Two years ago, travel writer Rishad Saam Mehta quit a job many of us would kill for – a monthly column for a leading magazine that he had been writing for over eight years. "The idea of the column was that I’d drive to a different place in India each month and write about it," he says. "But after doing that for almost a decade, it got a little monotonous."
Yes, you heard that right. If the most exciting job in the world can get monotonous, what happens to the rest of us as we go through our daily routines is hardly surprising. If you are a working professional, chances are that barring the odd vacation, there’s been little variation in your daily routine for months.
"It is a natural human tendency to get bored of doing a thing over and over," says Rachna K Singh, a lifestyle management expert at Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon. "That’s why we have Sundays off. But there can come a time when things add up and it becomes too much to take."
More and more people are trapped within the confines of their routines, work or even relationships, and experts say that 15 to 20 per cent of people actually suffer from low-level depression induced by a boring routine without realising it! "Lots of people declare that they are bored with their lives," says Singh. "But it’s crucial to first identify what exactly you’re bored with. Is the monotony in your daily schedule? Your relationships? Your job? That’s where the root of the problem lies."
To office, to office
Think of the day you got your first job. When you showed up at work, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, eager to give it your best shot. Do you still feel that way? "Maybe once in a while and generally right before I’m due to take a long holiday!" laughs Sakshi Chatterjee, a Mumbai-based investment banker. "Other than that, it’s my neck on the line pretty much all round the year."
"Once you settle down and achieve a reasonable degree of success, you tend to stay right there in your comfort zone," says author, motivational speaker and corporate trainer Priya Kumar. "When that happens, you no longer drive yourself to achieve higher goals because you don’t know how to handle uncertainty. Also, once you are in a comfortable position, you do not want to risk losing what you have achieved. Result? Sure shot monotony."
Jobs that have fixed promotion criteria are more susceptible to monotony than jobs in which you are appraised on performance. "I know of people in companies where, no matter how hard they work or what they achieve, their promotion is due every four years," says Kumar. "So if innovation and achievement are not the criteria for rewards and success, then people get into the routine and monotony is quick."
It’s not just what we’d call mundane jobs. Even creative ones like advertising have their boundaries. "I have a friend who quit because he got bored of making ads. He makes movies now," says Kumar.
How to deal with it
Seek a challenge: Things are always more exciting when your brain has a challenge and is occupied, says Singh. "Lack of mental stimulation tends to induce monotony, which is why people like call centre employees are most prone to monotony."
Set a goal: Goal setting is a great way to kill drudgery because you will always have something to work towards. Also, goals you set for yourself tend to be a little aspirational and that’s a good thing, says Singh.
Reward yourself: Completed a goal or a challenge you set for yourself? Indulge! It doesn’t have to be big – something as simple as stealing 10 minutes to take a walk around the office or taking a day off is great.
Be the change: Can’t change anything about your job? Change your lifestyle, advises Dr Jitendra Nagpal, senior consultant psychiatrist at Moolchand Medcity. "If you’ve got a demanding job, don’t push yourself to join a gym. Instead, do light exercises whenever possible."
Revisit your goal: If you don’t, you will forget about it.
The daily grind
Wake up at seven, get to work by nine, slug it out till five, get home by seven, relax, have dinner, watch TV and call it a day by eleven. Maybe read for a while. Do this six days a week (five, if you’re lucky). Did we just describe your daily routine?
Your work is not the only thing that a boring routine affects. Monotony also kills the spirit. "And while you can change your job, it is difficult to revive your spirit," says Kumar. The change in attitude that monotony causes is dangerous for progress. "People get lethargic and stop taking the initiative. They compromise not only professional goals but also personal desires," says Kumar. "So many people say, ‘This routine sucks!’ But when I give them ideas, they bury themselves in their routine again."
What’s needed, Kumar suggests, is a personal and attitudinal makeover. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Complacency, lethargy and inertia are all responsible for making sure the grind never ends. "The first step to bring about any change is to not fear the fact that you are capable of breaking the monotony," says Dr Nagpal.
How to deal with it:
Talk, talk talk: Connecting with family and friends is a great stress-buster and keeps you from getting bored. "Once a day, catch up with your family, and have at least one meal a day together," says Dr Nagpal.
Take a break: Cook, tend the plants, bathe your dog, do homework with your kids, play – anything. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate vacation (though taking one will help!).
Plan your breaks: Whether it’s going for a movie or to your favourite restaurant, make sure you PLAN your break. "That way, breaks will be more meaningful than taking one because you have nothing to do," says Kumar.
Be driven: At work, plan your next promotion and work towards getting there. A driven person drives the monotony out of his or her life.
Spice it up: "I am a motivational speaker by profession and speaking for 12 years can drive anyone up the wall," says Kumar. "I started to speak on radio and then challenged myself to speak to an audience, first with prepared notes, then extempore. Every time I find life becoming too easy, I spice it up."
My name is Mom (Or Papa)
In the beginning, there was bliss, walks on the beach, candlelight dinners and hours of conversation. Then years passed. Work and responsibilities took over. And even though you still love your partner, you can sense the boredom and monotony that is settling into the relationship, because yes, relationships do get monotonous after a certain amount of time.
"Every person has her or his own dynamics and the beginning of a relationship is an exciting phase because both partners are discovering how to deal with them," says Singh. "Over time, you understand the person so well that there are no surprises. This is the primary reason why relationships become monotonous."
Aditi Srivastava, who runs the relationship counselling website merilife.org, however, has a different take. "Over time, relationships become routine and sometimes, people mistake this routine as monotony," she says. "Having a routine relationship indicates stability and peace of mind and any boredom can be easily got rid of by simple things like spending time with your partner."
How to deal with it:
Keep the kids out: All conversation between couples with kids invariably turns to the kids. "Keep them out of it," says Srivastava.
Take off for some loving: Plan a honeymoon every three years. "Spending time together is crucial for any relationship to remain fresh," says Singh.
Talk, talk, talk (again): If something is bothering you, discuss it frankly with your partner, says Singh.
Too much of a good thing?
Is having a fixed daily routine good for you? Now there’s no doubt that having a daily regimen in life is always healthy. However, what happens in most cases is that the regime begins to turn into a rut and soon, you are yearning for a change.
"Follow the 80-20 rule," suggests Dr Nagpal. "Eighty per cent of the time, stick to your routine but keep the 20 per cent for yourself. This way, you don’t have to live life by the clock and can allow some amount of flexibility, which reduces monotony."
Illustrations by Sahil Rizwan
Living on the edge?
Pallavi Ghosh, deputy national bureau chief, CNN-IBN
Let’s face it, working in news is exciting. The day’s events dictate your schedule and when you go to work, there’s no telling what your day is going to be like! On the other hand, there are days when nothing seems to happen and these are the days, according to Ghosh, that are boring and monotonous.
"News is fun, but I have a fairly set routine: wake up, scan the papers, make calls to sources to find out if there are any important events and then head to the field depending on what’s happening. It does get monotonous at times, especially when it’s a slow news day," she says.
To break the monotony, Ghosh says she tries to have fun on the job. "Since I cover politics, most of my job involves hanging around in party offices, speaking to netas and waiting for sound bites," she says. "This can get monotonous, so I chat with workers in party offices (who can be great story sources) and chat with other journalists. Also, what breaks it to an extent is the fact that you never know what will happen. However, it does screw up your weekend plans."
- From HT Brunch, Januray 9
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