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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Know Thyself

Image Courtesy: http://www.imdb.com

Let him that would move the world first move himself.

~Socrates

The message of self-discovery is everywhere. It is as if, even without intending to, anything that portrays or promotes “doing the right thing” is ultimately rooted in self-discovery. On the flight home, I saw the movie “Rise of the Guardians“. The movie tells the story of Jack Frost and his quest to discover his true purpose. The plot is that, there is a group of guardians comprised of Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Sandman who fight against the evil of the Boogieman. Jack Frost is chosen as the newest guardian and the rest is what the movie is about. This post, however, is about the underlying message that seemed to jump out at me – once you know who you really are, you can see the world differently and gain the power to change it for the good. The post contains spoilers, so, if you want to watch the movie, read it after you have done so.

What rankles Jack Frost most of all is that no one realizes he is there and no one believes in him. Maybe, that is why he gets into mischief everywhere he goes. The problem though, seems to be that, he doesn’t know who he really is. I draw it as a direct parallel to the life of an average person today. See if you can you honestly answer the questions that troubled Jack?

Q. What one thing do you want that, you are willing to spend your life to achieve and then die happy when you do?
Q: If you were to pick one word to describe yourself, what would it be? Is it the same as what other people would say about you?

The kids could see Santa when he appeared before them but, Jack was invisible to them even if he did something to directly influence them. Yet, he didn’t believe in himself. Jack wanted all the kids to believe in him, like they did in Santa and Tooth Fairy. It is like believing that water always flows downhill when you don’t know what water is. Or, like believing that the sky is blue when you don’t know what the sky is. These are the questions you should ask yourself.

Q: What do you believe is your life’s mission/vision statement?
Q: Do you believe that you are living the best life you possibly can?

The Boogieman dangled a clue to Jack’s past as bait, and he walked into it in spite. He got trapped and let down the others who were relying on him. The good side lost a battle because Jack had been tempted by his long lost past. There are always people in life who depend on you for one thing or the other. Sometimes, you can not afford to let them down.

Q: Do you have people in your life that you love and care about?
Q: Does your past have such a strong hold on you that, you have a list of the things you wish you could have done differently?

When Jack was down and out, looking into his past helped him to see the silver lining and overcome his fears. He was looking for the affirmation of the good inside him. He just needed proof that his life was worth it. He became Jack Frost because of who he was not what powers he had. The questions here may or may not be related.

Q: Can you see into your past, ignore the suffering, and look for the moments when you were truly happy?
Q: What fears have you overcome in the past and what gave you the strength to do so?

The moment when a kid started believing was when Jack helped the kid to believe in the Easter Bunny. Jack did it because it was the last bit of faith that the kid had to hang on to. He wanted the kid to be happy. He used the kid’s faith in Easter Bunny to bring joy. He wanted no credit for it, and he got it just because of that. It is a true and clear message. Help others selflessly. Your self worth will be realized only when you are able to give without the expectation of any return.

Q: Does living your life the way you are currently, make any person other than yourself truly happy? Does it make you truly happy?
Q: How does the work that you do benefit the world? Would you help people if your efforts were to be kept anonymous or you weren’t paid for it?

The movie ends with Jack bringing together the other Guardians and the kids to defeat the evil Boogieman. I envision a similar end. All the people coming together for the greater good, building an inter-dependent, collaborative society for the benefit of all. But, just like Jack, this change has to start from within you. And, you can’t begin the process of change until you know who you really are. This is the journey of self discovery. Take your time and answer the questions honestly. The more you know about yourself, the more you will believe in yourself. You will see that the good in you becomes stronger and the bad wilts away. You will be a step closer to know who you really are, and will find your purpose in life.

To help you give self discovery a try, I’ve compiled all the questions together in a form to get you started. Please do share your opinions in the comments. If you find this post/form helpful, I hope you will share it.