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Most of us had to spend at least several days locked inside last year, and we all felt the boredom creep in. Finding the motivation to create, do something new, or even do a routine task can be hard, even when there are no restrictions.
Like all other emotions, boredom signals our state of being. It tells us we are struggling to pay attention and find meaning. When one of these independent elements is lacking, we feel bored.
So, what is boredom?
Boredom is a state of mind where an individual is disengaged from their surroundings and cannot find purpose or meaning in their current activity. Psychologists distinguish between two types of boredom - attentional and meaningless.
Attentional boredom is characterised by difficulty concentrating, mind wandering and a lack of focus. In contrast, meaningless boredom is caused by a lack of meaning and is characterised by the desire to disengage and feelings of sadness and loneliness. You can also be in a mixed state of both.
Boredom leads to a range of positive and negative effects such as daydreaming, snacking, substance use, resting and anti-social behaviour.
If attention and meaning are the causes of boredom. How do we address them?
Regulate cognitive demands
Regulate cognitive resources
Regulate goal value
So what does that really mean?
Make the task harder or easier until it is the right difficulty for you. We can combine simple tasks or add a time limit. You can also try using external attention demands such as listening to something, snacking and letting your mind wander. Or the other side if a task is too hard, try breaking it down into manageable chunks or find help.
- Regulate your cognitive resources with short term physiological fixes. Like caffeine, sleep or Plant Protein+ to aid attention, or drugs to reduce mental capacities (which is not advised but common in repetitive jobs). Long term approaches consist of improving your abilities through learning and practice.
- Fix any meaninglessness by adjusting your activities to fit your goals better. If you're unsure about your goals, try the mountains and valleys exercise in episode three of the No Ordinary Moments podcast. Or try and align your goals with your activities by mentally reframing your tasks, of which one approach is story editing.
- This one is simple. Try doing something different. Think about what has engaged you, then try circling back to the previous task when you're in a different mindset.
Boredom may not be pleasant. Still, it is essential in alerting us to instances when we cannot successfully engage in meaningful activity. Boredom provides two pieces of information: whether we are successfully engaged in our current task and whether our current task, regardless of engagement, is meaningful.
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