How to Combat Boredom
A few weeks ago, we examined boredom, discovering what it is and what it is caused by. Boredom is, as Doctors Eastwood, Frischen, Fenske, and Smilek put it, “the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity.” It is caused by a lack of ability to engage, a lack of challenge, or the meaninglessness of an activity. This week we will address ways to combat boredom.
As we saw previously, boredom occurs when a person has psychological energy which they want to – but are unable to – expend. There are several things which we can do to combat boredom, but they all have this in common: they help us to use our psychological energy. They alleviate our experience of boredom by helping us to engage in satisfying activity.
First, we can combat boredom by thinking critically. A high school student sitting in on a college math class while visiting a college could easily become bored because the math is above his level. However, he could combat his boredom by looking for similarities between what is happening on the blackboard and what he already knows. By searching for similarities, he can expend his psychological energy, preventing him from experiencing boredom.
It is this strategy which prevents me from becoming bored in movies. As I watch a movie, I am constantly looking for clues about the film’s creators’ worldview, comparing it to mine, and attempting to incorporate anything redemptive and truthful into my own belief system. With all this mental activity, I very rarely find myself bored while watching a movie, and I usually only realize that it could have been boring when I hear other people complaining about it.
Second, we can combat boredom by creating challenges for ourselves. When engaged in an unchallenged activity, we can always create challenges for ourselves to make it more challenging. Reorganizing your bookshelf? Try to remember the main argument presented in each of the books as you move them from shelf to shelf. Writing your shopping list? Try writing each item in a different font. Adding little challenges such as these can help alleviate the mundanity of such tasks.
This strategy has helped me to stay awake in math class. As my teacher works example problems on the board, I try to solve them before she can. In the practice problems, I try to finish before any of my classmates. Consequently, I am almost constantly engaged during math class and have little to no time for boredom.
Third, we can search for the meaning behind the activity. Think that you college math requirement is meaningless because you’re an art major? Try listing reasons for you to study what is being taught, or try to think of the ways in which such knowledge will impact your life or your understanding of the world. Almost every activity has a purpose behind it, so look for that purpose. If there is no purpose, don’t do the activity.
I used to think that English was the most boring subject ever. However, once I began to grasp the importance of being able to clearly articulate ideas through the written word, I fell in love with it. English is no longer boring because I now realize that it is not meaningless.
Also, and this is not necessarily supported by scientific evidence, staying hydrated may help prevent boredom. Even very small changes in water levels can cause cognitive function to decrease, science has discovered. Personally, I can have noticed that I am slower at making connections and my working memory decreases when I am dehydrated. When cognitive function decreases, it becomes harder to engage in meaningful activity. Because of this, I try to drink at least one or two bottles of water during each of my class periods.
Sodas, I hypothesize, may increase the likelihood of becoming bored. Caffeine causes an increase in energy while sugar works to dehydrate you. This simultaneously psychologically arouses you and creates a barrier for expenditure of said energy. This may or may not be true, and the effects may be minuscule, but it is still enough for me to avoid sodas.
To combat boredom, seek ways to engage in meaningful activity. These strategies are designed to do just that, and hopefully they can help you become less bored. Boredom, like pain, is neither good nor bad, but we don’t like to experience it, and it indicates that something is wrong. Hopefully these tips help you to fix the problems that have led to boredom in your life.