Most of our minds start ticking with what we have to accomplish the moment we jump out of the bed: Our to-do lists begin to play on repeat, singing along to the tune of our already overstressed brains. We think to ourselves: “I have to study this chapter, buy groceries, meet so-and-so or work out” and we end up living by our calendars. There are some of us whose calendars tell us when to do laundry or go out or do anything apart from basic life functions, and that’s rather sad. What is supposed to help us organize our lives has inadvertently reduced them to a mechanical procedure. The greater tragedy (as dramatic as that sounds) lies in the fact that over time we develop the urge to fill those few blank spaces on our schedules, we scour our minds to find something to do at all times. For some reason, we begin to equate those white spaces with wasting time and being unproductive. However, the bigger question that arises is this: Do we have to be doing something at every moment of our day?
At this point, I can assure you that there are at least some who are thinking: “Of course not” or “This is something that all of us already know.” It’s true, at some level, we do know that we don’t have to be “productive” all the time. All of us take a break and watch Netflix or scroll through Instagram or do something that isn’t mentally taxing. But that’s the catch: We are still doing something that engages our brain and requires us to think and process. We seldom give ourselves the space to let our minds just be, apart from the time we sleep. Are we ever simply idle?
In the fast-paced world that we inhabit, being idle is associated with being bored and that waves a giant red flag for most of us. After all, why would any of us choose to do nothing when we are already worrying about the deadlines, assignments, recruitment and so on? However, ever since this semester began, I witnessed a change that surprised me. As a person who has always been anxious and enjoys being productive at all times, not doing something was indeed the most helpful step that I have taken. The feeling of boredom hasn’t been all that bad — instead, I see it as a charging time. It allows me to untangle myself from the web of daily, monotonous worries and just be.
I use this time to distance myself from things that send my brain into overdrive and yes, that includes social media. For, unbeknownst to many, that ends up forming a significant portion of our thought processes. Media spirals us into thinking about things we yearn for, invokes envy or simply traps us in a never-ending look at the lives of others. This in no way means that I have renounced my love for social media. Instead, I make a conscious effort to not let anyone element of my life consume me. I have come to realize that idleness isn’t doing nothing — it is simply taking time to do something unexpected, different, something as random as coloring. Whether or not it is helpful in achieving anything is immaterial.
It seems far-fetched, but learning to be idle takes time and skill. It requires us to force ourselves to do something beyond the most convenient option which we begin to perceive as our form of relaxation. More importantly, it appears to go against our very nature of wanting to be this ideal person who is meticulous and fluidly moves from one thing to another. This is worsened when we see those around constantly working and a lot of us end up feeling guilty for not doing anything. There have been days where I actively search for work because my friends are busy, and I don’t want to be the one who is just “chilling.”
Idleness definitely has a learning curve, and the first step is letting go of our guilt complex. There is so much we miss out on because of our need to be perpetually racing one another and comparing ourselves without even stopping to understand why. So maybe it is time that we realize that it’s perfectly OK to embrace the joy that comes with doing nothing along with the high we feel when we achieve something. This holds greater importance when we look around and take in the hyper-competitive environment that surrounds us, so maybe now going against the tide might be the trick for cracking the code.