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 Creativity Ritual – How I Write Everyday

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I write when I am inspired, and I see to it that I am inspired at nine o’clock every morning.

~Peter De Vries

The brain and the body are both part of the same biological being, so the interaction between them flows both ways. If the brain interprets some signals, the body is trained to react in certain ways. For e.g., every time the brain senses a threat, the same physiological reactions emerge – increased heart rate, tensing of muscles, eyes on the source of threat etc. Similarly, certain physiological activities can send signals to the brain to switch to a certain mindset. This topic is being examined in nonverbal communications and how certain poses affect the mindset of people (as talked about in this TED talk).

Creativity is also a mindset. People have to be in a creative frame of mind to do their best work, and there are certain physical states that are associated with being creative. For e.g. creativity doesn’t come too easily when the body is experiencing tension or pain. By the same token, the mental state of creativity can be consciously brought about by physical actions. This is what is called as a creativity ritual.

Rituals are used by athletes to perform at their peak. Online resources on running vouch for it. I used to follow a ritual to form my running habit – Put on running gear, tie up shoelaces, and step outside the door. Just repeating this set of actions (preferably at the same time everyday) was enough to form my running habit. Now, I write everyday; it is the time of the day I am at my creative peak. Before I started writing regularly, one of the things I was afraid of was, ‘If I run out of the few good ideas I had, what will I continue to write about?’ As I went through various habit forming exercises (Zenhabits is an awesome resource for it) I realized that creativity can be made into a habit too. One of the ways to do it was through a creativity ritual. It is not as if I can’t write without the ritual, but, having a ritual takes out a lot of the waiting and decision making time involved.

As I sat down to write today, I was completely blank. But, I began any way. Following is my ritual that helps me write every single day, after I get home from my day job.

  1. Wash my hands and face, and switch on my laptop.

  2. Set some water to boil and put a teabag in a cup.

  3. While the water boils, put a few nuts (cashew, almond, walnut) on the saucer.

  4. Pour boiling water into the cup and let the tea brew for a couple of minutes.

  5. Bring the cup and saucer and set it on my table, beside the laptop.

  6. Open up a writing software (I use Google docs in full screen mode).

  7. Start writing while enjoying my snack and tea.

I have been doing it for more than 2 months now. When I started, it took a little getting used to – what beverage, what snack, what to write? As the pattern fell into place through repetition, most of the aspects of the ritual demanded minimal creativity, which could then be channeled into my writing. The topic I choose to write about can be anything – something I read on a blog or in a book, some video I saw on YouTube  or even something completely random (like this post; this is the first sentence I wrote – Whenever I used to read a novel (and I read a lot), there would always be a feeling inside of me that I too can write great novels). This ritual prepares my mind, through actions, to be in the creative state for writing. Also, the time for the ritual doesn’t have to be exactly the same everyday, but lesser the variation, easier it is to form a habit out of it. If you are having a difficult time to do something creative, I challenge you to build a ritual around it. Make it something you enjoy. It is a much better way to be creative rather than sit around waiting for inspiration to strike.