Handling boooooring times. How do people do it?
September 23, 2008 11:47 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with boredom in situations where I have to sit or stand for long periods of time with little stimulation.

I think there’s already some posts on this subject, but not on my specific situation. I think the previous posts were about finding things to do with your free time. I don’t have that many problems entertaining myself on my own time. I either find someone to hang out with or entertain myself with TV, music, video games, internet, eating, and porn.

The problem is that I die of boredom when I am NOT on my free time. Those times include long classes (4-8 hours), long meetings, traveling, long church service, boring movies or plays, or any other situations when I have to sit/stand for long periods of time with little stimulation. Then there’s work, though I doubt I would get hired at a “office job” because of my lack of experience, I don’t think I’ll be able to hack it anyway because I’ll be sitting there doing repetitive things all day long. I’m VERY tempted to only pursue lower skilled but more “active” jobs such as bartending, despite I’m very close to getting my master’s degree. What’s bad about the above situations, is that I can’t just whip out my IPOD in the middle of class, play Nintendo DS while driving long distances, or browse through Playboy during church.

I used to occupy myself by daydreaming, but I don’t find daydreams that stimulating anymore. Seriously.

I thought about chemically altering my moods with alcohol, weed, or stimulants before going somewhere really boring, but I looking for more healthy alternatives.

I guess my only option is to entertain myself mentally. I’m not sure on how to do this. I have a friend who entertains herself by critiquing everyone’s fashion choices, mentally. I don't give a damn about fashion though. What are some other ways I can mentally entertain myself?
posted by sixcolors to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Compose blog entries or essays or short stories in your head.
Read the Bible critically.
posted by callmejay at 11:50 AM on September 23, 2008

Memorize useful and/or entertaining things. Here's a thread with lots of great suggestions.
posted by googly at 11:54 AM on September 23, 2008

Try paying attention.
posted by bonaldi at 11:56 AM on September 23, 2008 [9 favorites]

Not a direct answer: alter your lifestyle to avoid these "boring" situations. Why do you go to church/plays/movies that you do not find very stimulating?
posted by nickerbocker at 11:57 AM on September 23, 2008

Ooooh, I so empathize. I get very fidgety. This is what's worked for me:

Long classes, and conference calls: I take notes on my laptop. It keeps me from falling asleep, and has the added bonus of being/appearing efficient.

In-person meetings: Hand-written notes help. Sometimes I also sketch the other meeting participants.

Office job: I am only able to do real work when I have iTunes blaring. Somehow Metallica and Excel modeling go very well together, the music keeps my restlessness occupied, so that the rest of my brain can focus.

Oh, and avoiding really, really boring situations.
posted by CruiseSavvy at 11:58 AM on September 23, 2008

(sorry accidentally hit post there) --- I mean, almost all of the things you're talking about are supposed to be engaging at some level: classes, services, movies, lectures, plays. These are things where you can either engage yourself in listening to them, or analyse them at a meta-level. Why is this guy so boring? What would make it more interesting? Why is he wrong about X? And so on.
posted by bonaldi at 11:59 AM on September 23, 2008

You're bored because you're not interested in the activity that you're currently engaged in. That leaves two solutions:

- don't attend boring activities
- engage yourself in the activity

The first is easy to do. The second takes more effort. At class/church/other passive activity are you doing Informational Listening? That makes a big difference, currently it sounds like you're just tuning out the speaker and thus are bored b/c you can't leave and you're not listening.

Distracting yourself only treats the symptom, you want to treat the root cause.
posted by jpeacock at 12:01 PM on September 23, 2008

Not a direct answer: alter your lifestyle to avoid these "boring" situations. Why do you go to church/plays/movies that you do not find very stimulating?

I do that as much as possible, but I don't think it is practical or even "nice" to avoid all of them. I go to boring plays and movies sometimes because a friend or family member wants to see them. I don't go to church that often, but I go with family on special occasions. And, I don't think it is wise to avoid well-paying jobs because I may find them boring. Handling boredom is a skill that I want to develop, because it seems that many "adult" things in the world are boring. I can't run and I can't hide from them. :)
posted by sixcolors at 12:05 PM on September 23, 2008

Sex fantasies. No, I'm not kidding.
posted by desuetude at 12:16 PM on September 23, 2008

I'm with desuetude! Do Kegel excercises and think of WHY you are doing them, what will improve, etc.,
posted by Wilder at 12:18 PM on September 23, 2008

When I'm in a situation like that, I do math in my head. But then, I'm a graduate student. My point is that you could find some sort of challenging thing you need to figure out, and attempt to figure it out instead of being bored. That way your brain is actively engaged in doing something. Just be wary of... uh... mumbling to yourself under your breath... not that I do this.
posted by number9dream at 12:21 PM on September 23, 2008

For whatever it's worth, I go the daydream route. I pick and choose between currently active mental programmes until I find something worth grooming, reviewing or otherwise tweaking. My current list includes but is not limited to:

1) A remake of Burgress' "A Clockwork Orange" set in inner-city America in which youth of colour use an argot of blended Ebonics and Cité French instead of English and Russian. "There was moy, that is Ali, and mon tree mecks..."

2) A post-atomic holocaust setting in which I strive to found a Library City and to fill its hand-made vaults with all the knowledge me and my compatriots can ply from the ruins of a smashed North America while warding off attacks from local warlords.

3) A redesign of my dream house, now modified to include integrated wind turbines on the north and south bulwarks and a general tightening of security against ground assaults after watching a show about fortified compounds.

4) A film adaptation of "Doctor Who" with American money but British direction. The Doctor is reunited with Sally Sparrow after a metachronologic bomb from an aspiring time-controlling society in the future sends temporal shrapnel flying through history and wreaking havoc. The exciting climax finds the duo facing off against none other than themselves in a terrible knot of recursive causality with no easy out. Still working out the details on that one. Biff Tannen, however, will not end up covered in manure.

5) A hypothetical election for high office in the Western country in which the candidate draws upon the resources of an intelligent super-database with entries weighted by cross-referenced authority in order to gauge trustworthiness. In my daydream, the candidate makes use of the database in order to demonstrate that his opponent's irrational arguments quickly fall apart under appropriately rigorous and logical scrutiny. On the table: natural selection as the engine or evolution, and climate change.

6) A profane cartoon in which the president of the United States is a bikini-model with the mind of a chihuahua just as a major overseas military situation reaches the crisis point. I will not share any of the jokes in mixed company, but they make me squirt coffee out my nose while commuting.

...And on and on. I think if you've tired of daydreaming what needs fixing is your daydream engine. It's not really possible to tire of daydreams -- just what you do with them. Think outside the box, immerse yourself: there's a whole world out there to ignore!
posted by CheeseburgerBrown at 12:30 PM on September 23, 2008 [6 favorites]

Doodle in your notebook. Seriously. Just doodle. It doesn't matter how much you stink at drawing, just imagine your professor in a funny situation and draw it (stick figures if you have to). I imagine you can have notebooks in meetings, maybe a small one you can tote in your bag easily or slip into your pocket. You probably won't be able to doodle during movies since it'll be dark, nor church either. But at least problem's solved in two of your situations.

(Just try to keep a straight face. Don't start cracking up at your own doodles in the middle of a meeting.)

If you're not the doodling type, try writing some kind of poem or short story. I do this sometimes. Yes, even if you're not the poetic type. Write something stupid just for the hell of it.
posted by curagea at 1:08 PM on September 23, 2008

We all have to do things that we do not find interesting. I think the key is to stop fighting it. Stop thinking about what you could be doing and find something to focus on in what you are doing. If it's a class, and you don't care about the subject matter, then try and figure out why some people are. At work, create challenges for yourself (most widgets widgeted, longest time on one foot, etc.), and above all - people watch. People are pretty darn fascinating when they don't know you are watching.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:16 PM on September 23, 2008

Fidgets for your hands.

It may or may not be possible given the etiquette of situations you are in. But I find it enormously helpful. Something as simple as a rubber band could work. If it's around your wrist, you always have it when you need/want it.

I have heard (but don't have a citation) that studies show that students learn better if they're given a toy to play with like a squeeze ball, to occupy their hands while sitting in class.

From my experience, you may have to try several different toys before you find one you like that can really keep your hands occupied satisfactorily for an extended time. Toy stores are good, or try trainerswarehouse.
posted by quinoa at 1:29 PM on September 23, 2008

Handling boredom is a skill that I want to develop, because it seems that many "adult" things in the world are boring. I can't run and I can't hide from them.

Run! Hide! I remember reading a long time ago (in a book by William Goodman I think) that there were two kinds of boredom. Acute and Chronic.

Acute means you're aware of being bored and it generally drives you small "c" crazy. Chronic just means you've become stupid.
posted by philip-random at 1:29 PM on September 23, 2008

Do Fermi Problems in your head.
posted by Autarky at 1:30 PM on September 23, 2008

Fall asleep. Acceptable for traveling, plays, concerts, church services, probably not so acceptable for work.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:03 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Start a blog and use this free time to craft posts in your head.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:08 PM on September 23, 2008

When I had to spend lots of time doing things that were short on intellectual engagement but long on physical presence, I did "pre-writing" -- working out stories and plot points and essays in my head for a later point when I might be able to have a moment to do some actual writing.

But I kind of agree with the poster who said, "Pay attention." Think of it as an exercise and try to engage yourself as much as possible with whatever is boring you. Sometimes "boring" is a code word for something else. I'm not saying it is here, but just consider your mission to be an exercise in un-boring something. Consider, the next time you're bored, that you're actually *not* bored, but rather scared or resistant or shutting down. Make it your mission to investigate what could possibly be so threatening about boredom or being bored. Even just thinking about the situation that way makes it less boring.

I also agree with the person who suggested meditation. Surrendering to the boringness, giving yourself over to it and paying attention to every aspect of it both inside and out, is an exercise in mindfulness.
posted by mothershock at 2:32 PM on September 23, 2008

What I've found to help me is pretending that I am a gigantic robot. Treat every action as though it is monumental (and kind of slow motion). You can do this while driving, attending meetings(remember every pencil you pick up weighs a ton), or even church. It works for me, good luck.
posted by sharkhunt at 5:42 PM on September 23, 2008

I write out my schedule. I mean seriously detailed, down to the minute. I plan my whole week, and each day will take up several lines in my notebook. I write out each word, no abbreviations.
Monday, September 22, 2008
7am wake up
7:08am actually get up and take a shower
7:15am make tea, toast bread
and so forth. Make as many revisions as necessary, depending on how long the class is. There is no need to commit to actually following this schedule; but I find it helpful to at least think about it ahead of time.
I think in my next class I will really focus on fixing my terrible handwriting. "The quick brown fox..." and all that.
posted by purpletangerine at 6:13 PM on September 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I used to day dream through times when had to be some place I didn't want to be but as I get older the day dreaming has stopped being as enjoyable. Now I generally focus on a problem that I have or a question that I am trying to answer instead of day dreaming.

If I've got nothing else to think about I generally run through doublets and see how long a string of them can remember or, if I have prep time, memorize some brain teasers.
posted by 517 at 7:16 PM on September 23, 2008

I’m VERY tempted to only pursue lower skilled but more “active” jobs such as bartending, despite I’m very close to getting my master’s degree....And, I don't think it is wise to avoid well-paying jobs because I may find them boring.

Perhaps it's not wise, but I turned my back on my master's degree and a very boring career (there were other reasons but that was one of them) to work in an interesting, active job that I could have worked my way up to without even a bachelor's. I don't make as much money as I would have but I think I'm much, much happier than I would have been. Keep in mind that not all jobs which don't require higher education are low-paying. Just sayin'.
posted by frobozz at 7:17 PM on September 23, 2008

When I was very young, if I complained about being bored, my mom would give me a newspaper and tell me to bubble in all the 'o's on a page (like a scan-tron). I still do this occasionally on handouts, syllabuses, etc.
posted by joquarky at 8:46 PM on September 23, 2008

I like to quietly think about what people in the room I'd want on my team if we ever had to be in a street fight/bar-room brawl/cage fighting match.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:51 PM on September 23, 2008

Depends on what you are doing. Some activities you're forced to do leave you some leeway. If you're holding a pad of paper during a meeting/class, you can doodle, write the novel, whatever without anyone being the wiser. Traveling, well, bring a book.

I am also a fan of having a PDA with novels and games stuffed in it. This can pretty well apply to a lot of things (you can use it in the dark, it looks like you are doing "business things" with it, you can just whip it out and read while standing in line).

Church, however...there ain't nothing you can do or get away with for that one. Meditate is about it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:15 PM on September 24, 2008

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