Bored? Find your inner agency

Many people think that they get bored for external reasons.  We lament that the ‘situation’ is boring or that ‘other people’ are boring.  But this can be a causation error – since very often a large part of the problem lies within. 

When we believe it is the external situation or others that are boring, this can prevent us from taking any personal responsibility. 

We look outwards instead of inwards.  We see the problem as out there with the other person which inclines us to assume that there is little we can do ourselves to mitigate the boredom.  We easily become ‘victims’ who are forced to endure ‘torture inflicted upon us’.

Yet we often feel furious.  Feeling powerless and trapped does that.  We might desperately want to tell someone that they are crushingly boring, yet we generally decide not to do this as it is not socially acceptable. 

Instead, our fury drives us underground and we adopt passively aggressive behaviours.   We might sigh, wriggle, huff and puff, look around, block, turn away our face, roll our eyes or even ‘hiss’ with barely contained aggression if we are extraordinarily bored. 

Of course, these passively aggressive behaviours are always noticed and they can badly damage future interactions and goodwill leading to lose-lose outcomes.  Also, these emotions of barely contained hostility are very unpleasant to experience. 

This leads many people to then seek alternatives.  For example, we might believe that a situation is so boring and that we are so trapped in it, that we must get drunk in order to survive it.  A huge number of people at social events adopt this strategy.

But we could do things differently.  For example, we could decide two things. 

  1. When we feel bored, we will remove anger and hostility off our repertoire. In other words, pay it zero attention and slide it out of our mental focus. 
  2. Instead of getting hostile, we can decide to attribute the cause of the boredom internally rather than externally – to see what we can do to improve the situation. We can ask ourselves ‘what can I do to make this situation more compelling and interesting?’  This immediately makes us less passive – there is something we can do apart from rolling our eyes or getting drunk.

Interestingly, most boredom occurs because we are too passive and disengaged. 

To solve this, we must ‘demonstrate’ more commitment in our behaviour.  Even if we do not initially feel inclined, we need to lean in, make more eye contact, come forward, be more friendly and facially expressive, listen actively (not passively), and really apply our brain to the other person’s issues.  

It also means asking more questions, applying our own analysis, inputting solutions, seeking clarification, being controversial, thinking outside the square and debating certain concepts so that we can influence the direction of the conversation. 

After all, anything is fascinating if we can get a good angle on it.

This works.  I can tell you that after 25+ years of listening to people talk all day long in my job I can honestly say that I have never once been bored in all that time.  Not even for a few moments. 

Of course, sometimes people start off talking superficially about issues, but as an ‘active listener’ I see it as my job and my responsibility to contribute my 50% and take the conversation somewhere interesting and meaningful. 

This approach can be used equally at work, at home or in social situations.  It can even be used in the most potentially ‘boring’ of situations like standing in queues.  If we are not angry or passive, we can instead enjoy the time reading the paper, doing a puzzle, mentally planning our lives or having active conversations with others in the queue. 

Basically, this approach encourages us to be active agents, which stops us from being passive bystanders in life and stops us barking up the wrong tree in terms of where we direct our focussed attention.