Monday 22 April 2019

Bored games

Boredom can disguise our innermost feelings

Resist the urge for temporary distraction (Stock photo)
Resist the urge for temporary distraction (Stock photo)

There are two types of risk-taking. The first is conscious and calculated - the risk a person takes when they realise that something has got to give.

The other type confuses motion with momentum. It's impulsive and directionless, and it is almost always borne out of boredom.

Boredom is a dangerous thing. It can trigger regrettable relationships, ill-advised image overhauls and credit card max-outs.

Studies have found that chronically bored people are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour, yet the risks that they take are rarely thought-true.

It's interesting that there has been a boom in books on the subject of boredom - Yawn: Adventures in Boredom; How to be Bored; Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction - when we're only ever a pair of earphones away from some sort of amusement.

We have smartphones, social media and Netflix so why, then, do so many people feel like their lives are lacking stimulation? Diminishing attention spans and overwhelming choice are of course part of the problem, but perhaps we need to look more closely at the state of boredom and ask if it's another feeling in disguise.

The world's most compelling thinkers have weighed in on the topic. Walker Percy said "boredom is the self being stuffed with itself". Leo Tolstoy was as pithy as ever when he wrote: "Boredom: the desire for desires."

Soren Kierkegaard, meanwhile, described it as "the root of all evil". "It is very curious that boredom, which itself has such a calm and sedate nature, can have such a capacity to initiate motion," he added. "The effect that boredom brings about is absolutely magical, but this effect is one not of attraction but of repulsion."

We tend to think of tedium as a response to our environment or our circumstances. This absolves us of responsibility and thus diminishes our personal power. Boredom, we decide, is situational.

The late Wayne Dyer explained this fallacy in his first book, Your Erroneous Zones: "Life is never boring but some people choose to be bored. The concept of boredom entails an inability to use up present moments in a personally fulfilling way. Boredom is a choice; something you visit upon yourself, and it is another of those self-defeating items that you can eliminate from your life."

This makes sense. In psychological terms, people are differentiated by their 'locus of control'. Some have an internal locus of control - they believe that they have control over the direction that their life takes. Those with an external locus of control, however, believe that their circumstances are beyond their control - hence they choose to complain about being bored rather than do something about it.

"The tendency is to blame boredom on the environment," added Dyer. "'This town is really dull' or 'What a boring speaker'. The particular town or speaker is never dull, it is you experiencing the boredom, and you can eliminate it by doing something else with your mind or energy at that moment."

Of course, it should be noted that some people are simply more prone to boredom. In scientific terms, they have 'a high sensitivity to reward'. These high-energy, sensation-seeking Type A personalities aren't so much resisting boredom as they are chasing adventure.

The trouble is that the rest of us try to alleviate chronic boredom by taking our cue from these born thrill-seekers. Surely we'll feel better after a raucous night out or a spontaneous shopping expedition…

Unfortunately we soon realise that short-term stimulus only eases chronic boredom temporarily. The truth, as uncomfortable as it may be, is that persistent boredom usually points to a deeper need.

Sometimes we have to ask if it's time to change job - or even industry. Sometimes we have to ask if our closest relationships are still serving us.

In some cases, people crave excitement yet they don't even know what excites them anymore. They have learned to tolerate monotonous jobs and moribund romantic relationships. They have become so used to people-pleasing that they have forgotten what it means to please themselves.

"Are you bored with life?" asked Dale Carnegie. "Then throw yourself into some work you believe in with all your heart, live for it, die for it, and you will find happiness that you had thought could never be yours."

In other words, rather than trying to alleviate boredom with temporary distractions, we should be thinking towards purpose, meaning and passion. It can also be helpful to think about boredom's underlying symptoms of complacency, apathy and, in acute cases, despair.

Psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm said "Boredom is nothing but the experience of a paralysis of our productive powers."

Chronically bored people may argue that they are trying to overcome their tedium, but they usually confuse activity with productivity.

They don't realise that in order to truly transcend boredom, we must first surrender to it. That means resisting the urge to take out your smartphone when you're in a waiting room, or put in your earphones when you're on the bus.

When we stop seeking temporary distraction, we overcome the fear of being confronted by ourselves.

And when we truly know ourselves, we begin to understand the real reasons behind our boredom.

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