November 17, 2014

The Hell (or Heaven?) of Doing Nothing

Recently, I was on an online dating site answering the quiz questions that help identify what percent of a match you are for someone else. With the format of this site, you can see all the questions and choose which ones to answer, but you don’t see the potential answer choices until you click on the question to highlight it. One of the questions was, “How do you feel after a day of doing nothing?” Curious, I clicked on it – what could the answer choices possibly be for this? Well, they were quite simple: you could choose “Good” or “Bad.” But those simple choices really surprised me. How on earth could you feel good after a day of doing nothing??

Okay, so perhaps I’m not the most empathetic person! But I have always been someone who’s thrived on doing everything, and on trying to squeeze as much into my day as I can. While I hate the way it’s been misappropriated in pop culture to mean “do lots of idiotic things without regrets,” you only live once, right? I want to do as much as possible with my life to make sure I’m living it to the fullest, and the idea of a day spent doing nothing just seems like a horrible waste to me.

But this weekend, I kind of ended up doing just that. Thanks to a snowstorm this weekend that made the roads kind of crappy, I ended up canceling a bunch of plans I had this weekend. And while I still got to do some really fun stuff that made me happy – do my first ever long run on a treadmill, go to a hockey game with my friend Caitlin, toast beermosas at a brewery while watching the Broncos game with some new girlfriends – there was actually a lot of time I spent just kind of sitting around my apartment not doing much of anything. And that made me feel really, really crappy.

Laura Bedroom
I did not, however, spend any time hanging out in my bedroom – I’ve been really good about keeping that for sleeping only. Small victories? (Though I also didn’t spend nearly enough time sleeping, so perhaps I need to write that off as a fail nonetheless)

All the research basically says that doing nothing makes you more productive. I definitely agree that you need to take breaks and find time to relax and recharge, but when I end up doing nothing for too long it drives me bonkers. I thought it was interesting that my threshold for “laziness is making me crazy” was cut down to just a few hours this weekend – probably because I had just come back from a vacation where I was already getting to relax a lot. I wanted to get out there and do everything! Unfortunately, this weekend, I truly wasted time halfheartedly switching from one lazy task to the next, without actually settling into the moment and enjoying what I was doing. And so on Sunday night, when I looked back at the weekend, I wasn’t too happy with how I had spent all that time.

Snowy Backyard
This kind of ickiness sometimes makes me productive (reading, cleaning, cozying up), but this weekend it just made me bored with everything.

There are obviously times when I’m less productive than others – and I think that kind of a break is needed and it’s not something to feel guilty or beat yourself up over. Of course I love relaxing. I like curling up with a book in bed and reading for a full hour or two till I finish it. I love going for a hike or a run with some podcasts as food for thought, with no set time that I have to be back to do something else. Okay, I don’t much care for lying around watching TV, but that’s mostly just because I’ve trained myself to only do that at the gym – which means if I want to watch a show, I have to get off my butt and be active to do it. Do those things count as “doing nothing?” I think it’s really important to be mindful of whatever you’re doing – to enjoy your movie on the couch wholeheartedly without getting the dreaded FOMO about what else you could be doing instead.

The idea of intention is why I don’t feel hypocritical sharing something like the Cult of Busy article in yesterday’s Links I Love, but still talking about how frustrated I was to not be busy this weekend. Despite the first few paragraphs of that article, I don’t think it’s bad at all to be busy. However, I think it’s important to be busy with things that you love doing. I don’t pack my weekends in order to brag to others about how OMG busy I am; I do it because I genuinely don’t want to waste time not getting to do cool things. Derek Sivers wrote an awesome post on choosing the “hell yeah” activities to occupy your time, and I think my biggest problem with this weekend was how I only did a few “hell yeah” things (noted above), then spent the rest of my time sitting around my apartment not feeling very “hell yeah” about anything.

Broncos Shirt
I did feel “hell yeah” about my new Broncos shirt, but then the game itself was disappointing 🙁

I’d be really curious to hear your thoughts in the comments. Am I the only one who hates doing nothing? Do you see a free weekend as something to be filled with activities, or do you resent the activities that get in the way of your free weekend?


29 thoughts on “The Hell (or Heaven?) of Doing Nothing”

  1. Sometimes I feel very much “hell yeah” about sitting around and doing nothing. This is most often after I’ve had an insanely busy month (see: October) but for the most part I like to be doing. Sometimes that just means doing at home because I’m an introvert and too much time around people and noise and lights and busy just isn’t my thing.

    1. I’m an extrovert, but I definitely love my alone time sometimes too. I love the “doing at home” phrasing that you used – it’s definitely still doing!

  2. But can one do everything and still not do anything? What does intentional living really mean? Does intentional living suggest living life such that every action is done with a conscious thought?

    Through my study and observation of the human race, psychology and a little philosophy every action is volitional – including non-actions. But what you are talking about is if it possible to choose a non-action and feel good about it? Or, how about this question: is it possible to choose a seemingly non-action and actually become stronger, healthier, more alert and alive?

    Yiquan and the Nature of Energy: The fine art of doing nothing and achieving everything, by Fong Ha. Fascinating. Read.

    PS I actually told a few education friends that I believed apathetic responses is a valid action and should be *almost* encouraged rather than frowned upon. So far, they all have thought I have lost my marbles. I might be weird, but I know I am not crazy!

    1. Danny, I’m so excited to see a comment from you again! I couldn’t find the book you mentioned – any chance you know of a good synopsis somewhere?

      I agree that every action is volitional – that kind of goes to the point in “The Cult of Busy” that not prioritizing something and saying you don’t have time for it is the same as saying it isn’t important to you. So maybe what I mean is more about acceptance of an action so that you can truly enjoy it – e.g., sitting down to watch TV and luxuriating in that time, rather than halfheartedly turning the TV on and wishing there was something else you could be doing.

      Really intrigued to hear more about your thoughts on apathetic responses. To me, they are valid, yes, but they don’t make me feel good about making them. Can you explain further?

    2. Well, you show know how to make a guy feel welcome! Thanks for the good internet energy!
      Ya gotta get better at using google, ms laura (queen of the ITA matrix, *wink*). I gave you all the right terms to find this website: to purchase what is really a really long pamphlet than book!

      Luckily at my current job I have all day to ruminate on complex questions like you left me today. Unfortunately, though I came up with many ideas, I am not sure how cogent they will all be. When I talk about things like ‘intention practice’ or ‘doing nothing to gain everything’ I frequently find that language does not offer enough linguistic options as I am creating in my mind. But I’ll try!! (kind of like Haruki Murakami in his What I Talk About When I Talk About Running)

      When I read these comments about catering to ones introvert tendencies or extrovert tendencies and finding balance, I think, nice, but mere actions don’t always translate to energy, wellness and health.

      I am sure we are all aware that an introvert is not just someone who prefers to be a hermit, but someone who gains their energy to be successful in highly engaged and dynamic environments by including time to be alone. They may seem to be the most outlandish, party-goers and entertainers, but in order to achieve that level of energy they need time alone. Extroverts work in a similar manner but reverse. (my 30 sec refresher course)

      But honestly like just about every psychological idea that makes its way to the mainstream, I believe the idea of an introvert/extrovert is cliché, over-used, and probably mis-used (if I was a studied psychologist). I believe that even the most perfectly balanced yin/yan individual could feel empty in the middle of telling an awesome story at the most posh dinner party of 2014. And that same individual could feel just as empty when they spend all night cleaning their inbox or going on a weekend 15 mile long run on their own (been there!). It is not the checking of a box that brings fullness, health and wellness, but the intentional involvement of one’s holistic self. It is the emptiness that allows one to stay in on a Saturday night, because they know the emptiness will not go away – so why make the effort?

      But as I said, apathy, I believe, is a good thing. Particularly for leaders though. Those who have to make decisions about their product or services or their team. If the leader can get at the root cause of the apathy (defined as lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern) they can gain much greater understanding about how to package, present, or offer the product, service or encourage the team. Apathy for an individual can be much trickier, and probably only for apathy to work for the individual they need to have a strong team around them a lover, soulmate, family-member. The root cause for apathy will never be found through a survey, probably because its roots are through the spirit. The leader, or individual, needs to…

    3. (You really need to allow more characters in your comment boxes! Or, I should just find another forum to post this!)

      …be connected to the spiritual life to know why they feel that way. Yiquan has much to offer in that regard (and many other regards as well). (As an aside: I believe apathy could very well be a strong motivating force that encourages a revolution of sorts our government/country.)
      I don’t believe mindfulness or meditation is just for introverts, and I don’t believe it can only be done in pristine, peaceful conditions/environments. At the beginning (based on my experiences) intentional practice probably has to be done in “perfect” conditions for one to appreciate the state that one can acquire through the philosophy and lifestyle. It is kinda like running in that regard. As a beginning runner, conditions need to be perfect: good weather, good route, good shoes, plenty of water, etc, etc. But as you progress you begin realizing I can get the results I want from running anywhere, anytime, so why don’t I? Eventually one gets to a point where they choose and desire and are able to make the practice part of their regular life. The emptiness goes away, the accomplishments multiply, everything gets easier, and we wonder why/what was I doing before?

      I want to change the direction of the conversation a little bit now. I believe what we are really trying to get at: is how can I be the very best that I can be? Can I do more? Can I improve? And am I being the best runner, co-worker, friend, brother, son, husband, employee, Christian/Taoist/Buddhist even when I am doing nothing? How can I be (insert that long list) when I am doing nothing?

      We all know that perfection is impossible, but also know that we should strive to be better, strive for perfection. How is that possible? Should I just give up now because I know it will never happen? But when we really strive to be the best at something, somewhere along the line (if we are truthfully making an honest effort, and only the individual can answer that) we discover that our efforts are insignificant if they are not based in Hope, Love and Faith. We learn that these three are the missing elements of what we need to be the best we can be. But a strange thing happens once we fully embrace Love, Faith and Hope – we fully learn (self-actualize?) that the striving to be better and seeking excellence is not only impossible, but not even important.

      OK, now that we know all that we can go out and be fully happy for the rest of our lives, right?…nope.

      Just because we know all of that about the process of wanting to be the best, finding Faith, Hope and Love and realizing there is something more than the individual quest for perfection, doesn’t mean I will believe it to the utter depths of my soul, it doesn’t mean I have fully understood it and live it. We still need to lead life itself with the desire to always be seeking improvement and at some point we will discover the truth of Hope,…

    4. (Luckily I wrote all this in Word, otherwise you might have an unhappy blog reader on your hands! *wink*)

      …Faith, and Love and at that point we will be able to make the greatest contributions to the things we are the most passionate about (and receive just rewards), but it won’t be perfect and that will be when we realize the perceived goal wasn’t really the goal after all. That we got faked out. But we needed to be faked out in order to discover it for ourselves.

      How do we get to the point of being able to completely relax while doing absolutely nothing? I don’t know. We each find it ourselves. There is no answer, but once we find it; we know. (But Yiquan and the Nature of Energy is a pretty good starting point)  *wink*

      I am not sure how all of this follows your post, or if progresses the topic at hand. I have re-read it twice I am not sure what to think…but it can’t be too much of a waste of time!

    5. Sorry for the comment limit – I had to do that about a year ago to prevent some insanely long spam comments that were really messing up the blog!

      Great points about introverts vs extroverts – I think a lot of people confuse that. However, I think there is also more overlap than people think. I definitely get my energy from others, but I do need rest periods every so often as well. YES to your points about balance being critical, and I think that’s where I was lacking this weekend, in that I didn’t have enough time with others *for my tastes*.

      “I believe what we are really trying to get at: is how can I be the very best that I can be? Can I do more? Can I improve?” I love this question and it’s one I ponder often.

      “How do we get to the point of being able to completely relax while doing absolutely nothing? I don’t know. We each find it ourselves. There is no answer, but once we find it; we know.” For me, I think the answer to that is in fully committing to doing nothing, and not feeling guilty that there are things I *should* be doing. I think that’s why I get so much value from to-do lists: they help me to know everything I need to do, so that I don’t have to wonder if there is more I should be doing. That also goes to a lot of your points about whether what you’re doing is enough.

      Thank you soooooo much for all of that – I am going to see if I can get the pamphlet from the link you sent! (Had looked at the library and on Amazon before with no luck). It’s a lot to think about and definitely something I’m going to keep mulling over.

    6. Oh, and of course you need your rest periods! Remember, an extrovert is someone who gets their energy from life from being around others, so that they can be fully primed when they need to get stuff done on their own. Rest periods are not just to balance active periods, but rather rest periods are needed to use the energy acquired from others.

      From a physics perspective, what happens if you try to over-charge a battery? It over-heats, and could either simply die, melt-down, or explode! 🙂

    7. Argh, I am now totally confused whether I am an extrovert or an introvert. I think that I use time by myself to recharge, but I really enjoy more the time I spend with others (and crave it). I need to do some Googling on this…

    8. I love that you linked to a post by one of my favorite writers! Belle Beth Cooper is awesome and I’m surprised I haven’t read this one before.

      According to the Dan Pink test she linked, I’m an extravert… but it didn’t give me a percentage like she mentioned. I think I generally exhibit the tendencies of an extravert (should I keep spelling it this way now?) in that I like to meet new people and be at the center of conversations, but I also enjoy being on my own and doing fun things solo sometimes.

    9. Silly, silly Laura….lookin’ for a specific number on a messy imperfect continuum! I think you have some more hw to be doing!! (btw I came up as a ‘perfect’ ambivert,…take THAT!) 🙂

      extravert/extrOvert…you should and make a mental note how quickly people around you start adapting….a little social science experiment!

    10. I definitely want a number – I quantify everything 🙂

      I’m just afraid that if I write extravert, people will think I’m spelling it wrong…

  3. It totally depends on how my week has been how my weekend will go. Some times I cannot sit still but other times I want nothing more than to turn off my phone detach from email and decompress. But overall I think I tend to just strive for balance. The past several weekends have been so busy, weddings, marathons, apartment hunting that I have started the week exhausted – which I hate!

  4. I had to think about this overnight (haha – Type A probs…) but I’ve decided that I like to be busy up to a certain amount. I’m such an introvert that I need my alone time to recharge. Plus, I like to sneak in a nap or two on the weekends. I think a dinner or two out, a farmers’ market, a fun night out with friends and a brunch/fun day activity is all that I could handle on a weekend!

  5. Stephanie Wright

    I am totally the same way — sitting at home (especially on the weekends, and especially solo) for too long drive me nuts! I always want to be out doing something. I get bad about it sometimes too…I’ll start throwing myself a pity party.
    Lately, I try to focus that into something productive, though. I’ll hit YouTube and search for new exercise videos that I haven’t tried before or call that friend I have been meaning to catch up with for ages.

    Love, love, loving the Broncos shirt!!! And yea, what the crap was that game?!?! Against the Rams too?!?! (I’ve been a big Denver fan all my life…that game made me unhappy. Stupid injuries!)

    1. Hooray, someone just like me 🙂

      Re: exercise videos. Have you tried Blogilates? I just started getting into some of hers and I really like them! I’d love to know your other favorites. Free workouts at home are awesome.

      The Broncos shirt is actually from Old Navy – I was really psyched to find it cheaply but still cute!

    2. Blogilates is my favorite!! I have followed Cassey for several years — her videos were a big part of what really got me into fitness!! She just released a certification to teach PopPilates and that is definitely on my 2015 bucket list!
      On the other fitness videos front, I love Melissa Bender and Tara Stiles’ yoga videos.

    3. Oh, that is so cool that you’re looking into her certification! She seems so upbeat; I feel like it would be amazing to meet her in person. Do you follow her calendar plan or just do the videos in your own order?

  6. I go back and forth about this for sure. I want to have plans and do stuff with people, and then on the other hand sometimes I wish I didn’t have plans when I do and could just stay home! I think a lot of it has to do with being really busy too (work, school, etc.) and wanting to enjoy my downtime as much as possible. And, remember, we’re a 75% match, bahaha!!!!

    1. I think the tough part is that it is really hard to make plans at the last minute, but sometimes you don’t know what kind of mood you’ll be in. Like, tonight I have an event that I’ve been pumped about for weeks (and I’m going with some really fun people that I haven’t seen in a long time), but I am really tired and kind of wish I could just stay in 🙁 Then there are times that I plan to just stay in and have some alone time, and I wish I were with people. Hooray for groups like Meetup where you can find something last minute to join if you’re in one of those moods, though! (At least, usually… this weekend I wasn’t finding a ton.)

  7. I thoroughly enjoy occasional days off of “being busy”. I find that those are the days that I clean the house, do the laundry, finish small projects, work on my budget, etc. I often feel recharged after one of these days- because I can see the results of my productivity. But that’s not really doing “nothing”, is it?

    I also sometimes love to get lost in a good book, spending a whole day reading. I don’t have much time for reading like that anymore, so I treasure those rare moments that I can. But I also don’t consider that doing nothing either (I’m enriching my brain!). I don’t really think I’m ever not doing something because I start to feel antsy. Is that bad? I prefer to fill up my life just like you… whether it be a hiking adventure, a fun race, a good book, beers with friends, etc. Those are the moments we’ll always remember, right?

    1. Absolutely yes to your point that cleaning, reading, etc aren’t doing nothing! I’m struggling a bit to define what I mean by “doing nothing,” and I think for me it’s more about doing things aimlessly rather than purposefully. E.g., sitting down to read a book, but constantly thinking about other things rather than getting lost in it.

      And YES to the moments we’ll always remember – looking forward to more of those with you 🙂

  8. There are times when I am ok with having a weekend of doing nothing however I usually have to get out of the apartment and go for a walk to stay somewhat active or I drive to the mall and window shop. It is nice to not have to rush and just take your time. Even on vacation I don’t really like sitting around. Sitting on a beach is ok for a while but then I am like what are we doing next? Having something to do makes me feel happier and productive so i definitely understand what you are saying.

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