Enjoy doing nothing

October 2, 2018

If it's been awhile since you've been able to sit still and be alone with your thoughts, here are three suggestion that can help you.

How did something that people lived without since the dawn of civilization suddenly become so compelling that most people would be demonstrably upset if they had to live without it? The pace at which the Internet is dominating our lives is one of the modern sociological surprises of our age. 

Some psychologists today believe that our connection to the Internet is more a compulsive disorder rather than an addiction. Moez Limayem, PhD, dean of the University of South Florida Muma College of Business, conducted a study while at the University of Arkansas that found "the underlying motivation to use a mobile phone is not pleasure" as an addiction might indicate, "but rather a response to heightened stress and anxiety." In other words, we don't use our technology for pleasure, we use it in an attempt to feel less tense.

Increasingly, people are finding it hard to be alone with just their thoughts. When researchers sought to induce people to do nothing for a 15-minute segment, many people devised ploys to avoid such a 'long' stretch of time devoid of activity. Surprisingly, not just millennials exhibited such behavior. Older adults and even seniors were not comfortable doing nothing for 15 minutes.

How exactly did we arrive at this state? Is it our fate as a species to be drawn into an ever fast-forward world where we demand constant activity to avoid feeling uneasy and, perhaps, even unworthy? 

How to be alone 

If it's been awhile since you've been able to sit still and be alone with your thoughts, here are three suggestion that can help you.

1) Recognize that stillness has value. Even if you're not a meditation enthusiast, you've undoubtedly had times throughout your life when being alone with your thoughts was enlightening, perhaps even beneficial. While you are waiting to receive an award and are anticipating your name being called, the world tends to slow down. If a friend or loved one is sick, being alone with your thoughts in the hospital waiting room is vital.

You don't have to wait, however, for superlative or trying conditions. You can make a choice any time throughout the day that the next few minutes are going to be for quiet contemplation. Start with two or three minutes. Work your way up to eight or 10 minutes. The benefits will start to be evident.

2) Join a meditation class, especially if you have not previously done so. It is easier to begin the practice of meditation surrounded by others with the same objective. Yes, you could do this at home or alone, certainly your computer or smart phone can assist you. All kinds of timers, guided meditations, and other meditation support elements are readily available. 

Nevertheless, for beginners, meditating with others represents a viable launch pad. You are alone with your thoughts, concurrently recognizing that others are in the room alone with their thoughts. Try a meditation class. You'll be amazed at how comforting it can be.

3) Seek out stretches of time throughout the day or week when you'll allow yourself to be alone with your thoughts. Maybe you'll sit in your chair and stare out the window. Maybe you'll sit on a couch and close your eyes or, if not, let the world pass by slowly. 

Such cerebral breaks throughout the day are innately rewarding. New thoughts might arise. New ways of proceeding that you had not previously contemplated could spring forward. Or, nothing of significant pops into your head. Fine.

Go ahead, trust yourself

The wonderful result from being alone with your thoughts for a few minutes here and there is that you begin to trust yourself more often. You recognize that you won't miss out on something by taking a break. The world will still be spinning. You'll still have your job, your relationships will be the same, and you can turn right back to what you are doing. 

As a byproduct of taking this time, your pulse could decrease a bit, which is good. Your ability to take deep breaths might be enhanced, which is highly beneficial. In any case, let yourself into that wonderful mind of yours, for a while, before you jump back into the fray!

Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" and a thought leader on work-life balance issues. He speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the work-life balance of their people. Visit breathingspace.com for more information.