Word-Of-the-Week #824: Productivity

May 22, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

Productivityabundance or richness in output.

This week features the second half of “BOREDOM MIGHT BE ENGINE OF PRODUCTIVITY” by Michael S. Rosenwald of the Washington Post.

“Mann and van Tilburg, among several other researchers, have in the past decade conducted experiments trying to tease out the potential benefits of boredom. A tricky aspect of conducting such studies is inducing sufficient boredom — far less of a problem during a pandemic. 

In van Tilburg’s case, he has conducted experiments in which participants are told to count the number of letters in academic footnotes about imperial Rome. Those who became bored became nostalgic for more productive times in their lives. His boredom studies also showed a tendency for bored people to replace feelings of emptiness with caring acts, such as blood donation. 

Mann, in her experiments, has asked study subjects to copy numbers from a telephone book. “Meaningless, boring repetitive, it ticks all the boxes,” she said. Mann then gave a creative task to the bored people and a non-bored control group: come up with as many uses as possible for plastic cups. The bored did better than the non-bored. 

While these and other studies show the tantalizing promise of boredom, scholars don’t yet know how bored people, in moments of boredom, choose productive vs. nonproductive paths. The answer might be related to personality type or the setting around them. Scholars are anxious to learn more. 

“Boredom isn’t good or bad,” said John Eastwood, who runs the Boredom Lab at York University in Canada and is co-author of “Out of My Skull,” a forthcoming book on boredom. “It’s what we do with that signal.” 

That’s a confusing moment, especially amid the pandemic, with news outlets and social media publishing endless lists of things to do with all the newfound time, from the juiciest TV to downloading hours of podcasts — a digital bounty that Newton, thankfully, didn’t encounter. 

“When you don’t have a lot going on, you might say, ‘Wow, I’m going to binge watch Netflix. This is perfect,’” Eastwood said. “That will get rid of the feeling in the short term. But treating yourself like an empty vessel to fill with a compelling experience makes you more ripe for boredom down the road.” 

Why?

 “Because what you’ve done,” Eastwood said, “is you’ve failed to become the author of your own life.” 

So what should bored people do? 

First of all, children and adults should embrace boredom, the experts say. When the brain is bored, it is magical, finding connections, devising ideas, making plans. Remember why you doodle during meetings. Because you’re bored. The doodles are creative, even if they aren’t pretty. 

Another suggestion: Parents shouldn’t create too much structure for their children. If they’re bored, let them be bored. But they also need to create the right conditions for boredom to be meaningful, and that means limiting screen time. (This reporter, who has two children, realizes this will be painful at first.)

“There is literally so much time with absolutely nothing to do,” Mann said. “Their minds should be wondering and wandering. What will they come up with? There’s enormous potential that we risk losing here if we don’t capitalize on it.” 

As for Westgate and her new doctoral student, they came up with a survey that they are sending to bored people, asking them how they are spending their time and why and when they chose to do certain activities. If they were bored, how did they deal with it? Did they do something new for the first time? 

“This is like one of those party game prompts,” Westgate said. “Like, ‘You’re stuck on a deserted island. What book do you read?’” 

Only now, the question is real. 

“You’re stuck at home for weeks, possibly months,” she said. “What do you do? That’s what we’re living.”

This week’s focus is on productivity. How often have you felt bored in the last two months? Have you been more creative at times? Did you do something new for the first time?

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Word-Of-the-Week #823: Boredom

May 14, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

Boredoma specific mental state that people find unpleasant: a lack of stimulation.

Have you suffered from a lack of stimulation during the “lockdown”? Has your mental state focused on this being an unpleasant time? Did you ever have a feeling of doom and gloom?

This week features the first half of “BOREDOM MIGHT BE ENGINE OF PRODUCTIVITY by Michael S. Rosenwald of the Washington Post.

“The panic hit her first.

Holed up at home in Queens, with New York City about to be overwhelmed by the novel coronavirus, Yijun Lin worried about her mortality. Doom settled into alarm. Then, as days passed in isolation, a different feeling took hold.

“I began to feel a little bored,” she said.

Lin was uniquely suited to do something productive about it, though. She’s an incoming doctoral student in psychology at the University of Florida, where her adviser is Erin Westgate, one of a handful of scholars in the world who studies boredom and its surprising benefits.

“Are you researching any topic related to covid-19?” she wrote in an email to Westgate, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus. “I feel it is a perfect opportunity to study boredom.”

Westgate agreed, immediately setting off to organize a study. With millions around the world stuck at home and the novelty of watching the entire Netflix inventory waning, boredom scholars, who are actually quite interesting, are scrambling to study a vast petri dish of boredom — young and old, rich and poor, East and West.

“This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hopefully learn some really important things,” Westgate said.

She won’t have trouble finding subjects. Boredom abounds. In a subreddit devoted to boredom, someone wrote: “Bored while stuck at home and apparently beer and pringles isn’t the answer! What should I try next?” The next day, someone replied: “Try counting the tiles at home! It cured my boredom.”

It’s not just adults. Just ask parents. “My kid is so bored being home he VOLUNTARILY practiced his piano!” a Buffalo man tweeted recently. “One thing I keep telling my 9-year-old,” another tweeted. “Someday you’ll have kids who complain that they’re bored. And you will be able to lay down the best-ever ‘When I was your age . . .’ ”

Boredom was somehow overlooked in psychology for centuries. About a decade ago, Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire in England and author of a not-boring book on boredom, looked into the subject and was startled by how little research had been done.

“That really appealed to me,” she said, fighting a cough while recovering from an apparent case of covid-19. “Boredom isn’t an over studied area like, you know, stress. Before I studied boredom, I studied anger, and that’s been studied so much that it became a bit boring.”

The central question in boredom studies — and the one that makes Westgate and others so anxious to examine boredom within the confines of a pandemic — is the fork in the road that appears when boredom sets in. 

Bored people can take the sit-on-the-couch-and-eat-a-lot-of-Pringles path. Studies have shown that boredom can increase obesity, smoking and crime. Or the idled can take the Isaac Newton approach. During the Great Plague of London in 1665, he used his social distancing time to discover calculus and gravity. 

During a pandemic, Isaac Newton had to work from home, too. He used the time wisely.”

This week’s focus is finding ways to overcome boredom. Can you see how this really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hopefully learn some really important things? Have you spent any time learning a new language? Or a hobby that you have always wanted to master? Did anyone create their own “Treasure Hunt Game” like I wrote about last week to overcome my feelings of boredom? I just cannot accept doom and gloom in my life!

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Word-Of-the-Week #822: Moments

May 7, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

Momentspoints in time that are gratifying or noteworthy.

Have you savored any small or big moments this week? Did you strengthen any connections?

I totally agreed with last week’s comments by Phil Blair and to recap this is what he wrote about moments:

“Savor the small moments: The wonderful smell of coffee, the feel of a warm shower, the warmth of a sunny day. Rather than ignoring these small moments, let our brains process the pleasure, which boosts our serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter that helps elevate our mood and makes us feel calm.

 My cup is not only half full, but most days, as Shakespeare might say, it doth runneth over. I always try to see the good in people until they prove me wrong. 

Instead, let’s spend that time laughing at it and enjoying the funny jokes that are coming out every day.” 

My good friend Carol said, “Susan you know your hyper. I was a teacher and I had my share of hyper kids. I’ve wondered how you are dealing with all this sheltering in place.” Well I chose to switch up my routine. Instead of walking in my neighborhood I started riding my bike. Then when they closed the golf courses, I played at our pitch n putt in our community park.

In mid-April I needed to go to my chiropractor whose office is in Pacific Beach. On the way home I drove past Mission Bay (which was closed) but has sidewalks on the bluff overlooking it. I made an instant decision to park on the street and go for a walk to take in a different view. I cannot tell you how good I felt that day!

So that started what I call my Treasure Hunt Game. The following week I took a drive down to the San Diego Bay and scoped out Harbor Island, Shelter Island and the Embarcadero downtown. The goal was to locate a good place to walk with a water view that incorporated 3 Key Components – parking, food options and most important – a bathroom!

The following week I met up with Kate my Pilates instructor to have a social-distancing lunch to celebrate her birthday and take a nice walk on Shelter Island. The next week I celebrated with a drive-by birthday party for another friend Marilyn.

The next week I met my sweet sister Lurene for a social-distancing lunch and nice walk along the Embarcadero. That led me to head over to Coronado to scope out more options.

And last week Lurene and I had another lovely lunch and walk on Coronado. What I realized was it made me feel like I was on vacation. Coronado is where we go when we have company because of the world-famous Hotel Del.

Then yesterday I met up with Debbie and Katherine who are also on the board of Fostering Opportunities with me. We met in Solana Beach for a social-distancing lunch and a barefoot walk on the beach. It was so nice to connect with them and feel the cool ocean breeze on a hot day.

I have never patronized so many restaurants in such a short period of time! I feel so bad that so many businesses have been devasted by this pandemic. I feel a need to do whatever I can. And in the course of all that I have managed to savor so many moments!

This week’s focus is to savor the moments. Did you see the full moon last night? Have you savored a spectacular sunset? Do you think the birds chirping seems louder than before?

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Word-Of-the-Week #821: Upbeat

April 30, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

Upbeatoptimistic; happy; cheerful.

Have you been able to stay upbeat with all the uncertainty? Under normal conditions would you say your glass is half full or half empty? Have you wasted energy worrying about things that you have little or no control over?

This week features Phil Blair’s UT article Coping with the worst by positively thinking our best.”

“This may be an odd time to talk about the value of positive thinking and keeping a positive attitude. 

With so much uncertainty, everything seems to be in flux. So many questions… 

When will the sickness and deaths finally peak and begin to fall? 

When will employers whose businesses have been deemed “not essential” be permitted to call back their furloughed employees? 

When will we ever feel comfortable shaking hands and hugging each other again? 

We don’t have many answers and we may not for quite a while longer. We do know, however, that our psychological moods and outlook will have either a positive or negative effect on our powers of resiliency. 

While social distancing reduces transmission of the coronavirus, it also increases our anxiety, frustrations and loneliness. How we deal with all of this uncertainty becomes up to each of us. 

Staying upbeat and positive are core emotions to successfully coping with this crisis. More than ever, it’s important that we do our best to create moments of happiness in our lives. 

Behavioral research shows that positive emotions help undo the negative effects of stress. Plus, we feel so much better when we laugh and see the humor in situations. 

I came across a set of “how to cope” suggestions offered by Lea Waters, a psychology professor at Australia’s University of Melbourne and one of the world’s experts on positivity. 

Even for “normal” times, I heartily endorse them:

  • Savor the small moments: The wonderful smell of coffee, the feel of a warm shower, the warmth of a sunny day. Rather than ignoring these small moments, let our brains process the pleasure, which boosts our serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter that helps elevate our mood and makes us feel calm.
  • Strengthen our connections: Take time to hug your kids or partner, look them in the eyes, have long conversations with them. These gestures promote closeness and also boost oxytocin, a hormone that bonds people and also has a calming effect on our bodies. When oxytocin levels spike, they tell your body to switch off cortisol, the stress hormone.
  • Look for the good in others: Crises, like the pandemic we are living through right now, can bring out the worst and the best in human nature. Think about the uplifting YouTube videos of British families singing “One Day More” from Le Misérables, with the lyrics changed to reflect the humor in their current locked- down lives. 

Or the lady coming out of the restroom with two obvious rolls of toilet paper under her T-shirt. And my favorite, the man who’s asked to make a choice between these two options: 

Either a) Spend another month locked down with his wife and 3-year-old, or b) which he instantly chooses without even hearing what it might be. 

  • Try to see the good in people: I freely admit that I’m an eternal optimist, almost to a fault. 

My cup is not only half full, but most days, as Shakespeare might say, it doth runneth over. I always try to see the good in people until they prove me wrong. 

Worrying about something we have little to no control over is a waste of energy. Which is different from thinking about and studying a problem to find the best solution. 

Worrying sucks all the energy and joy out of a person with no benefiting results. If we and our loved ones are all doing all the smart things to avoid contacting this virus, then let’s not spend time worrying to extremes about the virus. 

Instead, let’s spend that time laughing at it and enjoying the funny jokes that are coming out every day. 

We can either surround our lives with negative, doomsday, “the sky is falling” kinds of people or with positive, upbeat folks who are making the best of a bad situation. 

We are all in this for at least another month, maybe longer. 

Let’s all make the best of it, find the humor, find the touching stories of people helping other people. 

Most of all, think about all the people out there that we can all hardly wait to give a big ol’ hug when this is all over.”

This week’s focus is on being upbeat. Do you realize that worrying sucks all the energy and joy out of a person with no benefiting results? Do you know that behavioral research shows that positive emotions help undo the negative effects of stress? Have you been able to laugh and find humor in your life?

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Word-Of-the-Week #820: FUN

April 29, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

Funa source of enjoyment, amusement, or pleasure.

When was the last time you felt enjoyment? Or did something that brought you pleasure? Are you playing any board games?

This week features the second half of LA Times Travel Editor Catharine Hamm’s articleBored at home? How to cope and overcome ‘the nothing to do’ syndrome while travel is postponed.” 

To Recap: “Feeling bored, disoriented and cranky now that you’ve put your travel plans on hold and your suitcase away? You have company — lots of it. For many of us, travel has its own rewards, including its role as a stress reliever. 

Now what? Most of us are staying closer to home, by design or edict, and the absence of travel’s pleasures can lead to boredom, which, Forman said, is a common complaint. 

Play Reconnect 

  • Look ahead. “Plan, plan, plan, imagine, get ready!” said Rebecca Kiki Weingarten, co-founder of and educational director for RWRNetwork.org, a nonprofit for people and groups in what she calls “suddenly changed circumstances.”

“Use this time to plan travel in ways you haven’t before,” she said in an email: Maybe a deep dive into the destination. Maybe learning a bit (or all) of the language, trying out some recipes, learning about the culture in a way you haven’t before, scoping out out-of-the-way sites that you wouldn’t have thought of, studying native art, fashion, styling, sports that you can check out before you go.” 

  • Fill the void with fun. “Boredom leads to negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors: ruminating, worrying about a pandemic we can’t control, keeping a count of illness found in your neighborhood, constantly taking your temperature and being paranoid about symptoms,” Weingarten said.

“Boredom can lead to anxiety and compulsive behavior — eating/drinking too much and worse. 

“So I always recommend to clients and groups to ‘substitute.’ Can’t do this? Do that. Don’t enjoy this? Try that. And so on. Nature abhors a vacuum, so fill the time, energy, space with good, fun, interesting things.” 

  • Look back and be grateful. The reward, Forman said, is “the ability to actually sit with one’s memories and really remember the wonderful experiences.”

For instance, he grew up in Tampa, Fla., and Walt Disney World was a destination he looked forward to. The theme park may have been wonderful, but one time the family got caught in a thunderstorm and were so soaked that they had to buy new clothes, something he remembered with pleasure.

“Just remembering how fortunate you were to have experienced what you did can fill you with a kind of gratitude that we sometimes forget,” he said. 

He just canceled a spring vacation with his family. “When we [do] go away, it will be that much sweeter,” he said. 

The pandemic won’t last forever. It will end, he said. And then …

“The next time you’re on vacation and you see the most extraordinary view, bookmark it,” he said. You’ll be able to say, “‘I saw it, I experienced it. It was wonderful.’” 

Then summon it, he said, when you need it most.”

This week’s focus is on having some FUN! Have you planned any travel for when this is all over? Have you tried any new or interesting things? Are you able to be grateful for wonderful experiences and the memories that go with them?

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