A Case For Doing Nothing

Andrew Branch

I have gotten absolutely, 100% completely annoyed with myself for the amount of time I have invested in my TV, in my twitter, and sometimes even on my Instagram (though my Instagram-based business I view as A-OK to spend time on).

Like many Americans, I come home from work, and most nights I plop myself in front of the TV, open a bag of chips, and go to town. Other nights it’s a tub of ice cream. Some nights I go crazy and just bring out the box of wine for sustenance. I think the current trend goes something like, “the antioxidants in wine are healthy for you.”

So objectively, we can all see very obviously why and how this is unhealthy. Tons of empty calories, dumb TV shows that I’ve seen plenty of times or am not totally invested in, a bored dog and the feeling that I never have any time.

What’s sad is that I can live with knowing I’m polluting my body with unhealthy foods, because I justify it with the 20 minutes of yoga I do at night. I can justify sitting on the couch and allowing my muscles to atrophy night after night during those hours, just because I technically meet the standards for physical activity in a day.

Read the following passage in your fast pharmaceutical disclaimer voice:

Just for some background info here – I do have a dog that gets about 45 minutes worth of walks in a day. I also live 2.3 miles from where I work, so in nice weather or days when I have errands, I also will walk to or from work. The yoga I do at night is an umbrella exercise that can involve stretching on my super-walky days, or some intense calisthenics when I know I’ve been a lazy butt wipe all day.

But that doesn’t change that between the hours of six pm and 11, I sit on my ass, on my couch, doing absolutely nothing and allowing myself to wither away. I spend a moderate amount of brain waves at work, and then come home and allow my brain no time to develop its own new exercises and play time. I let the TV build out stories for me, and watch characters I have no relation to yet have built a fictional bond with, simply from watching them day after day.

So, good exercise, eight hour work day, loving dog, … and five hours of TV at night? Is that really a problem?

Living With Intention

This brings me back to the original reason I started this blog in the first place. To me, living with intention is taking time out of your day to ensure that what you are doing is sufficient to satiate the finer needs in life, such as achievement, a sense of belonging, and knowledge, to name a few.

If you have an uber stressful workday doing something that fulfills your life dream, maybe you need that TV time to wind down and give your mind and body time to reboot. However, I don’t think I’m alone in my suspicion that most of us are not so lucky.

Coming home and vegging out is easy. I can tune out, stay up until midnight, and wake up with just enough energy to roll myself out of bed and do it all over again.

But something I have been realizing recently is the time and brain power of the decision-making that goes into whether I read a book for a few minutes or watch TV for a few episodes.

Because I get so excited to finally be home and relax, I think, “oh, I want to start relaxing right away! I’m going to turn on the TV and get right to it!” So when I get home, I’ll turn it on before I make dinner, or before I take the dog out, or even before I take off my shoes. I’m so anxious to get to that part of finally relaxing, that I don’t even think about what it is exactly I’m doing.

For Christmas my mom bought me a few books that I was pretty excited about reading. The one I’m on now started off slow, but gradually got more interesting as time went. What I least expected from this book was for it to truly grab my attention, but today on my bus ride home, it did. And I missed my stop. Again. I wouldn’t be so angry if this wasn’t a regular occurrence, but unfortunately as soon as I am intrigued (in a blog, magazine, tweet, or the website of the dog school we just drove past), I completely forget to pull the cord. And then get stuck on the bus because some asshole is trying to move furniture on public transportation and thus, is blocking the rear exit. But that’s an entirely different problem.

Anyways, after I was a total dumbass and missed my stop, I realized that I actually checked into my relaxed mode about 20 minutes earlier than usual (when I was reading), while I was on the bus. When I took the dog out, it wasn’t about making it back as fast as possible to “start relaxing,” or eating a quick meal so I can “start relaxing.” It was just about continuing to have a good time.

I don’t know which came first, the anticipation to relax, or the association of a TV with a relaxed mind, but somewhere in my head these things got completely jumbled and I forgot about all of the other things I really enjoy in life. I love reading, singing, annoying my dog when she’s trying to sleep….

So when I came home today, I tried something that I have been able to accomplish fleetingly and striving for repeatedly.

Rather than doing anything, I intentionally did nothing.

Doing Nothing

Granted, my doing nothing was made much easier by the fact that I was already partially relaxed. However, I did notice something about my own anticipation while I was doing nothing.

Part of my endless quest to use my time most efficiently has led me to believe that even my relaxation time should be optimized. Having the TV on means I’m relaxed, regardless of how I actually feel or not. This, and my need to have as many senses occupied at once as possible (think knitting while reading and listening to music), is something I am going to put on my tackle list in priority position.

By doing nothing, I let myself sit and really asked myself, what do I want to do?

And of course, came up with nothing.

I haven’t cured my ice cream addiction yet, so I ate some while trying to figure out my game plan. I wandered my 450 square feet, and thought of the things that would be nice to occupy my time. I sang a little bit of “Carry On” to myself, the one by Fun (sorry downstairs neighbors). I lit a few candles because I make them myself and have far too many (sorry entire building). Finally, I thought back to my bus ride and how much I had been enjoying my book. So I started there.

Eventually my dog joined me and put enough pressure on my leg for it to fall asleep. Then I wanted tea. Then I realized what I had done, gave myself a pat on the back, and decided to write about it for my readers 1 & 2 (love you guys).

By suspending my gratification by roughly ten minutes, I was able to redirect my thoughts to what would make me happy tonight, rather than what has made me happy past nights. There’s nothing wrong with a night in front of the TV, but when it became my entire home life, it got old fast.

The Third Option

While thinking about my newfound love of doing nothing, I realized that this is an idea that doesn’t just apply to fun time. One of the first things I learned in my Investments class was:

If you don’t know, do nothing.

And I love this idea. I use it while trading all the damn time. People get so caught up thinking that they have to make a trade, or they have to make a decision in general, but there’s always that third alternative choice. You can choose nothing. Don’t know where to go for dinner? Don’t go. No one is forcing you to stay within any societal bounds, least of all you.

I wish I had realized this before tonight….

Better late than never, though, right? Eek.

So my advice to all of you who struggle with feeling unfulfilled:

Do nothing, until you know what you really want to do with your time, or on a grander scale, your life. Parts of me want to view this as a sort of meditation, in finding what’s pulling you at a certain moment, but in reality, it’s just a mental check out to let your brain realign with what will make you feel you were productive in a night.

Do nothing. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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