THE BLOG

How to Fight Boredom

15/04/2016 15:17

The school or work week easily sags into a void in productivity. Everything seems so routine, and it's hard to keep ourselves awake when we can do nothing but anticipate the same things repeatedly.

I've been thinking about this question in the past few days as my energy has gone from me. Here are some tips that have beaten my mid-week blues and made me feel fresher:

1) Measure your progress.

Revisiting old mathematics problems can sometimes degrade into a monotonous task, especially because I've done them before. However, I have a large stack of paper printed on one side and I need to discard it quickly, and I wouldn't want to do so until I've written on every blank side.

Therefore, I turned doing maths problems into a game: how much paper could I consume in a day? The result was that, instead of being bogged down by the sums, merely counting the used-up sheets kept my spirits up. My record so far is 13 sheets of paper per day, and I would love to break that record soon.

2) Do something new.

We could read books, or write, draw, or make something. We could take up a new skill, or relearn something we've put down for a long time.

I've been thinking about a recent talk that mentioned a term in computer science called "simulated annealing". Simply put, to find your sweet spot in life, take a few steps along some direction and then change it. Keep living; keep changing. The underlying assumption, of course, is that life is an optimisation problem, and that to optimise one's sense of wellbeing follows the same "simulated annealing" rule as optimising any other quantity. Whether this idea makes sense is best left open to debate.

Doing new things requires us to put together different skills we've learnt in the past. It exercises various parts of the brain and increases our levels of dopamine, the reward-seeking chemical in us. Changing the environment also helps, and even though we might want to rely on our willpower, it's all too easy to overestimate it. It's wiser to design our environment for productivity and let our natural tendency for laziness "do" the rest of the work.

3) Be grateful.

A paper on Science shows us that people would rather give themselves an electric shock than be abandoned to their own thoughts alone. My personal opinion is that we tend to ruminate and worry about things unnecessarily, especially things out of our control, and would rather have some degree of control even if it meant giving oneself an electric shock.

On the flip side, we could choose not to be anxious and be thankful instead. We can appreciate divine provision, the love from people who care about us, the friends we have, the achievements we have had so far, the people who have helped us along the way, and the things that most of us take for granted such as electricity and water. Gratefulness has been shown to offer many benefits. It improves physical health: according to Robert A. Emmons, a professor of psychology at UC Davis, "it can lower blood pressure, improve immune function and facilitate more efficient sleep." Gratefulness also makes us more mentally resilient. This helps us face our heap of problems especially when we consider that bored people are more prone to problems, accidents and bad behaviour.

Grateful people also tend to be more optimistic about the future, which is the antidote to boredom, or the feeling of having nothing to look forward to. When we appreciate the things we have and anticipate good things in the future, we also keep ourselves healthy and prepared for those things, and things that could bore someone become meaningful to us.

Therefore, the next time you feel bored, try the three tips above. Let me know what you think about them too!

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