[Applied Psychology] Nothing to Do?

We’re living such fast paced lives that when we get any opportunity just to relax, it almost seems we take it too far with relaxation compensation. What would just be moments of recreation turns into hours, days, or lifetimes spent doing nothing particularly productive. Years ago, I could do “nothing” all day. Now, I’ll find something to do if I’m idle more than 15_minutes. I’ll do something physical, nap, or as I’m doing now: write.

I think boredom comes from being directionless in life.

We get into these ruts of thinking where we’re constantly motivated and stimulated from one chore to the next. We have to go to work, or go to school, we have to do this, and we have to do that. So when we accomplish all these forced goals, we use our remaining idle time on optional goals. If we don’t have any optional goals, then we end up feeling like we have nothing to do.

External motivators like those forced goals are addicting and dangerous.

It’s easier cruising on auto-pilot and going through the motions of filling in work or homework assignments. Complete this task and update someone with status? OK. Read this chapter and write an essay on it? OK. If we continue with this behavior, within no time if we’re not asked to do anything, we won’t. Garbage will pile, dust will collect, and tasks won’t be completed.

It’s a matter of being distraction, too.

We’re distracted by the most exciting thing. Someone telling us “complete this task!” is exciting for mostly negative or sometimes positive reasons. We may get a feeling of satisfaction completing the task, some kudos, or avoid scorn. We might get distracted from doing the minor needful duties that we “should get around to doing, sometime,” because there’s no satisfaction.

What do people do when they have to wait around for something?

If it’s a minute or so, they might stretch or check their smartphone for any important business. They may reply to an email or text message. Maybe they’ll check in on their friends or digital acquaintances? If it’s longer, they may grow impatient, or they may start to explore their surroundings with a mild sense of curiosity. Longer still and they may start to idly chat with others.

We might also fall into time traps that suck away our “nothing to do” time.

Time traps include people that complain without wanting any assistance and entertainment that doesn’t challenge or educate. There is no gain for anyone involved. The complainer will find someone else’s day to drag down and the entertainment will distract someone else. That time is almost always better spent exercising, resting, or honing one’s professional craft.

So how do we better utilize idle seconds, minutes, and hours?

For me, at least, I keep lists of my short term goals handy:
Free seconds: brainstorm any big idea.
Free minutes: flesh out that idea.
Free hours: write out the idea.

Then I just start filling in the blanks.

My big goal is to write. My important goal is to write “The Story.” My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame a fear, which should have been today. I’m a better zombie than I was yesterday. Let’s strive to be better everyday. (Avatar)