The Re-Frame Game
TAoN No. 122: Making the most of boredom. Plus: A reality remix, a new icebreaker, and more
Not long ago, I declared (bragged?) in a public setting that I am “pretty much never bored.” It might have been better to say I’m seldom bored for long.
Because really the point isn’t to avoid boredom at all costs; I suppose anybody with a smartphone can distract themselves with a few pokes and swipes and scrolls. The point, perhaps, is to let yourself get bored — and then consider how best to remedy things.
I got on this train of thought partly because of a New York Times bit about How to Be Bored, and What You Can Learn From It. Here’s the suggestion that I liked:
“When you’re stuck doing a thing you don’t find meaningful, re-frame it.”
The piece quotes Erin Westgate, a researcher at the University of Florida who studies boredom. Here’s more from the article:
When a required task isn’t engaging because it doesn’t feel worthwhile, it may help to consider the task’s utility, including how it could help achieve bigger goals, Dr. Westgate said. … Research has shown that this kind of framing helps to keep students engaged and do better in school.
It may also help to think about how a seemingly thankless task serves others or builds community. When you go to the grocery store, Dr. Westgate said, you can think of it as a pointless time suck, or you could think about it as a task you do to keep your family healthy and nourished. “Frame it to yourself in ways that matter,” she suggested.
All good thoughts. But I’d like to suggest a slight ref-framing of “re-framing.” When all else fails, frame whatever is going on in a way that makes it fun. For example, killing time at the New Orleans airport recently, I treated myself to a round of the always-enjoyable game: Would I wear that T-shirt? Suddenly the world around me becomes a source of entertainment, and a living museum of human behavior.
T that says “My other beer is bourbon.” Um, no. Who even came up with that?
T that just says Adidas. I don’t understand why people wear things that are merely ads for brands. Unless they got the shirt for free, then okay maybe? But I wouldn’t.
Plain black T. Of course, yes. I have a couple.
Wu-Tang Clan T. I guess — although I would probably feel really self-conscious wearing it, like I was trying to look hip. (The person wearing this T seemed pretty hip. Like someone who would not use the word “hip.”)
A T that says “Plaquemines,” rendered in the style of a sports team logo. This was actually a really cool T, and if I lived in or even had a legit connection to Plaquemines Parish (a mostly rural coastal parish downriver from New Orleans) I would absolutely buy and wear this.
Snoopy T. I have no problem with this, but I doubt I’d wear it.
T that just says “Hubby.” Absolutely not.
Etc. I enjoy this game because it dials me into the world and gets me to notice stuff I’d normally miss — and something always surprises me. And yes, it can be a little judge-y, but it’s harmless!
If you have a boredom-fighting attention game, I’d love to hear it.
REALITY REMIX AWARD
On the subject of attention and making everyday life into a game, I want to give special recognition to an example in my neighborhood.
There’s a church on my dog-walk route that’s not active, but gets used in lots of movie shoots. This summer, it got a bit of a makeover for the benefit of a movie (or show), adding various fake features to the building. These included a letterboard sign promoting various services. See above.
Again, this was all fake, just part of the film set. There was no actual food bank or AA meetings or tax prep help or whatever. The church remained dormant as always. But this phony sign got left up for months. Which I found annoying.
So I was delighted when somebody opened the case and rearranged the letters into an absurd series of dada-esque phrases:
The film crew just recently returned and took the sign away (I’d love to know what they made of it!) but I want to give a shout-out to the person who remixed the thing. It became a highlight of my dog walks. And it embodies the spirit of noticing as a creative spark.
Noticing is about other people, too. The Icebreaker series aims to help with that. There’s a central collection spot for all the icebreakers to date, here.
Today’s icebreaker comes from reader Claire Mason:
If you were a beverage, what would you be?
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be something you enjoy drinking,” Claire clarifies. “But what beverage embodies you?”
A little more backstory: “I’m a big fan of your icebreakers! They remind me of a fun one I came up with at work many years ago. We had a lot of fun coming up with beverages for each other and ourselves! I was a French Earl Grey tea with milk at the time, but feel like I have evolved since then — might have to give it a rethink!”
Thanks so much, Claire! Cheers ;)
Please send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or found it elsewhere) to email@example.com
TAoN is a reader-supported publication, and paid subscribers get an extra installment every week. In recent subscriber-only issues I wrote about grooving with the unknown, doing as arguing, the best compliment you’ve ever received, and friendwork. For access to past and future subscriber-only posts, discussion threads, and more, support TAoN with a paid subscription.
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IN OTHER NEWS
Reminder: If you buy the new book LOST OBJECTS (co-edited by Joshua Glenn and me) directly from the publisher, TAoN readers can get a 20% discount off the retail price, through 12/25, by using the code LOSTOBJECTS. Here.
OKAY THAT’S IT!
As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or use the comments. —> Or just click the heart symbol. That always makes my day.
And thanks for reading …
All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032
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