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DAVIDSON: The Joy of Doing Nothing

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The speed at which the Internet, and being online, is dominating our lives is a modern phenomenon afflicting people on all sides of the political Spectrum. How did something that people lived without since the dawn of civilization suddenly become so compelling, that most people are demonstrably upset if they have to proceed without it?

Some psychologists today believe that our connection to the Internet is more of a compulsive disorder rather than an addiction. Moez Limayem, Ph.D at the University of Arkansas, conducted a study and found that “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 necessarily for pleasure, we use it in an attempt to feel less tense.

I am So Alone

Increasingly, people are finding it hard to be alone, specifically 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 some type of activity. Surprisingly, not just millennials exhibited such behavior. Older adults and even seniors were not comfortable essentially 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-forwarding world where we demand of ourselves constant activity, or otherwise we feel uneasy, and perhaps even unworthy?

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Reasonable Stretches

If it’s been a while since you’ve been able to sit still for a reasonable stretch and to be alone with your thoughts, it’s time to return to square one:

1) Recognize that stillness has value. Even if you’re not a meditation enthusiast, undoubtedly you’ve 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 anticipate your name being called, the world tends to slow down. If a friend or loved one is sick, it is vital to be alone with your thoughts in your hospital waiting.

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 while surrounded by others with the same objective. Yes, you could do this at home or alone, certainly your computer or smartphone 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. Have nothing scheduled when you’re willing to just shoot the breeze. 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 significance pops into your head. Fine.

Go Ahead, Trust Yourself

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The great part about 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 few minutes 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!

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About the Author:
Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" and the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit for more information.