“That reminds me of me.” That was #2 son, after reading an article in the current issue of Scientific American Mind. The article was reporting on the studies that found that teaching students to feel that their success was based on effort was more encouraging than letting them think it was a matter of intelligence or talent. Students who think they are successful because they are smart, says researcher Carol Dweck, are more likely to give up and to feel helpless when they find something difficult. They are also more likely to do easy things to avoid difficulty.

I had heard of the research before, and hadn’t thought that it applied to my kids. Of course I think they are smart and talented. Beautiful, too. We all think that about our kids. But my kids have been brought up to value hard work, and they are all hardworking people. Local employers have hired one after another of my kids till their businesses were full of them, happy to have employees with the work ethic so elusive in the modern slacker generation.

After #2 son said that, though, it seemed possible. They work very hard — at things they are good at. This has allowed them to achieve excellence in some areas, but it may also explain why I currently have two college dropouts in the family. #2 son was referring specifically to the part about kids who find school very easy, and then have trouble when they reach high school and are expected to study. And we often hear about kids who are stars in high school and then are upset upon finding themselves no longer in the top when they get to college.

This does not apply to me at all, of course. Look at my experience with hand bells! And then, as I read the article while climbing hills on the treadmill, I thought about that. You do not hear me saying, “I will be able to learn to play bells if I make the effort. I like doing challenging things.” I mean, I do like challenging things. But what you hear with the bells is how I am the worst bell player in the world, and I don’t like it. I don’t give up, because I am The Slave of Duty. But I do seem to have the idea that there is a certain fixed level of talent involved.

I moved on to the article about boredom. It had an interesting review of early 20th century studies of boredom among factory workers. It then moved on to the elements of boredom: lack of stimulation, a need for novelty, and difficulty focussing attention. It discussed “existential ennui,” which was kind of fun to read about but clearly would not be enjoyable. Avoid it.

The conclusion was that some people are more easily bored than others. We are not astonished, right? I am one of those people, I thought. In psychometric terms, I am a squiggle or a zigzag. We squiggles (and this is every bit as scientific as astrology, so click on that link and try it out) require a high level of stimulation and variety in our work. I dislike repetitive tasks so much that I find them physically painful. I have, as one discussion of the topic phrased it, the attention span of a gnat.

So I took the little quiz in the magazine.

  • It is easy for me to concentrate on my activities.*
  • Frequently when I am working, I find myself worrying about other things.
  • Time always seems to be passing slowly.
  • I am often trapped in situation where I have to do meaningless things.
  • I have projects in mind all the time.*
  • I find it easy to entertain myself.*
  • I get a kick out of most things I do.*
  • I am seldom excited about my work.
  • Much of the time I just sit around doing nothing.
  • I often find myself with time on my hands.
  • I often wake up with a new idea.*
  • I feel that I am working below my abilities most of the time.
  • I have so many interests, I don’t have time to do everything.*

If you say “no” to the starred statements and “yes” to the unstarred ones, you are easily bored. I am not, according to the test, easily bored. In fact, thinking of the kind of person who might be classed as easily bored by this test, I want to say, “Well, for heaven’s sake, quit whining and do something!”

Which is what moms always say to bored kids. That and, “Well, if you have nothing to do, you could clean your room.”

So are we looking, here, at a monumental lack of self-awareness?1

I don’t know. I do know that I made an excellent soup yesterday. I had had another day full of interruptions, and was feeling as though I hadn’t gotten as far in my to-do list as I had hoped, and had my Wednesday marathon ahead of me (including those handbells, where we had yet another new piece of music)… I skipped the 5:00 meeting and made Tortellini Soup instead.

I don’t intend to get into the habit of skipping things, really I don’t, though I have done it an unaccustomed amount this week.

But the Tortellini Soup was a great idea.

Cook up some Italian sausage. Add onions and garlic. Then stir in a can of diced tomatoes and a cup of tomato sauce. Some red wine if you have any hanging around, which I did not. Your favorite Italian herbs come next — I use a really good Italian seasoning mix in the wintertime. Slice a carrot and a couple of zucchinis (I had to sequester the zukes and add them just to my bowl later, since my boys assured me that zucchini is gross and inedible). Once the vegetables are cooked the way you like them, add a cup or two of tortellini and cook till they are as cooked as you want them to be.

This will give you the fortitude to continue your day, whether you are doing hard things or boring things.