When I was a Catholic grade school student, I found school to be easy and extremely boring. I usually picked up on what I needed to know within a few minutes after the lesson commenced. The rest of the time was mind-numbing repetition punctuated by surprise verbal and physical assaults on classmates who weren't so adept at concealing their aching boredom.
Maybe it was during third grade that I developed my own method (or madness) for fighting the exhausting tedium. I used to let my gaze drift downward toward the ruler on the front edge of my desk. I would count the sixteenth inch marks on my ruler, one-by-one, trying to pace myself like a metronome as I estimated the number of times I would go through the ruler before we broke for lunch or reached the end of the day. That gives you some idea of how bored I was. We had clocks on the back walls of our classrooms, but those were for teacher's eyes only. Woe be to anyone foolish enough to turn their head around.
I never got caught looking at my ruler and somehow I always heard just enough that I wasn't caught off balance if the teacher called on me. It wasn't a perfect educational experience, but what do you expect for a $37.00 per year education provided by an army of unpaid, over-clothed, under-gratified virgins who had no authority over anything in their lives except for their classrooms? I can just imagine what they might have been thinking at times: "Do you really believe that I'm not bored to tears after listening to 8-year-olds repeat the
times tables for the 11-thousandth time during my classroom career? I stand up here day-after-day teaching you little brats for nothing but the glory of God, so you're damned well going to hang on my every word."
Anyway, boredom has long interested me -- both clinically and, more generally, as a part of human experience. I think about boredom as a natural phenomenon that is probably related to an advantage conferred by an orientation to fresh data. The mildly unpleasant experience of endlessly rehashing what is adequately known and settled drives our attention toward potentially more fruitful exploration and activity. My ruler method for relieving boredom accomplished several things, one of them being that I set up a task that I could try to master -- counting time like a clock. There was more to it than that, but it illustrates the way boredom can push us away from what we already know or have mastered to new activities we haven't mastered.
Clinically, boredom (both the patient's and the therapist's) can mean many things that have to be understood on a case-by-case and situation-by-situation basis. Boredom can be a defensive position that diverts attention from disturbing thoughts or feelings, but I offer that as just one example from among many possibilities.
If you're as interested in boredom as I am, you might wish to check out this NY Times piece on the subject. Here is an excerpt:
In the past few years, a team of Canadian doctors had the courage to examine the fog of boredom as it thickened before their (drooping) eyes. While attending lectures on dementia, the doctors, Kenneth Rockwood, David B. Hogan and Christopher J. Patterson, kept track of the number of attendees who nodded off during the talks. They found that in an hourlong lecture attended by about 100 doctors, an average of 16 audience members nodded off. “We chose this method because counting is scientific,” the authors wrote in their seminal 2004 article in The Canadian Medical Association Journal.