Sometime in the past 5 years we’ve filled any empty time we might otherwise have with passive scrolling, thus preventing ourselves from ever being truly bored. We have constant stimulation every waking hour and no longer find ourselves rendered with nothing to do. If in doubt, it’s whip-out-your-phone-and-peruse-social-media of one form of another. But what’s that doing to our mental health? Are we missing out on anything by depriving ourself of time to do absolutely nothing and simply be bored?
I commute to work via train and if I don’t have a book to read or music to listen to, I can’t help but resort to my phone as a source of entertainment for said commute. There’s this insatiable craving within me to have something to do. Moseying around my social media platforms is often the default. But what’s happening when the phone is within constant reach? The result is no time during your waking hours to simply be. It’s easier to distract yourself.
Time to ourselves, free of the noise of technology, is vital for our success. If we don’t make time for these to come into play, we’re missing out on being our best selves. Here’s why you might want to clear your schedule or turn off your phone and allow some time for nothingness to infiltrate once more.
Less stress: A Swedish study of young adults 20-24 found that high mobile phone usage was linked to stress, sleep disturbances, and depression. No wonder: Whether you’re reading an anxiety-inducing news article, or comparing yourself to someone else online and feeling less than adequate, there are numerous ways that we stress ourselves out with constant smartphone use. It’s not until we’re lying awake night after night wondering why we’re having panic attacks or feeling stressed over the most trivial of things and taking it out on our partner that we realize that something’s gotta give. Less time on your phone means less stuff to get stressed about.
Creativity: Many beautiful, creative things can come out of boredom. Only when we have time doing nothing is our mind free to wander. A well-known British study found that a bored group of subjects outperformed a control group on creative problem-solving (figuring out alternative uses for household objects). It turns out that a bored mind gets compelled to “entertain itself,” thus leading to increased creativity and strategic thinking.
Time free to simply imagine is vital to our innate desire as creative beings to dream. It might be a gift idea for mom, a dream destination, or even a profitable business idea. Either way, do yourself the honor of time to create. Surround yourself with a paint and a blank canvas, a notebook and a pen, or a pantry of ingredients and see what you come up with. It might just be the next best thing that the world wants to see.
Clarity: We’ve got heaps of things we put on the backburner in the hope they’ll sort themselves out. If you’re mulling over whether to change careers, how to reach out to a friend or even what haircut to get, give your brain time to actually think these things through. We get so easily overwhelmed and burned out by having too many decisions to make and what feels like not enough time to think them all through. Give yourself the time and you’ll end up more productive and satisfied with the direction your life is going in.
Beauty: There was a short video I saw a couple years ago that followed the whole lives of a couple that met as they passed while walking opposite directions down the street. From first date to old age, you saw a glimpse into it all. At the end it then showed those same two people walking past each other in the street, both looking down at their phones. They continue on their way, never having even noticed each other. It was a real eye-opener, symbolic of all the things we miss when we’re busy staring at our phones. We miss nature’s little mysteries such as a beautiful butterfly flitting past, a gorgeous rose bush, a cute cat purring on a garden wall, a hilarious toddler playing with his sister, the clouds overhead, the birds chirping and all those other things that compose our beautiful world. No matter how much online success you have, the life within your phone can never be a match for the real life that surrounds us every day. Switch off and start noticing the natural world that is often our biggest source of inspiration. And, you know, a potential beau who sits next to you on the subway.
Gratitude: The last benefit of doing nothing is that it gives you the gift of being able to feel grateful when you then actually have something to do. Everything is relative, remember. Just as we don’t know peace without war and warmth without cold, we don’t know the rush of focus until we contrast with the still of nothingness. Balance a busy work life with tranquility in your down time and you’ll be able to gain more enjoyment from feeling busy, rather than exhausted and indifferent.
When was the last time you let yourself simply do nothing?
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Photo: Luke Dahlgren via Unsplash