Are You (or your child) Bored?

Are you bored? Do you believe that boredom is part of life and you need to endure it?  Or are you aware that boredom, like confusion, discontentment and frustration are signals from your body saying the current situation, your approach to the situation, or your belief about the situation is not good for your biology.

Boredom is not something we want to ignore or teach our children to endure. It is more effective to look at what message the body may be trying to convey when anyone feels bored. Boredom often occurs when there isn’t enough or the right kind of stimulation to engage the brain in learning. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to increase the volume or quantity of stimulation. It could just mean the approach is not engaging.

When you hear someone repeatedly express boredom, it would also be good to realize that what he or she is really saying is, “Help, my brain is going to sleep or starting to waste away!” Benjamin Gottlieb, in his book, Coping with Chronic Stress, demonstrates that under-activity in the brain can produce a health risk by encouraging atrophy of nerve cells in the hippocampus––a region of the brain that is essential for spatial and verbal memory.

Understanding what it feels like when engagement is taking place in your body and mind is important, but how can we develop that awareness? The process is quite simple. Reflect on an activity that you enjoy and ask yourself what about it you enjoy. Is it the physical, mental, emotional or creative challenge that engages you the most? Then reflect on the situation that is boring you. Does it contain any of the same qualities that previously engaged you? If not, is there a way you could approach it differently so it would possess some of those qualities?

For me physical motion is the most essential. I am engaged and the happiest when I am moving around. So if I am bored, or stifled in any way I always try to move my body. Clearly I would prefer going for a long bike ride or hiking but when that is not a possibility I will pick up a pencil and scribble, doodle or draw. The composition is not important. What is important is how the movement of my pencil and my fascination with what is emerging on my paper affects my mind.

Sometimes people don’t understand why I need to do this, but many years ago I discovered that in order to not be bored and to retain information I needed to keep my system in a state of constant fascination and motion. Now this can be a difficult task during a dry and boring lecture, but one day I discovered I could accomplish this with my pencil.  I now effectively use scribbling, doodling and drawing throughout my day in any situation where I need to keep my mind open, and engaged.

Buying into the belief that we all learn in the same manner and that struggling students just need to “try harder” is obviously not the answer. This mindset is not only not productive; it also fosters poor self-image and low self-esteem, which can become significant barriers to ongoing learning. It would be far more effective if more time and energy was placed on helping everyone discover how their minds organize life and what are their most effective learning styles. Then when students felt bored, confused, discontented or frustrated they would know what to do to help themselves engage more effectively.

When I was growing up my mother always told me that I needed to listen and follow instructions. Regrettably she was referring to me listening to her, my teachers, and all other authority figures and doing exactly what I was told to do. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t. Not because I was stupid, bad or incapable, but because my mind organized life differently and I had a very unique learning style.

I struggled for many years until I realized that this “one size fits all” approach to learning was ridiculous!

Learning how to use my pencil to keep my mind engaged, and relax my body changed my life! Now when I find myself frustrated, confused, uncomfortable or bored I just pick up my pencil and in the process I uncover what isn’t working for me and what I need to change. This is exactly what students learn how to do in the I Create What I Believe! art program: understand the messages their biology is sending, and find the uniquely creative solutions that will allow their learning to flourish.

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