Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Bangry? Solving Angry Boredom

Scientists don't define boredom as simply having nothing to do, but rather a lack of engagement, specifically "the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity." Boredom requires two conditions.
  • Mental energy that you would like to devote to something-- because without the energy you will feel only relaxation. 
  • Something, either a distraction or anxiety, preventing you from fully focusing your attention.
This means that boredom is not just about a lack of stimulation or restlessness. There must be a sense of being trapped as well as underlying anxiety as to how much longer the boring event will endure. This is what prevents immersion in the Girls episode on your iPad while waiting to board a flight. The helplessness we experience is because removing ourselves from the boring event is either rude, detrimental to our careers, counterproductive, or impossible. 

5 Types of Boredom

There are 5 Types of boredom differentiated by the level of mental arousal and the feeling about the state of boredom.

1. Indifferent: We appear relaxed and calm yet withdrawn, e.g., the moment just before your dad falls asleep in the LazyBoy.  

2. Apathetic: It looks a lot like helplessness, ennui with little arousal but a lot of aversion. Think bored housewife with grown kids who isn't interested in golf, cooking lessons, yoga, painting, language studies ... it's a path to depression.

3. Calibrating: Thoughts wander and we want do something different but not sure how, e.g., right now I want to go swimming, but that entails ten minutes of sunscreen application. 

4. Reactant: We are highly aroused and have a lot of negative emotions; we're restless and aggressive. People experiencing reactant boredom really want to leave their dull situations and flee from the people they blame for it and waste time thinking of situations they’d rather be in, e.g., I fantasize about hanging up on a telcon because the call leader is vamping and not following an agenda. Bangry, angry boredom.

5. Searching: We experience negative feelings and a creeping, disagreeable, restlessness and look for an escape by focusing on more interesting activities, i.e., the type of boredom that lights a fire under us to make lasting changes. 

Indifferent: Type 1 Boredom

Boredom Customized Just for You

Type 1 boredom is hardly worth solving as it's fleeting, nearly enjoyable, and non-destructive. Since it can take months or even years to find an escape from type 5 boredom, it's an easier and more effective path to work on types 2 - 4.

Type 2 boredom is learned helplessness; people blame their inability to pay attention on their circumstances, similar to when animals are beaten down repeatedly and stop trying to improve their condition. This type of boredom may require professional help because of its close relationship to mental illness.

Type 3 boredom often involves repetitive tasks such as calorie counting, housework, or completing reports. If these are boring you, try to accomplish them in a way that makes them more engaging. 
  • Gamify it. I use Calorie Count to log my food because I like seeing the analysis chart throughout the day and checking off my accomplishments like getting enough potassium or having a 500 calorie deficit. Checking a heart rate monitor on the treadmill can serve the same purpose.
  • Sexify it. My Clean House playlist includes hip hop music--the more explicit the better--to make Swiffering a little less boring. 
  • Fight boring with boring. Pilots sort receipts and updates expense reports while at cruising altitude. I read financial emails while waiting for people.
  • Embrace it. Sometimes mundane activities lead to creative thinking
Type 4 boredom where there is no escape--irrelevant meetings, conversations on repeat, traffic--is the type that can cause lasting damage because the frustration and resentment it causes can lead to hasty actions.

  • Determine which conversations you can halt when they begin repeating themselves--not the ones with your boss's boss, but maybe the ones with the butcher. Stop them if you've heard this one before.
  • If meetings are the source of your angry boredom (bangry?), you can either work to solve the meeting problem or accept it. Which option aligns better with your long term plans? 
Traffic? Having lived in Los Angeles for twenty years the best solution that I can offer is to change traffic from type 4 to type 1 boredom by lowering your level of arousal and redirecting engagement from the traffic to something else. Select a route and stick with it--relinquish the idea of saving an extra seven minutes by changing freeways and instead immerse yourself in audiobooks, in-depth interviews on satellite radio, or a Chill Out Lounge mix. But traffic is afterall one of the reasons I am moving from Los Angeles (see type #5).

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