA in psychology at St. Mary’s University and a MS in experimental psychology from UTSA. I had wanted to do neuro-psychology imaging research but changed my mind and instead I make films.