Thursday, October 1, 2009

23 Cool Ways to Conquer Boredom

Avoid Boredom at All Costs

All human endeavors are an effort to avoid or overcome boredom. Healthy responses range from reading a book to sending a rocket to the moon. Unhealthy responses include substance abuse, crime, and war.

Stifle Those Yawns
If you're bored you must be boring

sleepycondiWhat does a yawn signify? When someone catches me yawning, they are likely to say, "What's the matter? Are you bored?" I always deny being bored, even if I am. I guess it's because someone once told me If you're bored you must be boring. People will readily admit to all manner of nefarious faults, but accuse someone of being boring and you're hitting below the belt.
     How can people not be bored? Most of us have mind-numbing jobs to which we travel the same monotonous route day after day. The dreary cityscape never changes. We see the same boring people. They can't help it. They're bored too.

Freud Didn't Tell the Whole Story
Here's what he really meant...

FreudFreud had an interesting theory. He said sex underlies everything we do. He wasn't telling us everything, however. What really underlies all that we do is boredom, either avoiding it overcoming it. Freud didn't want to tell us that because it isn't as "sexy" as the theory behind psychoanalysis. He had to make a living, don't forget.
     The last thing a patient paying $100 an hour wants to hear is, "The problem with you is, you're bored. Get a hobby. Find something to occupy yourself and you won't have time to think about your problems."
     All human endeavors are an effort to avoid or overcome boredom. Healthy responses range from reading a book to sending a rocket to the moon. Unhealthy responses include substance abuse, crime, and war.

The Boredom Epidemic
Anti-Boredom Websites Proliferate

Boredom EpidemicIf you think boredom is just a peripheral issue in our culture, log onto an Internet search engine and type in "boredom." You'll get millions of hits, including organizations devoted to conquering boredom. Supposedly primitive cultures, meanwhile, like the lost tribes of Borneo, have no word for boredom.
     When you visit anti-boredom websites, you'll find interesting suggestions for battling boredom, such as pretending you don't speak English when someone asks for directions or using Roman numerals on checks.
     These suggestions appeal to me because they're slightly mischievous. They're what I call Groucho Strategies. As you may know, Groucho Marx was a film comedian who used verbal pranks to deflate society's airs and pretensions.

The Lost Tribes of Borneo Don't Have a Word For Boredom

Bliss - a-second-by-second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious - lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (Tax Returns, Televised Golf) and, in waves, a boredom like you've never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it's like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom.
     --David Foster Wallace

Groucho Strategy: The Absent-Minded Asker
How to deal with the boring person who asks a second or third time if you have kids

171932Groucho-Marx-PostersI have developed a Groucho-like verbal prank to deal with the boring person who asks a second or third time if I have kids. I'd like to say, If you'd been listening the first time we discussed this we wouldn't have to go over it again, but I'm too polite.
     In business (BS) settings, asking about kids is the textbook icebreaker. Some may ask with no intention of actually listening to your answer.
     I tell them about my apocryphal kids, Sandy and Dani. Sandy's the boy and Dani's the girl (an inversion of Grease). Dani is short for Danielle. Sandy got his name because he was conceived at the beach.
     Make them pay for their forgetfulness by throwing in some gory details. Complain about how your kids sponge off you. Say the boy drinks and the girl has a biker boyfriend.
     For some reason, after I tell them about Sandy and Dani, they never ask again.

The Challenge to Keep Your Mind Alive
We teach our kids to give in to boredom

kid car windowBoredom has become more of a problem in recent years because we teach our kids to give in to it. Family minivans come with TVs for the kids to watch on long drives because it is unbearably boring to just sit and enjoy the scenery. It's less effort to give kids a mental pacifier than to encourage creativity.
     We must be ever vigilant against the evils of boredom. In the battle for perpetual entertainment, no child can be left behind. Under no circumstances should boredom be allowed to sully the innocent consciousness of a child.
     Imagine a parent giving a child this suggestion: "Why don't you look out the window and make a mental note of all the interesting things you see. Read the road signs. You might learn something."
     When I was a kid, we didn't have today's easy antidotes to tedium. I fought it by using my imagination. I pretended I had a ray gun that could slice through anything. As we sped along, my ray cut through trees, telephone poles, buildings, and mountains. I pretended I could sprint alongside the car. With lightning speed, I could dash over the landscape or zip away on expeditions beyond the horizon. I suppose that's a poor substitute for watching the Lion King on a built-in TV, but that's all I had.
     I memorized the routes to various destinations. I called out my Dad when he varied the route.
     "Dad, this is not the way to Disneyland."
     "I know, son. I have to swing by the bank first!"

Take Your Kids on a Boring Vacation
Unstructured time is the mother of creativity.

On a cross-country road trip, Sara Bongiorni's kids learn to entertain themselves.

"Last month, my husband and I completed what some of our friends considered a fool's errand: a 32-day, 5,232-mile camping trip from Louisiana to California and back with three children in our Volkswagen van..." Sara's story

Embrace Boredom

"...the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing..."

That's Jack Kerouac in On The Road. It sounds like he wouldn't have enjoyed being around someone who said something so commonplace as "I'm bored."
     I'm with Kerouac. I advocate being a rugged individualist. Take yourself in hand and fight it! Boredom is as much a part of the human condition as inspiration, heartbreak, or ambition. Relying on your own inner resources to banish boredom is life-affirming. Reaching for a pacifier is the coward's way. Don't be one of those sniveling gadget addicts who feels the onset of a panic attack if they can't be on the phone, texting, caressing their smart phone, or cradling their laptop every minute!
     That's not realistic, though. Let's face it, the tough-it-out approach doesn't work for everyone. Life's too short for symbolic battles. There are worse things than being bored.
     When you're caught yawning and accused of being bored, take the opposite tack: "Sure I'm bored. Aren't you? How can you not be bored."
     If coping with boredom is a struggle, why not just give in? Embrace boredom. "I'm bored and by God, I'm proud of it!" Seek out fellow comrades in tiresomeness, meisters of monotony, tenders of tedium, mavens of miasma.
     Something like 75% of all cell phone calls are made to combat boredom. If you're stuck in traffic, waiting in line, lost in the supermarket, why not give someone a call? Unlike you, they may not be bored, but they soon will be listening to the boring person that you are.

"I like boring things."

Leave it to Andy Warhol to devise a contrarian approach. He was probably one of the least boring people to ever live. Embracing boredom can be a workable strategy.

Groucho Strategy: The Boastful Vacationer
She can't wait to impress you with tasteful travels

PretentiousHow about the Boastful Vacationer, the world traveler who wants to bore you with a snobbish recital of their latest vacation? They want you to impress you with exploits that sound straight out of Travel & Leisure magazine. I like to disrupt their monologue with my own Groucho agenda.
     "We just got back from San Francisco. What a town. Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, Sausalito--"
     "Did you get up to the wine country?"
     "Well, no, we were only there a few days. We couldn't do everything."
     "That's too bad. I understand the wine country is really spectacular."
     As my victim runs down the list of all the tasteful things she saw and did, I will dwell on what was missed. "How about Monterey? I hear they have a great aquarium. No? Oh, well, maybe next time."

There Are Easier Ways to Overcome Boredom


Groucho Strategy: The Wait List
A cheap laugh at the headwaiter's expense

maitred FerrisWhat's more boring than waiting for a table at a restaurant? I fight it by giving a false name for the waiting list. My favorite is Hackenbush. Some restaurants want your first name. That doesn't slow me down. I use Hackenbush anyway. If they question it, I tell them my first name is Hackenbush. In LA, use a distinctive celebrity name and watch heads turn when your name is announced: "Spielberg, party of four." At Mexican restaurants, I like to use an actual Spanish word: platano, which means banana. It amuses me to see someone keep a straight face and call out "Banana!"
     At business functions, they sometimes let you fill out your own name tag. Don't pass up the chance prank people with a wacky moniker. My favorite is "Morris Teflon," from a Pynchon novel.

Groucho Strategy: The Ignoramus

I like to intentionally mispronounce things to see if someone will correct me. In the Los Angeles area say ROW-DEE-OH Drive for Rodeo Dr. You'll be corrected with a look of disdain thrown in. Use the New York pronunciation for Los Angeles: LOWSS-ANGLE-EASE. They hate it! A nearby bakery shop has an Asiago bagel. I know there's a fancy pronunciation, but I say ASIA-GO just so they'll correct me. Snob appeal goes hand-in-hand with a fancy pronunciation. The A&W fast food chain has cute names for their sandwiches (Papa Burger, Baby Burger, etc.). I refuse to play along. Gimme the $2.79 burger, I'll tell them. "You mean the Papa Burger." You said it, not me.

Iggy's Bored
Catchy pop tune captures the essence of terminal boredom. He even bores himself!

I'm bored

I'm the chairman of the bored,
I'm a lengthy monologue
I'm livin' like a dog

I'm sick
I'm sick of all my kicks
I'm sick of all the stiffs
I'm sick of all the dips

I'm bored

I bore myself to sleep at night
I bore myself in broad daylight coz

I'm bored
Just another slimey bore

Funny Money
Bills from a tablet prank

money stack

Make a tablet of bills: Get fresh bills from the bank. Fasten the bills in a stack with binder clips. Glue the top edge. Elmer's or a glue gun works fine.
     Hand out these bills as payment for everyday items. Make sure the person sees you peeling the bills from the tablet.
     I'm not sure why, but this gets a response. A tablet of bills is quite the novelty. They'll inspect the bill to see if it's real.
     I had it backfire once. I tipped a hair stylist with a bill from a tablet. "Thanks a lot," she said, and threw it straight in the trash. Another stylist fished it out. "I'll take it. Thanks!"
     I could see my stylist was getting ticked off, so I gave her another tip with a bill from the wallet. "OK, here's some real money," I said.
     Samantha, the second stylist, thought it was a hilarious prank. She became my new best friend. I ended up going to her for something like 5 years.

The Best of Stuntology
304 Pranks, Tricks & Challenges to Amuse & Annoy Your Friends

Much as I would like to claim exalted status as a banisher of boredom, a terminator of tedium, I am a mere dilettante.

Sam Bartlett has forgotten more about eradicating ennui than I'll ever know. This book is hilarious!

Affect A Lab Coat

Anyone can wear a lab coat. You don't have to have a prestigious medical or CSI job. But wearing a lab coat will give people the impression you're a high-class guy.

Look for a change in how people regard you when they think you're a Nobel scientist.

Did You Find Everything OK?
Pointless questions at the grocery store

When your friendly grocery checker asks if you found everything OK, they don't actually expect a report on your quest to make sense of the typical supermarket's deliberately confusing system of stocking shelves. It's just something they ask to sound friendly. It's not like they will actually drop what they are doing and mount a search for you.

For fun, report your disappointing search results.

  • "I couldn't find the Hebrew National salami."

  • "Do you have any ball peen hammers?"

  • "I looked high & low for Limburger cheese. Are you out?"

  • "I need ten pounds of kumquats."

They'll just give a blank look, dumbfounded that someone actually takes the question literally.

Do you want your milk in a bag?

They put all your groceries in a sack. Why would milk be a special exception? For more on this topic, please see my colleague Alonzo Garbonzo's discussion on Answerbag.

Try Something Different

Back when airlines offered meals, I requested a vegetarian meal when I booked my flight. At mealtime, a harried flight attendant told me there had been a mixup. There weren't enough vegetarian meals. A female passenger was pitching a fit. No problem, I told her. I surrendered my meal. The look of love she gave me made my day. I thought she wanted to hug me, kiss me, squeeze me. I would far rather make life better for a flight attendant than give her a hard time.
     I thought an advantage of vegetarianism was it made you mellow. You don't have meat stirring those primal instincts. You wouldn't pitch a fit. Unlike the lady passenger, I didn't care about the meal. I only ordered it out of curiousity, just to try something different. When you try something new, you never know what it might lead to.

Adopt an NFL Player

If you're a wealthy family with 82 fast food outlets, consider adopting an NFL player. (OK, it probably won't be that simple. The Tuohy family adopted Michael Oher when he was a troubled, homeless teenager).

Boring Links
Write your college thesis on boredom. The material is endless.

"...escape from boredom is one of the really powerful desires of almost all human beings." --Bertrand Russell, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1950

"Boredom is a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it." --Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness

Bertrand Russell - Nobel Lecture - Don't listen to a mental midget like me. Bertrand Russell is one of the world's great thinkers. See what he had to say about boredom.

Take the Boredom Quiz - This is the boredom proneness scale developed by university researchers in the 1980s.

I Am Bored - Sites for when you're bored - Are you bored? lists places to go when you are feeling bored.

Song Meanings at Songfacts - - Song meanings and song information, including album and chart position. Music trivia, title search, lyrics. - Ever notice that a lot of men look like Kenny Rogers? MWLLKR is a funny, witty, humorous website in honor of Kenny Rogers.

How to Flummox a Telemarketer - Author Lee Ballantyne is taking his time getting on the Do No Call List. "I'm sure I dislike being bugged at suppertime just as much as you do, but I haven't yet signed up... My reason is selfish... it would spoil all my fun."

Shakespeare Insults Dictionary - Visit this site dedicated to William Shakespeare including a Shakespeare Insults Dictionary. Have fun with a Shakespeare Insults Dictionary.Laugh with the Shakespeare Insults Dictionary.

Boredom Patrol: CIRCA - Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army - The lengths to which some people go to keep boredom at bay. Great source of inspiration for boredom busters.

Fight Workout Boredom - We all experience those moments of utter boredom with our workouts. It happens. We are fickle creatures and we crave change. I am always looking for tricks to bust through those workout doldrums and break on through to the other side.

Excitement, boredom' can trigger arson - Arsonists can appear to be far more "normal" than people think, a psychologist says. A spate of deadly arson fires in Australia may not have been set by a raving pyromaniac. The culprit could have been someone who was merely bored. - New trends and ideas.

Doodling While Bored - People may associate doodling with boredom, but new research shows it may actually help your memory!

Skittles Vodka - That's right, Skittles vodka. Trust Squibbage to bring you the latest on the anti-boredom front.

American Visionary Art Museum - Not an anti-boredom site, but an interesting site.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

If you're looking for a guide to help jolt you out of your boring rut, you can't do better than Timothy Ferriss's "Comfort Challenges." My favorite is "Relax in Public":

Once per day for two days, simply lie down in the middle of a crowded public place at some point. Lunchtime is ideal... Just lie down and remain silent on the ground for about ten seconds... It isn't enough to think outside the box. Thinking is passive. Get used to acting outside the box.

No, I never had the nerve to try it.

Timothy Ferriss Bueller's Day Off

Ferris Bueller, the lovable rapscallion of the comedy classic Ferris Bueller's Day off, is based on a concept by Mark Twain.
     In his classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain gives an early example of outsourcing when young Tom uses reverse psychology to get his neighborhood pals to whitewash a fence for him.
     While Bueller doesn't outsource his chores he is, like Tom Sawyer, a legendary school ditcher/system gamer. As Bueller explains it,
     "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
     Ferris Bueller is wise beyond his years. And so is Timothy Ferriss. . .Here's the rest of my Review (0 of 3 helpful!).

Case Studies

At one point it appeared that the stock market, barometer of American wealth, could only go up. There were predictions of 36,000, even 100,000 for the Dow-Jones Industrial Average. Why not? Corporate profits were accelerating.
     Executive compensation is tied to stock price. Soaring profits, zooming stock price, ballooning paychecks. The market punishes disappointment. Companies that report earnings that fall a penny or two short of "guidance," or their forecast for quarterly profits, see shares plunge in a vicious selloff. Executive bonuses could wither. Uh-oh, can't buy that summer home in the Hamptons just yet. Dang, stuck with that 100-foot yacht for another season. Shoot, can't buy that resort in Aspen I had my eye on.
     Steady profits are boring. They must skyrocket, set records. Getting rich at a steady clip, having the finer things in abundance, are BORING. A salary of only 50 million is chickenfeed. 500 million--now that's more like it. What was that Costco CEO thinking, only taking a salary of $350,000, with no raise for seven years?
     Everyone shrugged off Enron. Those freaks. Just an isolated case. I'm sure it occurred to some observers that Enron was just the first drop in the coming deluge. We've seen it all before. How could Enron be the only company that wouldn't succumb to the siren song of concocting profits out of thin air? Crackpots on the fringes of finance sounded the alarm. No one listened.
     The guys who destroyed Enron were rank amateurs. The flimflam artists at AIG figured out a way to destroy a company while not only keeping their jobs but their obscene bonuses too.

Boredom in the Suites
A few decades back, the masterminds who make Coca-Cola decided the public was bored with the soda's flavor. So they shitcanned the legendary recipe and introduced New Coke. New Coke was soundly rejected by cola connoisseurs. It only took the company 20 years to admit their mistake. Consumers weren't bored, it was the corporate chieftains. It wasn't enough to just let a money machine like Coke hum along undisturbed. It's boring to earn a fat salary tending a goldmine.
     The overlords of the Sci-Fi Channel became bored with the 17-year success of their enterprise and scrapped Sci-Fi for "Syfy."
     "The brand needed a little refreshing," said a spokesman quoted recently in the New York Times. It's Coca-Cola all over again.
     Let's hope there will be an upside to this meltdown: Maybe the next generation of money moguls will be content to run businesses that just make respectable but boring profits.

A Cup of Adversity for Starbucks
Starbucks is the latest example of boredom in the board room. Over the past few years, the company has endured a humbling retrenchment after decades of hyper-caffeinated growth. Uncertain times in a post-bubble economy have made some of America's leading corporate enterprises freak out. They're haunted by memories of raking in so much money they couldn't count it fast enough. Acquisition and expansion proceeded at a dizzying pace. When it all grinds to a halt, it's too boring to just bide your time and weather the downturn. Typical retrenchment maneuvers don't cut it. It's not enough to lay off a few thousand nonessential workers, close underperforming outlets, then trust your business model to pull you through.
     Shareholders are spoiled by earnings setting records every quarter. They want action! A corporate raider like Carl Ichan could swoop in and remove CEO Howard Schultz, the visionary who led one of the great business success stories of the 20th Century. Desperate measures are called for. Other than normal business cycles of froth and fizzle, there must be some reason our company is floundering. The logo! Let's fix the logo and everything will be peachy again. The new logo, says Schultz, "gives us the freedom and flexibility to think beyond coffee."* The move assures shareholders he is doing something to revive stellar growth. How many millions will they waste retrofitting 16,000 outlets?
     The new logo is part of Starbucks' attempt at "rebranding," a fad that gains traction when a company hits a speed bump on the corporate superhighway. CEOs begin to question whether the business model is still valid. In Starbucks' case, McDonald's and 7-Eleven are capturing a larger share of the designer drink market by imitating Starbucks. Sensing an enduring threat, Starbucks decides they need to be more like the competition. Instead of thinking beyond coffee, Schultz could decide to think more than ever about coffee. He could focus on innovation. He could launch an initiative to improve the stores and upgrade the Starbucks experience. But that would be boring.

*It could be that Schultz is more of a visionary than we give him credit for. Maybe Starbucks was just a phenomenon of the prosperous decades of the '80s and '90s. Rebranding could be the strategy that assures Starbucks survival for the post-Great Recession era. After all, if Sears had rebranded in the 1980s, they might have fended off Walmart and would still be the world's largest retailer.

Logomania Hits The Gap
Gap Inc.'s North American President Marka Hansen had an epiphany last year (2010). Jazz up the logo! Ms. Hansen has departed The Gap after taking over the reins in 2007. When a once high-flying retailer hits the doldrums, boredom sets in like a killer fog. It's not as if the Gap was losing money. They just weren't making it fast enough to keep everyone spellbound. Like so many hotshot executives before her, Ms. Hansen thought a logo makeover would somehow jolt the Gap onto a new fast track. The few remaining Gap loyalists came out of the woodwork to blast the new design. The company quickly reinstated the unappreciated old logo, thought so recently to be an albatross around the company's neck. Until the logo debacle, Ms. Hansen's career had been an inspiring story of female executive success. It took 20 years for her to work her way up through the ranks.

Boring Comments

Don't show off and be witty here. People are trying to sleep.
This post is dedicated to Ron Polonsky, my boring mentor.


Netdost said...

really amazing post, one of the funniest i have read in a long time..

A Thing To Do Today said...

Great post! Two more links for you: if you want to beat boredom, try A Thing To Do Today - it gives you ideas for events and activities to do today, where you are. And if you're more organised, there's A Thing To Do Tomorrow too...