Feeling bored? Solve a problem!
After all the lockdowns and curfews, I guess we know how it feels without a meaningful to-do list.
While some of us in specific professions or with young kids at home are completely overwhelmed, some of us are freer than we ever were. Finally, that to-do list is empty. We were free to have a winter holiday without any problems to solve. No figuring out how to make an exquisite meal for a group of people with nut allergy, gluten allergy, vegans, vegetarians, carnivores, pescatarians, and fruitarians (yes, that’s a thing). No finding out the one place where there is snow during Christmas for the perfect ski experience. No having to go to the gym to master your new personal record or train off those Christmas pounds, no having to find the best party for NYE. We are free to be home every night, with no to-do list, and no more problems.
Why we need problems
“Imagine life is like a video game. Do you really expect that in this game, there will be an incredibly boring level, where absolutely no problems will arise?”
We don’t. Without problems or progress, we get bored and we disengage. Video games are interesting as long as you stay engaged in solving problems, able to increase your level and skill set in order to stay challenged, and able to expand your rewards and tools throughout the games. Yet in our daily life, we implicitly expect that one day, our to do list will end, that all our problems will be gone, and that this will be the moment we are truly free.
We do not mindfully choose the important problems
The problem is not the fact that we have problems to solve. Proper problem solving is what makes our life similar to a video game.
The real problem, is that we do not always mindfully choose the problems we want to solve, or that others incorrectly choose the problems we have to solve for us. As a consequence, we end up doing boring tasks to solve irrelevant problems for which we reap rewards we do not care about.
The striking relevance of this issue dawned on me when I was watching the Dutch documentary ‘klassen (classes)’, where a diverse group of kids and adolescents are followed while they are either helped or hindered by the school system. My heart breaks when I see young men having to show up at uninspiring schools, doing tasks that are below their ability level, and for which the connection to a meaningful problem is far from clear. I hear teachers and parents talk about why they just simply can’t make the right choices, and I just want to scream at them: it’s the environment!!!
Imagine that school is a boring level of a video game you feel stuck in, doing tasks for which you do not feel or understand the relevance, which do not spark your curiosity, and the reward if you stick with it for a really long time, is some diploma in the far future that is only desirable on a very abstract level. Your adolescent brain, however, is wired and fired to spot novelty, explore thrills, social connections outside the family, and unable to (yet) accurately assess risk, while life outside of school is filled with short term rewards like status, social acceptance, thrilling experiences, and engaging challenges, what would you choose?
The power of the environment
If you want to be a proper problem solver...
1. Make it easy to engage.
For example, want to do yoga? Put your mat out in full view in your room so you step on it first thing in the morning.
2. Make it interesting.
Find a style or a teacher or a video or a music playlist that inspires you and makes you feel curious and enthusiastic.
3. Create the right balance between challenge and skill level.
Make sure you have a series of practices where you can experience progress and can keep moving forward. Progress means engagement.
4. Make it meaningful.
Have a clear understanding of why you want to learn something and what it will add to your life.
5. Make sure it is rewarding in the short-term.
Your brain responds to short term rewards. Any behavior that is immediately rewarded is more likely to be repeated. After you are done, pour yourself a nice cup of coffee or tea, play your favorite music, read a news article, or give yourself a little star on a progress tracker. It sounds silly, but in a way, we are all like kids struggling through school. We need rewards to keep repeating behavior.
Replace boredom with problems you actually care about.
We all underestimate the power of our environment. But it is precisely the power of the environment that you can now freely use to solve the problems that matter to you. Your opportunity to pick meaningful problems and shape your environment to support you and keep you engaged, is now. The bad thing about this lockdown is that it is boring. The great thing is that you have the freedom to replace that boredom with problems you actually care about.
So if the problem of not moving enough, feeling inflexible, in physical pain, tired, or unmotivated to get off the couch sounds meaningful to you, and if you care about rewards such as better sleep, better mobility, more energy, and better mood, I have a nice problem for you to engage in.
I have created 4 yoga videos focused on hamstrings, that build up in the intensity and complexity. You will be able to increase your level and skill set in order to stay challenged. You start slow, simple, and short (9 mins), you end fast, complex, and long (36 minutes).