Outside the Box: How to fight off boredom in retirement

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When you chat with friends, are you more apt to make statements or ask questions?

There’s no wrong answer. Well, actually there is.

If you tend to hog the conversation, you’re not learning. Your lack of questions can isolate you from others.

So sprinkle friendly questions into the mix. As a rule, try to limit yourself to three or four statements before you pose an inquiry (“What do you think?”). 

Then listen with a real hunger to find out what others say.

When you’re retired, fighting off boredom starts with forging human connections. And showing genuine interest in others helps you understand how they feel and think.

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If you overdose on statements, you deaden your curiosity. After all, you already know your opinions. You already experienced the anecdote you’re about to share, so narrating a detailed account of what happened to you won’t expand your horizons.

Summarizing every plot point of a television show you love (or hate) may satisfy your inner critic. But you won’t find out what others are watching—and how it affected them.

As we age, our already limited attention span shrinks even more. So it takes extra discipline for seniors to stay curious.

Arousing your curiosity can enliven daily life on many levels. In addition to sparking more stimulating conversations, it can double as a brain exercise that sharpens focus and memory.

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Craig Stark, a memory researcher at University of California, Irvine, urges people who want to stay mentally sharp to “feed your brain novel information.” Curiosity can provide the impetus to gather that new information.

There are other ways to stoke your curiosity. Start a “Things To Learn About” list and keep it in a visible place. For instance, ask neighbors how they’ve planted such a lush garden or read about a foreign country to get to know it better.

Here’s a personal example. For a decade, I’ve read news stories about the Syrian civil war. But I wanted to learn more. So I checked out two books from the library, City of Sparrows by Eva Nour and Red Line by Joby Warrick. (Both are excellent, by the way.)

Curiosity begets curiosity. Reading about the plight of Syrian refugees made me wonder about people in other parts of the world who flee for their lives.

So I read two books about Mexican refugees—American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins and Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement. Reading two thematically related books is like sampling a new menu item and loving it: You’re curious about something, you try it and you come away with an expanded appreciation of the world around you.

Let’s say you’re not into books–and you’re not particularly social so you don’t get many chances to hone your conversational skills. You can still enrich your retirement years by unleashing your curiosity.

Consider adopting mindfulness techniques to enhance your sensory acuity. From breathing exercises to meditation, the ability to stop and focus your thoughts can in itself make you more aware and curious.

“There’s great value in being in the present moment,” said Liz Korabek-Emerson, a certified mindfulness teacher in Eliot, Maine. “You can train your attention to be on more than just your thinking. It can include your feelings and emotions, your sensory awareness and physical sensations.”

When you’re attuned to all this stimuli, you’re more engaged with your surroundings. Perhaps you try to trace the source of a smell while walking in the park or gaze at cloud formations in the sky.

The key is to look past what’s familiar in an effort to gather more knowledge.  

“Once we label something, like a tree, we stop paying attention to it,” Korabek-Emerson said. “We assume we know everything about it. With mindfulness, we notice more about a tree” such as differences in branch length or leaf color.

“Curious people notice details,” she added. “They allow themselves to be surprised.”