0486 – boredom is a symptom of a cluttered mind

I think I wrote about this as a Facebook status before, because I was so excited about it, but it’ll be good to revisit it from scratch again. A common thought that bored people have is “Gosh, there’s nothing to do.” Which we know is untrue as we’re saying it. There’s an infinite amount of things to do. And people tend to chastize bored people for saying that, and then we feel guilty… which is seldom helpful.

Now consider another context in which something similar is said. A person stands in front of a cluttered warddrobe and says “There’s nothing to wear!” It’s kind of similar, don’t you think? And another– a person stands in front of a bookshelf and thinks, “There’s nothing to read!”, or in front of a list of movies and “There’s nothing to watch!”.

I believe it’s important to pay careful attention to our words. When we state something that’s observably false, it usually means that our statement is imprecise. It means that we have a feeling, and we’re bad at articulating the precise cause of that feeling.

In all of the above cases, I believe the situation is as follows. There are actually many options in front of us. We need to pick some subset of the options– usually one, sometimes a several (as is the case of picking out an outfit). We feel that this option needs to be optimal for some situation– maybe we need to dress up for a date, or we want to watch a movie that makes us feel inspired to do our work.

The thing with generalized boredom though is that we don’t even precisely know what we want. We have a vague sense of wanting something, and a list of options that we’re not very clear about. That’s when we’re totally screwed– no option is going to be good enough unless we get really, really lucky, or we give up and satisfice with whatever’s directly in front of us (this is actually a surprisingly good strategy if you make the decision that something is better than anything, and that you don’t have to get it perfect). Or worse, we just wallow in our boredom and frustration and end up not doing anything.

So before solving the boredom problem, let’s solve the nothing to wear problem. First, you need to know what you have. That means splitting up your wardrobe into all your options. What are your blacks, what are your colors, etc. What are your dressy things, what are your not-so-dressy things. You need to identify the major parameters that you care about.

Actually, I think even before you think about these things, it might be helpful to get a sense of what you’re probably going to do, where you’re probably going to go. (You see how this problem needs to be solved BEFORE the day of the date or ceremony or whatever it is that you’re going for.)

Once you know what you’re optimizing FOR, you can start sorting your options into buckets. (It just suddenly dawned on me that THIS is what I ought to be doing with my bookshelf. Facepalm.)

This is where it can get interesting with something like clothes– once you know the range of events that you’re likely to need clothing for, and you split things up, you may find that there are some things that you’re never going to wear, and get rid of those– but more interestingly, you may find some clothes that you PREVIOUSLY thought you were never going to wear, but now suddenly make sense within an outfit for a specific context. I experienced this very vividly when I was sorting out my music into playlists. I previously just kept adding songs to “My Songs” in Spotify, and I would often listen to songs from other people’s playlists that I subscribed to. It was a rather suboptimal situation– other people’s playlists often weren’t perfect for my intended purposes and I’d often have to skip songs. When I wanted particular songs, I’d often have to go through a huge list of my own songs and then look for songs I want, and then have to skip. Both groupings were suboptimal. The idea of making playlists from scratch was daunting.

Finally, I decided that I would get rid of all of the songs in My Songs list, and triage them out into playlists by theme. That’s when it got interesting. I put together an “Acoustic” playlist for easy listening and general gentleness of sorts– really just songs that begin with acoustic guitars. And suddenly, there are songs that go in there that I wouldn’t particularly care for in a general-ish playlist– like an acoustic cover of Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. Within the context of “Acoustic Playlist”, it fits. Similarly, I have multiple covers of the same songs– I have a hard rock cover of Bad Romance that works well in my Hell March playlist.

Things that previously didn’t make sense by themselves, or in a global set, can make a lot of sense in a well-chosen subset. That’s the power of curation.

I realize now that this is what I ought to do with my books, too. I was previously just collecting books into a huge pile called “My Books”, and then I tried categorizing them by theme and type, or by author, and once even by color. I realize now that I should instead work backwards from my reading and writing goals, and then group books according to THAT. Excellent. Good job, Visa.

Aside from that, I think the generalizable lesson is… boredom is what happens when you don’t know what you want AND you don’t know what each option is going to give you.

I knew I had written this in a better format, and it’s amusing that I don’t remember it. I went looking for it on Facebook, where I had posted a status about it. Here it is:

“I have nothing to do / wear / watch / read” is a bug we encounter when…

1- a tired mind
2- attempts to find an optimal solution
3- in a cluttered space
4- with options that have poorly-defined utility-values

What was missing was 5- without knowing what they’re optimizing for.

So to be less bored, be clear about what you’re optimizing for, declutter your space, lay out your options and define their utility-values more clearly. Oh, and if you’re tired, sleep, exercise, eat healthier. It’s all just chemicals, electricity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *