How To Be Less Boring

“You Are Boring” is an excellent post by Scott Simpson on why/how you’re boring, and what to do about it. In short, tell better stories, listen more acutely, and expand your circles as much as you possibly can.

The people who were interesting told good stories. They were also inquisitive: willing to work to expand their social and intellectual range. Most important, interesting people were also the best listeners. They knew when to ask questions. This was the set of people whose shows I would subscribe to, whose writing I would seek out, and whose friendship I would crave. In other words, those people were the opposite of boring.

Here are the three things they taught me.

Listen, then ask a question

I call it Amtrak Smoking Car Syndrome (because I am old, used to smoke, thought that trains were the best way to get around the country, and don’t really understand what a syndrome is). I’d be down in the smoking car, listening to two people have a conversation that went like this:

Stranger #1: Thing about my life.
Stranger #2: Thing about my life that is somewhat related to what you just said.
Stranger #1: Thing about my life that is somewhat related to what you just said.
Stranger #2: Thing about my life…

Next stop: Boringsville, Population: 2. There’s no better way to be seen as a blowhard than to constantly blow, hard. Instead, give a conversation some air. Really listen. Ask questions; the person you’re speaking with will respect your inquisitiveness and become more interested in the exchange. “Asking questions makes people feel valued,” said former Virgin America VP Porter Gale, “and they transfer that value over to liking you more.”

Watch an old episode of The Dick Cavett Show. Cavett is an engaged listener, very much part of the conversation, but he also allows his partner to talk as well. He’s not afraid to ask questions that reveal his ignorance, but it’s also clear he’s no dummy.

I love this paragraph:

Online, put this technique to use by pausing before you post. Why are you adding that link to Facebook? Will it be valuable to the many people who will see it? Or are you just flashing a Prius-shaped gang sign to your pals? If it’s the latter, keep it to yourself.

Read the entire essay here.

I’m wrestling with the Big Bore on a daily basis.

Does Being Bored Have an Evolutionary Advantage?

From Smithsonian Magazine, a not-so-boring piece on boredom:

There has to be a reason for boredom and why people suffer it; one theory is that boredom is the evolutionary cousin to disgust.

In Toohey’s Boredom: A Living History, the author notes that when writers as far back as Seneca talk about boredom, they often describe it was a kind of nausea or sickness. The title of famous 20th century existentialist writer Jean-Paul Sartre’s novel about existential boredom was, after all, Nausea. Even now, if someone is bored of something, they’re “sick of it” or “fed up”. So if disgust is a mechanism by which humans avoid harmful things, then boredom is an evolutionary response to harmful social situations or even their own descent into depression.

“Emotions are there to help us react to, register and regulate our response to stimulus from our environment,” he says. Boredom, therefore, can be a kind of early warning system. “We don’t usually take it as a warning – but children do, they badger you to get you out of the situation.”

And though getting out of boredom can lead to extreme measures to alleviate it, such as drug taking or an extramarital affair, it can also lead to positive change. Boredom has found champions in those who see it as a necessary element in creativity. In 2011, Manohla Dargis, New York Times film critic, offered up a defense of “boring” films, declaring that they offer the viewer the opportunity to mentally wander: “In wandering there can be revelation as you meditate, trance out, bliss out, luxuriate in your thoughts, think.”

But how humans respond to boredom may have changed dramatically in the last century. In Eastwood’s opinion, humans have become used to doing less to get more, achieving intense stimulation at the click of a mouse or touch of a screen.

The piece was published in advance of the now-annual Boring Conference, held this Sunday, November 25, 2012.