Bored to death? It’s a sign that you thirst for Growth

DSCN3052

The mind is the root from which all things grow; if you can understand the mind, everything else is included.

~Bodhidharma

Everybody feels bored from time to time. It is very normal because it’s just an indication of our brain’s need for stimulation. It’s just like when a person exhibits symptoms of an illness and the doctor prescribes medicine to cure it. In this case, boredom is the symptom and one must find a way to stimulate the brain.

There are a lot of ways to cure boredom. But, any activity that does so can be rated on two parameters – Growth & Distraction. An activity has to rate highly on both for it to be a good stimulation. If an activity is purely growth oriented, something like attending lectures in college, well, we all know what happens. In the long term, it might be good, but it isn’t able to hold our interest and we tend to go to sleep. Similarly, if the activity is pure distraction, like checking Facebook every spare moment, it doesn’t reach the amount of stimulation needed for the brain. But, it does provide variety. Something that holds our interest and is different from the mundane. It only serves to stimulate the brain in short bursts and lacks real growth potential.

I talk about this because I thought I used to get bored during college, but there one can always find something to do. Even if it is just doing laundry. I got introduced to real boredom at my job. There are days when I have nothing to do. I just have to show up, stay there for 8+ hours, and leave. I also found out that I wasn’t the only one who’s suffering these forced bouts of boredom. I keep hearing from my friends how they spend their time chatting on Facebook, playing Candy Crush Saga, gossiping in the cafeteria etc. Over time I realized that I just can’t go on living like this. Distracting myself every time boredom struck. Distraction isn’t growth, and without growth there is no life.

Extended periods of boredom can lead to frustration. A feeling that I had been feeling at my regular job for the past year and half. Experiencing frustration can make distractions really addictive. They provide the surety of always being available and the variety of being different from what is causing frustration. Also, I observed that every slight thing that didn’t go my way felt like a personal affront, especially if it happened at the workplace. In hindsight, I can tell you that the experience of surrounding myself with negativity was not a pleasant experience. So, even though I knew that it wasn’t helping, I felt justified in taking a break from reality by distracting myself. Drinking with friends always ended up with all of us criticizing our bosses; cafeteria gatherings became gossip sessions; movies, TV, video games, and social networking became the preferred way to escape after returning from work as well as during weekends.

Towards the end of that period, denied any growth, frustration decayed into something worse – desperation. Desperation can make people take decisions they normally wouldn’t. And, when the source of desperation is one’s work the decisions can be life altering. Decisions like choosing to do an master’s degree, which by itself is not bad. However, if the reason behind the decision is only to escape from an unsatisfying job, it will eventually lead to more pain and unhappiness. Or, giving in to the parental pressure to marry because you feel that there is something wrong in your life and that things will settle down to normal after marriage. Fortunately, I escaped making any such decision. However, I have been to the edge of desperation and have come back with a lesson learnt the hard way. Do not let your boredom dwindle into frustration, or worse desperation. When you feel that you regularly start feeling lost and experience bouts of restlessness or lethargy, it is a signal that your need for growth is making its presence felt. It is up to you to find ways to satisfy this need. Here is what helped me get out the dumps.

Know yourself

Neither your parents nor close friends can tell you what truly makes you happy. Even you might miss it in your busy life. Pay attention to what activities you enjoy, what you are good at, when time seems to fly while you are doing something. Keep a note of all such activities. An easy way to do this is to see what you on most weekends.

Learn Constantly

One of the easiest ways to keep the brain occupied is to learn. It doesn’t always have to be productive, but it must be enjoyable yet involve some challenge. Maybe you like learning a language, maybe you like watching documentaries, maybe you would like to learn kung-fu. Whatever catches your fancy is fine, as long as you consciously make time for it.

Be Creative

Learning is fine, and the next natural step is creation. Put your learning to use. It will give you a sense of great accomplishment. For e.g., if you enjoy watching food & cooking related shows, you could go out and film a local street food vendor. Or, if you like reading and researching gadgets, you can start reviewing them on your blog. Your creation might not turn out to be good in the beginning, but you should have fun doing it.

Contribute

No matter who you are and what activity you pick, you will find a few other people doing it as well. It is not all difficult to find online communities where people have discussions over common interests. The best sense of fulfillment comes from contributing to these communities. People acknowledging your contribution is the best form of motivation for you to keep on giving.

Don’t Give Up

People usually fall into the trap of “I don’t feel like it”. Once you have chosen to do something you must schedule it for a period of time. It’s like making a habit of regular exercise or meditation. Some days it feels good and some days are dull. To form the habit you must do it regularly for at least a month. If it doesn’t feel good to be doing it after that period, you can drop it. For help on habit formation check out this website.

I can only say that each one of us has the freedom to choose a way to satisfy the need for growth. Boredom, frustration, and even desperation can be overcome by choosing what feels right. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else except you. I do get bored occasionally but I know ways to get over it now – mostly reading blogs or writing for my own. What about you? Are you ready to acknowledge your need for growth? Or will you let distractions drag you down to the depths of despair?

 PS – This is the video that inspired this post. Hope you enjoy it.

Advertisements

Happiness is a choice and its pursuit is a quest for the courageous

DCIM100SPORT

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

~ Mahatma Gandhi

I was reading Pitirim Sorokin’s Ways and Power of Love and came across the concept of the conscious and the unconscious. As he explains it, the first level is the biological unconscious. This is the level of existence that all animals possess like breathing, survival, etc. These instincts exist for the sole reason of keeping us alive and do not usually intrude upon the conscious. The next level is the biological conscious. When the unconscious instinct cause us to take some action, they cross over into the biological conscious. For e.g., eating to satisfy hunger, sleeping to rest etc. The next level is the socio-cultural conscious, which supersedes the previous levels. This is the level of consciousness that helps us live as a part of the human society. Pitirim says that there are as many socio-cultural identities of each individual as there are socio-cultural groups the individual interacts with. For e.g., at home the role might that be of a parent and at work that of a manager. There are other groups the person may be a part of like religious gatherings, political associations, hobby clubs etc. Each role has its own sets of values and duties required of the individual. As long as all these roles push the person in the same direction, the person is integrated and at peace, but when the different roles have conflicting value systems, the conflict is transferred to the person’s personality and existence.

This got me thinking that perhaps this is a possible explanation of the reason why so people are unhappy with their lives, and particularly their work. Perhaps, the way our work role needs us to act and behave is at odds with our other roles. Considering that work takes up such a large part of our everyday life, and aided by the advances in technology, intrudes even into our personal lives, we start to live according the value system as demanded by our work role. Of course, the value system is different in our other roles, but, if we behave in a way we do in our work value system, the results are not going to be good.

The other important role is that of the one in our family. No matter what role you have in the family, there is one thing that all families requires of its members. Quality time to spend with each other. The family is the most close knit social structure in our society, but it still needs to be nourished and cared for by conscious effort of caring for each other. Time spent with family (and to a lesser extent with friends) can act as a restorative to the wear and tear of daily life. However, with the way our current work roles are, we are often required to spend 10 to 12 hours everyday at the workplace, all in the name of being able to provide and contribute towards the survival of the self and family. Now, when  one returns home after such a hectic workday, the needs for food and rest (which cross over from the biological subconscious to the conscious) take priority. The family is taken care of in terms of basic needs of survival being met, but its members aren’t able to benefit from the therapeutic and healing qualities of living in a family. Conversely, if we give more time to our family (and friends) at the expense of the time given to our work, we are prone to suffer from the indignity of being labelled as a bad performer or an irresponsible person. It is especially true in today’s work culture where people stay in work places for much longer than the stipulated time. Any such scenario immediately pits the work and family value systems against each other – safety of the substantial income and a feeling of achievement by working vs time to spend with the family to revel in each others’ love. How can a person not be torn apart by indecision and conflict when faced with such a conundrum?

And the more social groups we are part of, more are the chances of this inner conflict. It is not necessarily true, but sadly, for the vast majority of us, it is. The most obvious solution then is to align our different roles so that they become congruent. However, as it is mentioned later in the book, this change is a three fold process. If all three aspects of a person’s life do not change, then the efforts to be congruent will most likely fail.

Change in social groups

This is perhaps the easiest change that a person can make. A person may change the soccer team they support if they no longer feel that it is playing with the same philosophy they used to play. One may change a job because he no longer like the boss or feels that he could get paid more. He may move to a new house and become part of a new neighborhood. A change in social groups usually leads to some adjustments in the social role that we play – new dress code to support the new team, change in work content, participation in community activity etc. These changes occur in almost every person’s life at some time or another and the reason for that can be manifold.

Change in value system

This step is harder than changing social affiliations, but the reasons are usually stronger. The value system of a person changes only under severe circumstances because it is not easy to break the rules that one has been conditioned to follow throughout life. One can stop believing in the virtues of hard work after being passed over for promotion repeatedly. A bad breakup might lead to being distrustful of the opposite gender. It takes constant reconditioning and consistency for a new value system to take root.

Change in ego

To acknowledge flaws and then change one’s own personality or behavior is the hardest change of all. The reason for such a change is usually pain or fear, of a debilitating magnitude. A fun loving and adventurous mother may become overprotective and possessive of her child after a mishap with the child. A financier may reveal his shady deals when the pain of living a life of deceit becomes too much. A rebellious teenager may turn over a new leaf after realizing how much the parents are suffering due to the misbehavior. Whatever the reason, a change at this level is usually life changing.

To make an effort to be congruent and pursue happiness can take place only through conscious action to make a change at all three levels. The motivation for this change must be deep rooted in the personality for the results to be lasting. Changing jobs for higher pay is very unlikely to bring about a change in the value system or ego. However, changing jobs to work for an employer whose vision and purpose you believe in means your value system has changed and hence, your social association will change as well. Changes in the ego are often the most powerful forces of change. For e.g., if you believe that your company’s work is harming people and you become disillusioned with your employers, it will automatically lead to a change in the value system about work, and extend to changing the social affiliations too. An effort made to understand one’s own beliefs about the self and society can become a guiding light on the path to discover one’s true purpose. A change motivated by aligning actions and behavior to this purpose will diminish the inner conflict and bring happiness. I’m sure everyone can do with a little more happiness in their lives. What will you do to get your share of it?