The Capacity to Do Nothing

TL;DR – Just sit in an area and do absolutely nothing.

One of my favourite activities to do in recent memory is this. To sit in an area that has very little noise at night, and do nothing. An area with a complete lack of stimuli. No one around me. No music, no TikTok, no Instagram. No bright lights, nothing flashy. Just sitting and doing absolutely nothing. Well, maybe some subtle noise from waves crashing onto the coast.


In the world today, it’s easy to avoid boredom and prolonged idling due to the number of things we can do at any point in time.

With a smartphone in hand, we can:

  1. Watch a TV show on Netflix
  2. Play a game
  3. Scroll through TikTok endlessly
  4. Read a book
  5. Listen to music or a podcast

… and more.

The Reasons

The opportunities to quell our boredom are bountiful as stimulation is everywhere.

This need for constant stimulation could be down to multiple reasons. Social media has pretty much skewed the amount of dopamine we require each day to not feel bored at any point in time.

Others feel a constant need to be busy as a result of subscribing to ‘hustle culture’ and toxic productivity.

But in this case, I think a low tolerance for boredom could mean an avoidance of the wandering and possibly, overthinking mind.

The Fear of Our Own Thoughts

If you are someone with a fear of being alone with your thoughts, congratulations, you might have anxiety. Your overthinking mind would concoct these wildly vivid scenarios of awful things that could happen to you. It’s scary, and I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to bury yourself in something else to escape from the thought that your new crush only sees you as a friend. Totally not speaking from personal experience.

The Potential Effect

Playing a game is much easier than fighting the worries of the mind

Playing a game is much easier than fighting the worries of the mind

 

You could live a decent life without ever having to do any real sort of introspection. It would be easier to boot up a game of Super Smash than to sit down and mentally fight out the irrational worries that plague your mind. A lot of us don’t really even have to be alone at all. Some can’t fathom the idea of having dinner alone, a little amazed at the ones that are able to do so. But I would argue that avoiding these scary thoughts would be detrimental in trying to find meaning and purpose in your life. More importantly, you procrastinate the knowing of who you are.

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And if you have a bunch of these symptoms, it might apply to you:

  • You get critical about yourself
  • You’re uncertain of what you want to do in life
  • You feel stuck in life
  • You make decisions based on fear or a sense of obligation, you’re reactive in decision-making, rather than being active in what you really want

Why you shouldn’t be scared

But you don’t have to be scared of these thoughts. As this article from the Anxiety & Depression Association of America states:

“Your mind is just doing what minds do. Our minds like to warn us about stuff because our minds think they are keeping us safe by doing this. Your mind would always rather err on the side of giving you a warning than not because it is more likely to keep you physically safe that way and your mind cares about that more than anything. But just because your mind is doing its job, that doesn’t mean the thoughts actually mean anything. Again, thoughts are just thoughts.”

Our thoughts only gain relevance, meaning, and legitimacy through the attention we give them.

So when your mind starts going loco, realize that it’s just as clueless as you are. It has the right intentions, but very often the wrong messages.

Why we should take the time to do nothing

While doing nothing might make you look like you’re lazing around and idling, it doesn’t mean that you’re not being active or productive. In fact, the constant need to be busy could be a form of distraction from the investigation into our own thoughts and feelings.

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Whilst introspective reflection is intangible and might not feel real, it is far more valuable in the discovery of who you are.

So instead of running away from your anxiety, pry into those thoughts instead. Why am I feeling this way? Why are my thoughts warning me about things that might not even happen? Why do I feel bored in life even though everything seems to be going great?

Confrontation, acceptance, and awareness would be the antidote to an anxious mind. Not running away.

You might realise that your intrusive thoughts of a partner potentially leaving you could stem from a fear of abandonment. Maybe, your dream job doesn’t actually give you the fulfillment you expect, and you’re delaying the dread of an existential crisis. Perhaps, you’re not very satisfied with how your life is going but pile yourself up with busyness so you can use it as an excuse to ‘deal with it later’.

Wafting through painful memories and trauma you’ve experienced in your life isn’t fun. Mental work is very much like work. But the end result of knowing what the authentic version of you is like is priceless. Recognising your triggers would allow you to control your destructive impulses when a similar situation arises. Knowledge of your own strength would boost your confidence. Knowing your direction would breathe meaning and motivation into your life.

And on a different note, let’s say you already know most of these things about yourself. You have your direction, and you don’t do ‘nothing’ because that would be unproductive. You’re on that mad grind and hustle to achieve the goals you’ve set your sights on. One might think, there’s no time to waste innit?

Well, wrong.

The very act of slowing your brain down allows it the time to recover. It is key to keeping it mentally sharp, productive, and emotionally healthy.

It’s like working out at the gym. Your muscles grow in size as you put in the work at the gym. But how it really grows is when you allow your muscles time to recover. After your workout, your body would require time to repair and replace these tears in your muscle fibers. And it’s the reparation of these muscle fibers that increase your strength over time. These fibers get stronger.

We should play at work

 

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Similarly, if you allow your brain to have the time to rest, you give your brain the chance to process experiences, consolidate memories, and reinforce learning more effectively. Mental rest is as much important as physical rest.

And if you want to know how to do that, this video by The School of Life covers it really well.

do nothing

So the next time you’re waiting for a long bus ride home, perhaps you could consider keeping the AirPods, meditating in your thoughts, and doing ‘nothing’.

About the Young NTUC’s Youth Taskforce and NTUC’s #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations

Every young worker matters. Did you know? An NTUC x SUTD study found that the top three challenges young people faced were in the areas of career opportunities and prospects, finances and mental health. Are these your concerns too? Or do you have something to say? Visit the Youth Taskforce website here and make yourself heard.

This is part of NTUC’s larger efforts to engage 20,000 workers and beyond in the #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations, to understand their concerns and aspirations in order to distill key findings, produce recommendations to the government. Know a worker? Share the #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations website with them and let them be heard. You too, can give your inputs on how we can shape the future of work.

Contributed by Daryl Goh (@Dargoyaki). You can follow Daryl on his platforms: YouTube | Instagram | TikTok 

 

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Wesley

Author Wesley

A Singaporean talking about anything related to Singapore and Singaporeans. Current affairs junkie!

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