Once or twice a month, I spend a day doing nothing. I don’t do nothing literally, it would be hardly possible. I just chose activities that are boring or have no immediate practical value. I turn off my phone notifications. Last Friday, for example, I spent the whole day watching Lost, sleeping, reading, migrating from the bedroom to the sofa in the living room and back. I spent a few hours on the fresh air, just walking around with no purpose and with no playlist (I left my phone home). I avoided thinking about my current projects. I didn’t write a single word. My laundry and my cleanup were left undone, and I ordered food instead of cooking.
I usually am a very active person. On my regular day, I would manage to do chores, laundry and food shopping in the morning, read a book, cook my breakfast, lunch and dinner, workout and get a nap in the afternoon. In parallel, I would spend hours on the phone with my mum and best friend, check what’s on the Internet, research some motivating artsy stuff to share with my sister. Maybe I would even watch one of those many online courses I have bookmarked in the last weeks. I would spend the night out with my friends. I am very time-aware and very reluctant to spend time without a practical activity. I thrive in a fast-paced environment, and long inactive breaks depress me.
Then why am I doing this to myself? Why am I deliberately slowing down, well, stopping myself and rejecting any of the activities I enjoy so much?
Our lifestyles are more active than ever. We permanently stimulate our brain with all types of information available – unique articles, reports due, projects running, the performance of our favourite sports team, news, a row with a colleague at the office, family issues, kids school events, car service due and the need to choose from a variety of cat foods. We are almost always online. According to the survey published by DailyMail, in 2019 over six and a half hours per day were spent using the Internet over pc and mobile worldwide. Germany scored the lowest with 4 hours 36 minutes, Switzerland – 4 hours 58 minutes, UK – 5 hours 45 minutes and the USA had the highest screen time score with 6 hours 31 minutes.
For centuries our life was much slower. It is only after the Industrial revolution that our lives started to accelerate, and it’s the Information revolution that made practically everything available on a mouse-click. This short span of a few decades is nothing compared to an average evolutional pace. The evolution does not adapt the speed of its processes at the same sprint pace our lives are happening today. It has long since been proven that the myth of us using just 10% of our brain capacity is, well, just a myth. However, most of the brain operations are happening outside of the consciousness to conserve resources (here is a cool TED video on this topic). If we keep bombarding our brain with more and more new information, it does not have time to process the already obtained info.
I have adopted a practice of purposeful boredom. Unplugging and doing nothing of importance is very important (here, here and here are few articles I find useful). I have practically experienced the benefits of it. Typically already by the late afternoon, my brain boils with ideas and solutions to problems I have been struggling with for a few days (here is a study on incubation effects in creative problem solving). I try not to give in and continue with my boring activities – I have learned that the results of this subconscious brainstorming are even better the next morning.
In the end, who am I do defy the old Italian concept of dolce far niente – Italians are my favourite source of inspiration when it comes to art, food, language and tons of other things they are just sooo good at 🙂