A Little Word on Idleness

July 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Summer has flown in, and whilst I’ve enjoyed warm, sleepy days doing, well, not very much at all, I’ve always felt a faintly nagging sense of guilt for being idle. These feelings can and have been thrown for periods, but it always resides there, behind everything. The fact that I haven’t updated this blog for nearly three weeks is one of these ‘nags’, sorting out study courses for next year and not taking more photographs are more. I think balance is important in everything; productivity and leisure not excluded. In this post, I’ll be exploring idleness, and the nature of this balance, as well as its direct connection with our well-being.

“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” -Thessalonians 3:11

Admittedly, the title quote means something entirely different from my use of it. It has its routes in Scripture. While the Church is preoccupied with sin, and how idleness can, in fact, lead one there, I’m more focussed on the humanistic side of things; I do not believe that we hold accountability to anyone/anything but ourselves. Perhaps, metaphorically, this  devil is ‘unhappiness’. What a devil that is…yet we cannot truly escape it. Not entirely. Unhappiness is transient, like all things. But there are a few things that can extend its stay, and I suppose the main point this post makes is that idleness is one of them.

In a previous post, I talked about the importance of being ‘in flow’, of total immersion in the moment. Thoughts that might otherwise hijack our emotional state dissolve into the sidelines as our main focus becomes our world, and we essentially lose our sense of self, if for a brief moment. Idleness, then, is the antithesis to being ‘in flow’. Your thoughts become your world, and DO hijack your emotional state. We’ve all experienced this; running through the same negative thought patterns and imagining the worst case scenario, something psychologists call catastrophising.

So, do whatever puts you in an ‘in flow’ state. Writing? Running? Working on your car? Whatever it is, being ‘in flow’ is so important to our well-being, and being stuck in an idle rut reduces our opportunities to experience it. By the way, while getting off your ass and going outside is a surefire way to deal with idleness, I’m not necessarily saying that’s the only measure. We can easily work on productive pursuits and activities indoors, and many of us (especially fellow introverts!) prefer this. While socialising a few times a week is kinda necessary for your mental health, being alone is not the same issue as being idle.

I’ll save you all from too much of my pseudo-scientific evolutionary babble, and cut it short. We’re all programmed to progress. Too much time spent in idleness is missed opportunities and stagnation, and in a time when our periods of leisure has dramatically increased, and yet our mental health is significantly worsened, it only takes putting 2 and 2 together to see the harmful effects of idleness. Often we’ll feel stuck, without any motivation to be productive or engage with the world. This can also spiral to depressive periods, which are often entirely avoidable, issues that medication might simply complicate.

Discipline and routine – boring, repetitive and dull are words that might come to mind. These things have become extremely stigmatised in a world where we’re told to ‘follow our hearts and dreams’ and ‘do what you love’. I have a wake up call for you; you won’t get very much done at all if you solely rely on motivation and inspiration. Millions of people start diets and exercise regimes, and the majority ultimately fail. Why? Because they lose their very short-lived motivation, and overlooked the necessity of discipline which, unlike motivation, is entirely controllable. Forcing ourselves into action, day in, day out, is vital for any results or progression. Motivation, you often find, comes further down the line.

Turn whatever it is you strive to do more into an unconditional. Most of us get up for work, get dressed, and spend 8 hours wherever, even if we like it or despise it, simply because the repercussions are too high if we didn’t. If we’re forcing ourselves to do something we might hate, I’m sure you can force yourself to do something you love. Rely on that routine that, if broken, feelings of guilt will be inevitable. Try out Chains.cc, an app that counts how many days you stick to something (be it exercise, or something creative or productive). Trust me, the feelings of pride and accomplishment will be worth it.


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