I Have Boredom Deficiency Disorder and I am Grateful for That

I just made up a new disorder. I call it Boredom Deficiency Disorder. It is a serious condition whereby a person finds himself or herself incapable of experiencing or maintaining the state of boredom. I do not get bored. I have not been bored for decades. I’ve long seen interest as something that you choose more than something that you lose. As such, if I lose interest, I can always find something else meaningful.

I am not saying that I do not lose focus. I do that quite often. I’m juggling what some might consider far too many ideas and projects at a time, and that means that it sometimes takes me more time to gain momentum on a single project. Yet, when I do, I can be quite productive over the long-term. Yet, this is all about focus, not boredom.

What is boredom? I’ve studied interest, motivation, focus, and attention. I’ve only recently started to examine the scholarly literature on boredom. What fascinates me is that there seem to ample ways to define the phenomenon of boredom. However, one that intrigues me comes from a 2012 article that is described here. The author(s) explain a blend of three conditions that add up to what people think of as boredom.

We have difficulty paying attention to the internal information (e.g., thoughts or feelings) or external information (e.g., environmental stimuli) required for participating in satisfying activity

We’re aware of the fact that we’re having difficulty paying attention

We believe that the environment is responsible for our aversive state (e.g., “this task is boring,” “there is nothing to do”).

I’ve certainly experienced the first of these two in recent years. There are times when it is difficult for me to pay attention to something on my “to do” list. I am also self-aware enough to recognize the struggle. However, that is where it stops for me. While I recognize the value of the environment in reducing boredom for others, I can’t seem to blame the environment for my difficulty paying attention. I can’t recall being in an environment where there is nothing about which to be curious or find meaning. We live in a fascinating world. People intrigue me. Experiences fascinate me. I can ponder a single idea for hours or days. I see the value of manipulating an environment to shift my experience, but again, I cannot think of a recent time when I saw the environment as responsible for my difficulty paying attention.

As such, I don’t get bored. I’m too curious. I shift my attention. I don’t always achieve my goals in a timely matter. I find some experiences and environments unpleasant. Yet, they are all packed with something intellectually stimulating, rich with emotion, and full of intrigue.

My musing about this constant state of boredom deficiency leads me to think even more deeply about why boredom is so prevalent in many of our schools. I wonder why some see it as commendable that students learn how to be bored or how to persist through boredom as if it is an essential life skill. Perhaps such people are just defining boredom differently from how I think of it, but right now it seems to me that the experience of boredom is directly attached to a deficiency in meaning-making, agency, autonomy, or a mix of all three. Why would I want people to learn how to experience work with less meaning, less agency, and less autonomy? I reject such a claim. Why not instead help people develop agency, take greater ownership, and to seek and find meaning in a diverse set of contexts? Why not see if we can spread boredom deficiency disorder?

This is a topic that you are likely to see me revisit in the upcoming months, including some episodes on the MoonshotEduShow podcast.


Posted in blog, character, education

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation; as well as Founder and CEO of Birdhouse Learning Labs. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.