Braving Boredom

Braving Boredom

Braving Boredom

I'm excited to write this blog post - I have been thinking about it all morning.

After I woke up, as I waited my turn for the shower to be free, I got out of bed and chose a living room chair to sit in and think. My usual sleepy morning habit is to find my laptop, and wake myself up by with a few minutes of entertainment for my mind. I check my email and read news. When I remember to, I look at The Writers' Almanac, and feel dignified to be entertaining my mind with poetry.

But this morning, I let my laptop lie where it was, because I wanted to prepare for writing this blog post today. I had decided that the topic for this post would be braving boredom. So as I was waiting for the shower to be free, I chose to sit in the comfy blue chair, and...

...sat.

It was boring. But I challenged myself to brave it - to stay in that comfy chair until it was my turn to shower, and sit with no outside sources to occupy my hands, ears, eyes, and thoughts. And after a minute, I had some great ideas of what to include in this post. Braving boredom is something that I have come to enjoy, because it has such a big payoff.

The Payoff of Braving Boredom

Braving boredom exercises inhibitory control, which is one of our executive functions. Executive functions are our brains' main tools for success - current research is beginning to indicate that executive function skills are more important than IQ when it comes to academic and workplace achievement.

Inhibitory control improves social skills:

  • Stops us from disrupting a group, like a group of students listening to a teacher. Michelle Garcia Winner reminds us that boring moments are an unavoidable part of living in a social world.
  • Stops us from blurting out inconsiderate observations about strangers who look different.
  • Helps us quietly listen to a friend who needs to talk
  • Lets us momentarily put aside our thoughts and feelings in order to see the world from another person's point of view, which is a main focus of this clinic's social communication therapy.

Inhibitory control increases personal satisfaction:

  • Motivates us to see a school or work project through to completion, even though there are tedious parts that we have to slog through.
  • Helps us wait all day without eating the birthday cake sitting on the counter because the party's in the evening.
  • Lets us save up money for weeks, months, or years in order to make an important purchase.

Inhibitory control helps our children meet their speech, language, and occupational therapy goals:

  • A child inhibits the grammar of "her go to school" after learning how to say "she goes to school" in language therapy.
  • A child inhibits writing "s" backwards after learning conventional letter formation in occupational therapy.
  • A child inhibits sliding off their chair and under the table when their homework gets tough, after learning to request a sensory break in occupational therapy.
  • A child inhibits challenging behavior like hitting or biting after learning to push a button on their augmentative communication device that says, "Let's go swing."

In addition to all of this, inhibitory control is an executive function that's important for careful thinking. Creative thinking. Problem solving. When you devote yourself to just a couple minutes of silence, there is something amazing waiting for you on the other side of the boring moment: your own inspiration, and the pleasure of listening to the intuition of your voice.

Luckily, inhibitory control and the other executive functions get stronger with practice. They get easier and easier for people who practice regularly.

And so, this morning, I braved the boring moment to plan out the structure of this blog post. At work, I brave the boring moment at my desk, when I need to go beyond my repertoire of therapy activities in order to successfully help a child learn. Let's make it a priority to teach our children to brave the boring moment, and remember to push ourselves to do the same.

How to be Brave in the face of Boredom (Practicing Inhibitory Control)

Study a painting, a leaf, a vegetable, a bicycle - any object, manmade or from nature. When you feel bored, don't take your eyes off of it. Just keep looking. Notice your boredom, and bravely, in the face of it, keep looking for a minute longer.

Talk with your child about what thinking is. Teach the child to sit still with you, looking at a picture or object, quietly thinking. With a child, start with seconds at a time. Afterward, praise a job well done, and encourage your child to share what they had been thinking about.

Go for a silent walk with someone else. Challenge yourselves to silence until you get to a certain landmark on your walk - then, when you get there, talk as much as you want.

For older children and adults: set a timer for two minutes, five minutes - or whatever amount of time you are up to. Place the timer out of sight, and challenge yourself to sit until you hear the beep.

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