Boredom starts with unexpended energy, both mentally and physically. This inert energy makes us restless which leads to the inability to focus. People who feel bored attribute these feelings to their environment and the feeling of powerlessness to change the situation. For this reason, boredom usually occurs in classrooms, waiting at the airport, or during meetings at work–places where we feel trapped.
Source | Psychology Today
The act of overcoming boredom bodes well with yogic teaching. We have created institutions that organize our lives in a very particular and rigid way from childhood to adulthood. The challenge is how we react to situations when we have limited control over the world around us.
When is boredom a part of our daily life?
Meetings and the workplace are where adults constantly feel the need to fidget because they lose focus or are bored.
Culturally, meetings are a way to get everyone’s opinion and make them feel that they matter. It’s a part of the movement to be more inclusive and foster diverse opinions. In the last 50 years, employees spend 13 hours more a week in meetings. Although meetings are still an important component for collaboration, they can take a toll.
One described her experience in meetings as:
“stabbing her leg with a pencil to stop from screaming during a particularly torturous staff meeting”.
Source | Harvard Business Review
Part of what makes meetings painful is their inefficacy. According to HBR, 71% of senior managers believe that “meetings are unproductive and inefficient” and 62% said that meetings miss opportunities to bring the team closer together.
Boredom and powerlessness go hand in hand. One way to find happiness, is to conquer boredom.
Dangers of Routine Boredom
Boredom is not just a temporary problem that goes away when the meeting is over or when class is dismissed. There are long-term effects to boredom especially when feeling bored has become a part of everyday life:
We learn to dislike things that we associate with boredom.
Routine boredom trains us to checkout and compromises our overall ability to focus.
How Do We Cope?
Gadgets or Props
Gadgets such as fidget spinners attempt to address this issue by providing a sensory stimulation to help us focus. Needing an external object to facilitate focus, is not a new concept. In Greek and Cypriot culture, the komboloi or worry beads are used to keep one occupied. The problem with fidget spinners, however, is that the person using it might feel calm, but it can distract other people around them.
Letting the mind wander is less invasive to the people around you, but there’s a caveat; mind wandering when you’re already bored can sometimes make you feel even more bored.
In fact, although letting the mind “go” shows that it can lead to creativity, “mind wandering is only beneficial when it occurs during that time when your mind is trying to solve the solution” to a problem.
Breathe Deeply and Count Your Breath
Boredom is not just mentally taxing, but it can be painful and stressful. With mindful breathing, you not only calm the mind, but relieve the stress that comes from being bored.
Breathing deeply has another added benefit, it facilitates good posture. It’s hard to expand the chest when you’re slouching.
Wrist and Ankle Stretches
Especially if you have to sit through long hours of meeting, find ways to stretch out without being invasive or distracting to others. Sitting for long stretches at a time is not only unnatural for humans, but it’s detrimental to our health
Prolonged sitting is not what nature intended for us.
Dr. Camelia Davtyan | clinical professor of medicine and director of women’s health at the UCLA Comprehensive Health Program.
The chair is out to kill us.
James Levine | endocrinologist at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine.
Mantras have been scientifically proven to calm us down. Mentally recite your mantras, but be careful not to start chanting out loud.
The Active Approach: Take Charge
If you are the head of a company or at least have the authority to restructure how meetings run in your organization, take a page from Larry Page, Google co-founder’s playbook.
When Page resumed the role of CEO in 2011 he made some fundamental changes to how meetings are run in the company:
- Every decision-oriented meeting should have a clear decision-maker, and if it didn’t, the meeting shouldn’t happen.
- Those meetings should ideally consist of no more than 10 people, and everyone who attends should provide input. If someone has no input to give, then perhaps they shouldn’t be there.
- Most importantly, decisions should never wait for a meeting. If it’s critical that a meeting take place before a decision is made, then that meeting needs to happen right away.
Boredom is not a benign feeling and it’s a symptom of things around us that make us feel helpless. Being aware of when you are bored throughout the day and finding ways to cope with it is crucial to our happiness and productivity.