Tempers flared at an executive coaching session I was hosting recently, after one group member made a claim that the others found quite startling.
“I can honestly say I am never bored. Never.” he said.
This apparently harmless statement was met with howls of derision.
It really got up people’s noses…how can anyone claim they’re NEVER bored?
A second group member accused the speaker of outright lying. The speaker snapped. Expletives flew. And I knew then that we were in for a very interesting afternoon.
This ill-tempered scene quickly settled into an interesting and thought-provoking exploration, but it got me thinking about what was going on in the speaker’s mind that provoked such a strong emotional response.
Two things seemed likely: first, he didn’t like being called a liar. Nothing strange about that. But more interesting than the possible self-delusion was his apparent pride in never admitting boredom, and his determination to deny boredom any space.
What might be going on in those moments when he distracts himself from boredom and what might it be costing him and his organisation?
Preventing Peak Performance
Tim Gallwey wrote that “peak performance happens when the mind is free from distractions”¹.
He was talking about concentrating on doing something in particular, such as playing tennis. But I think he was onto something more general – doing nothing in particular.
When we refuse to be bored we seek distractions, wiling away the hours on our phones, in front of the telly, gossiping, shopping, and back to our phones again. These many distractions prevent us from being alone with ourselves and our thoughts, feelings and experiences.
They prevent us from achieving peak performance in creativity and innovation.
Philosopher Alain de Botton recently described this as ‘keeping our own selves at bay’². He confronts us with the challenge that we are ‘incapable of sitting in a room with our own thoughts floating freely in our heads’.
The reason for us being like this is fear. We avoid being with ourselves because we are ‘running away from the joys and terrors of self-knowledge’. We are frightened to know ourselves; of what we might find if we pay attention to ourselves.
Throwing out the Baby with the Bathwater
But what does this cost us? What else might happen if we plunge our fingers into the sandpit of our minds? We may pull up uncomfortable realisations. But we will also let precious gems emerge; what de Botton calls ‘fragments of the greatest insights inside ourselves.’ These jewels can bring us and our organisations enormous benefit. We might see how we are interfering with our own progress, or spot a new path that our team hasn’t yet spotted to bring about innovation and growth, or myriad other possibilities.
Do, do, do…don’t
Right, what do I need to do next?
The answer is nothing. I need to do nothing. Deliberately and determinedly. To have a root around in my own reflections. De Botton encourages us to ‘spend time with our own worries and understand them rather than just suffer the anxieties that they create.’ Then the insights can present themselves and the anxieties can diminish. Allow yourself and your team some space and time to swim in their own minds and see what wonders emerge.
Be more bored.
- Gallwey, W. Timothy (1974). The Inner Game of Tennis (1st ed.). New York: Random House
- De Botton, A., (2017). The book of life. http://www.thebookoflife.org/how-to-live-more-wisely-around-our-phones/