Bored? Blame Yourself (and Your Gadgets)
Where does boredom come from?
The everyday answer to this question is crystal clear--from repetitive, mindless tasks, dull environments (and people), and general lack of stimulation. In this view, if you're working away at your company and find yourself feeling bored, the jobs at hand or maybe your co-workers are at fault.
But new psychology research suggests another source for that feeling of dull restlessness. Don't blame your office or your to-do list. Blame yourself.
The study, which is out of York University in Toronto, offers a new definition of boredom, explaining the common unpleasant feeling not as stemming from a lack of stimulation but rather from a lack of ability to focus your attention on what's at hand.
"All instances of boredom involve a failure of attention," declares study author Dr. John Eastwood in the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper.
That could be a serious problem in a modern world that offers us so many ways to avoid paying attention.
By constantly fighting your boredom with smartphone apps and endless Facebook checks--or, in more extreme cases, by turning to thrill seeking, alcohol, or drugs--you might be making the problem worse. Bombard your brain with this sort of input and you'll make it less able to focus on subtler stimuli and thus become more prone to boredom, Eastman tells NBC:
I speculate that people might experience a lot of boredom in modern times, because we are experiencing intense entertainment. We're used to being passively entertained, and that constant stimulation puts us at risk for [more] boredom in the future.
And while this negative feedback loop may simply mean a raging Angry Birds addiction and greater restlessness for you, for those less naturally able to focus, the cycle of heightened stimulation leading to more boredom leading to an even greater need for distraction can become a much larger problem, according to the Guardian:
Frustrated dreamers who haven't realized their goals can expend all their emotional energy on hating themselves or the world, and find they have no attention left for anything else. Bungee jumpers and thrill seekers may also be particularly susceptible to boredom, as they feel the world isn't moving fast enough for them. They constantly need to top up their high levels of arousal and are always searching for stimulation from their environment.
Those prone to addiction or depression should also be especially wary of boredom. "[There's a] strong association with depression and boredom," Eastman tells NBC, which adds "that drug and alcohol abuse counselors know that patients relapse when faced with boredom."
You may not be facing the threat of a crippling bungee-jumping addiction just yet, but the study gives restless business owners something to chew on--next time you're about to complain about some boring task you need to complete for your company, ask yourself whether the problem isn't really your ability to train your attention on the job at hand (and whether all that Words With Friends you're playing might have something to do with it).
Do you think you're more easily bored these days than you were, say, a decade ago?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.