Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Could the feeling of everyday monotony involve self-deception?

“How to overcome everyday monotony?” is a question that surfaces in my workshops in different forms and from participants of all age groups and positions. Some of them are just a year or two into their career while some are at leadership positions in their organizations. The question gets expressed differently but the essence is the same. They feel that their everyday life is not creative and it has become monotonous or routine. Could this feeling of monotony involve self-deception? That’s what I would like to explore in this article.

Let’s take an example of an activity which many people hate – long commute. And then let’s see if we can generalize the learning to other monotonous activities. Let’s say I end up spending two hours every day on commute. I may carry a feeling that I don’t have any choice but to endure this boring activity. I start building a story involving I as a victim of the situation and how I am suffering every day. I complain every day about my commute to my family members and friends. And that doesn’t change the situation.

As the complaint gets repeated multiple times, the story gets solidified. And the story prevents me from seeing any other option which might be there that might make the commute more peaceful or at least less boring etc. This is an example of self-deception because it involves misperception of reality and misattribution of cause. It is true that the two-hour commute every day is a fact. However, is it necessary that it should generate a feeling of boredom? In fact, we see so many people listening to music or podcasts, watching movies, reading books, talking to friends during their commute. Thus, we can see that the situation does not necessitate boredom. I am deceiving myself by building this complaint that in this situation feeling bored is inevitable. Thus, it is possible that this boredom could involve self-deception. What needs to happen to come out of this self-deception?

Let’s assume leaving the job and working from home are not options right now. Then the first thing that needs to happen is to accept commute as a fact. i.e. stop resisting it or hating it. Then, I could raise a curiosity question: How do I make my commute more interesting? As I observe other people, talk to them about their commute, I find out that different people use different ways of making their commute interesting. Of course, I need to observe and listen with some openness. Because my complaining voice would try to reinforce itself by saying that what works for them won’t work for me. This may be true, but unless I try, I won’t know.

If you don’t like talking about your problems to other people, you could still find ideas if you observe your own commute over a period, say for a week or two. You may find out that it is not equally boring on all days. Say, the commute on Wednesday was better than the other days. Then you may ask, what was different on Wednesday? And, you may see that you had a friend with you in the car or on the bus. Then you may ask, how do I get to travel with friends more often etc. Slowly, you may discover multiple ways in which your commute can become more interesting.

Now, what was done for boredom associated with commute can be done for other activities you find monotonous. There were two things crucial in addressing commute challenge: (1) Raising the question – How do I make it more interesting? And; (2) Observing bright spots – things that are working for others as well as for me. In fact, I keep two diaries (1) Curiosity diary: A list of questions related to thing I am curious about and (2) Bright spot diary: A list of things that have worked well for me. For example, entry no. 57 in the curiosity diary of 2019 reads, “Is reading overrated?” dated 1st March. And there are 94 entries so far the curiosity diary this year. Similarly, entry no. 15 in the Bright spot diary on 24th February reads, “In-class interview model worked well in design thinking workshop”.  With both the lists, there is plenty to experiment. How can there be boredom?

In short, complaining about the feeling of boredom doesn’t help. Instead, if we are curious about the source of boredom and question its necessity, then something else may happen. Similarly, if we observe and listen to what is going on within my context as well as others’ context, there will always be ideas worth experimenting.

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