Flow is a state of total immersion in a task that is challenging yet closely matched to one’s abilities, akin to “being in the zone.” Flow occurs when a person’s skills match the level of challenge presented by the environment and when a task includes clear goals and immediate feedback. Tasks that are too easy are boring. In contrast, tasks that people perceive to be too difficult lead to anxiety.
Then, after a baseline EEG test measuring normal brain activity, the researchers assigned the participants a tedious task: they had to turn eight virtual pegs on a screen as the computer highlighted them. This activity lasted approximately 10 minutes, during which time the researchers used EEG caps to measure participants’ brain activity as they carried out the boring task.
What can you do about boredom? Obviously, there are times when you are stuck. If you are listening to a lecture that you cannot leave, then you just need to find a way to get through it. When you have some control, though, use your understanding of boredom to help you out. If you can, try to do a meditation exercise to lower your arousal level. Also, keep some music handy. Music you enjoy can crowd out distractions in the environment. It can also influence your mood in positive ways to counteract the pain of being bored.
“To me, at least in retrospect, the really interesting question is why dullness proves to be such a powerful impediment to attention. Why we recoil from the dull. Maybe it’s because dullness is intrinsically painful; maybe that’s where phrases like ‘deadly dull’ or ‘excruciatingly dull’ come from. But there might be more to it. Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient, low-level way, and which most of us spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least from feeling directly or with our full attention. Admittedly, the whole thing’s pretty confusing, and hard to talk about abstractly…but surely something must lie behind not just Muzak in dull or tedious places any more but now also actual TV in waiting rooms, supermarkets’ checkouts, airport gates, SUVs’ backseats. Walkman, iPods, BlackBerries, cell phones that attach to your head. This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called ‘information society’ is just about information. Everyone knows it’s about something else, way down.”
The French loanword ennui comes from the very same Late Latin word that gave us annoy — inodiare ("to make loathsome"). We borrowed ennui several centuries after absorbing annoy into the language. Ennui deals more with boredom than irritation - and a somewhat specific sort of boredom at that. It generally refers to the feeling of jadedness that can result from living a life of too much ease. The poet Charles Lloyd described it well in his 1823 Stanzas to Ennui when he referred to that world-weary sensation as a "soul-destroying fiend" which visits with its "pale unrest / The chambers of the human breast / Where too much happiness hath fixed its home."