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

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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.

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The ‘How to be Unique’, for entrepreneurs and freelancers

A temple in Kyoto dedicated to the God of Sake (Japanese liquor). Visitors can officially enjoy drinking within the premises. How unique is that!

A temple in Kyoto dedicated to the God of Sake (Japanese liquor). Visitors can officially enjoy drinking within the premises. How unique is that!

You are not a beautiful, unique snowflake…This is your life, and it is ending one minute at a time.

~Chuck Palahniuk

When you are trying to get out a message to the world the biggest problem you might have is being unique. Every expert out there advises this as part of their course, blog, or video. It is something that every entrepreneur or freelancer struggles with, and I am no exception. It’s so easy to say, “Be unique and people will come to you!“. In my experience however, it is easier said than done.

Now, I completely agree with the fact that the message you are trying to spread or the business you are trying to build has to be unique. No matter how good your intentions are or how helpful your services will be, it amounts to nothing if people will not buy it or use it. It is like subscribing to a magazine. You don’t go buying every subscription  that comes your way. It’d be pointless to do so. You only buy into whatever interests or benefits you the most. And that’s part of the problem. The world is so vast that there are bound to be other people who are doing the same thing you are, and all of them can be accessed easily by using the internet. So, unless you can offer something really valuable, that no one else is offering, people aren’t going to be interested.

The problem gets compounded when it comes to the self-help or personal development blogs, products, & services. If you are in the industry, you know that there are a few basic principles that are the key to most of the problems people have. Like ‘managing your time’ or ‘taking action‘. Most people may not be practicing it, but, everyone knows it. It’s like solving an algebra equation. No matter how you approach the problem, you are going to end up with the same answer. If you do it differently, just for the sake of it, you end up with the wrong answer. So, how can you be unique when everyone else is doing the same thing?

Like I said earlier, everyone knows this (hence called common sense). I’ll use ‘story’ as a metaphor because I love stories. The metaphor can stand for product, service, business etc., whatever clicks for you. I have found the following characteristics will go a long way in becoming unique.

Be Genuinely Authentic

Just like no two people in the world have the same fingerprint, no two people have the same lives. Even brothers who grew up in the same house & went to the same school end up having different life experiences. When you are being authentic, you tell the story from your point of view. When the fox called the grapes sour was he in France or in Czechoslovakia? Was its fur dark and red, or shiny and orange? Were the grapes black or green? Had the fox turned vegan that he wanted to eat grapes? The essence of the story remains the same. It is up to you to add your unique touch to the story and the message still gets passed along.

Be Courageously Vulnerable

The other part of telling the story to make it unique is being vulnerable. Just like your friendships are strongest with the people who have been through life’s highs & lows with you, your connection with the people will be better if they see you as one of them. If people think you are a know-it-all, preachy sort of person there isn’t going to be much trust. It takes courage to be vulnerable. To have a chance to experience happiness from within, but, also with a chance to get seriously hurt. To give of yourself without any expectation, even when your need in life is great. You expose your true self to the people and let them see you as you truly are. You give them the power to reject you and cause you pain, but you do it nonetheless. You open yourself to a chance to experience true connection with people who relate to your story. It takes courage to be vulnerable, it is the only way people will believe your story.

Be Ruthlessly Specific

So, you can tell the story in your own way, but it still is ‘your‘ point of view. People are only interested in their own point of view. Do you think a guy chugging  pints of Guinness every weekend would be interested in whether the grapes were Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon (OT: I think Aesop was extremely lucky that people were willing to accept that animals showed human behavior). When you genuinely want to help people it is very tempting to be excited at the prospect of helping everybody. But, by doing that you will help no one, including yourself. You have to frame your story in such a way that it makes sense to people. This is where the large mass of humanity, that seems to be a road block in being unique, can work to your advantage. You don’t have to be unique in the whole world, you only have to be unique to a hundred or even ten people to make a difference. TIME magazine has 25 million readers worldwide;  just 0.35 percent of the total population of the world, i.e., only 1 in every 300 people read the most popular magazine on the planet. And, that gets them only $30 per year from one person. How much value will you have by being unique to the tune of one in thousands or millions (I’ll do a separate post on the numbers game)? Remember, a 100 people raving about your story is worth more than a 1000 people who have ‘seen something about it on Facebook’. People will take notice only when your story makes an impact in their lives. The way to make sure that you have an impact is to zero in on a few people who can really understand and benefit from your story.

Be Consistently Persistent

It takes hard work to walk the path we have chosen. It takes determination to stick to it when the going gets tough. And, most of all it takes persistence to go through the process again and again – without the expectation of immediate results. Your ‘story‘ becomes ‘your story‘ only when people start associating the story with you. It takes time to build a reputation. It takes time to be heard and seen. You have to be consistent with your message. You become the best by repeating the same motions time and again, until you are the one who has repeated it most number of times. And, you continue doing it, regardless of having become the best.

Easier said than done, right? I find these traits are better guide to being unique because they define a process to follow. A ‘be unique’ advice is vague and has often makes me feel ‘what the hell does the mean?’ We are all here to to contribute to the social well being, to do good in the world. It is the only way to live, and you know this. Being unique is the key to be heard and make your dent in this world and I hope this post will help you do that. Believe in yourself, seek to help your fellow human beings, and together we will change the world for good.