Time off is time where you don’t have any obligation to do anything, no plans, just downtime to relax and focus on whatever your mind wishes. In modern day, most of our time off is spent watching TV, or playing on our phones, craving the small dopamine releases that these devices give us, which gives us the urge to keep checking our push notifications, Facebook, and Instagram. The result is that society is never comfortable sitting and doing nothing – being with nothing but our own mind and thoughts.
But this wasn’t true throughout history. Our lives often revolved around working to survive, but also included vast amounts of time staring into the abyss of the sky, reading constellations, thinking about life, and creating.
Studies show our creative mind is paying the price. Downtime without mental stimulation is where the brain processes its inputs and creates meaning out of it all. It is where creative thought flourishes. Instead of waking up and looking at your phone first thing to get the dopamine, resist the urge and instead write down 10 things you’re grateful for, 10 things you want to accomplish in your life, or 10 things you can do today to make the world better. Pushing your brain to come up with ideas and thoughts enables you to get better at it, it enables you to become more creative.
Or, immediately when you wakeup, start a timer and practice mindfulness. Do it for 30 days in a row and you’ll not only notice how distracted your mind is, you’ll become a more calm, relaxed individual.
Spend time in nature. Test this. Every time I go days without electronics or stimulation, my mind becomes incredibly creative. It comes up with ideas, solves problems, creates motivation. I come back from nature more motivated than ever to work through my ideas and build things. Friends who’ve done 10 day Vipassana retreats say the same – your mind thinks in ways that are hard to otherwise imagine.
I recently finished reading “Stillness is Key” which is Holiday’s effort to express the vital importance of simply being, not being distracted by continuous stimulation which the modern world provides. It’s tough to overcome, but possible and we’re better off for it.
It’s about being present, not feeling the urge to do something, but to be fully immersed in the moment of your existence. It’s easy to look around a cafe and see everyone looking at their phone, locked into the matrix of existence that isn’t here. It is us living our lives staring at pixels on a screen, which trick us into thinking it is reality.
Stillness is where relaxation happens, where ideas flourish, where you can process your emotions and feelings. Where you can work through your problems. Where you can be fully present.
We are incapable of seeing what is essential in the world if we are blind to what’s going on within us.
-Stillness is Key
Often the most obvious things in life are the hardest to see. Something as simple as seeing your thoughts for what they are, thoughts. It is perhaps the most obviously thing directly in front of us everyday, but for most of the time, most people don’t see their thoughts for what they are. They fall victim to them and let them take over their emotions, and their lives.
In his book “Deep Work”, Cal Newport stressed the importance of having blocks of time with no distraction to simply focus on the task at hand. People for millennia have stressed the importance of mindfulness practice – having periods of daily downtime to simply pay attention. And for most of human history, we didn’t have the amount of distraction and stimulation as we do today, and we’re all paying a price for it. Our creativity diminishes, our mind becomes overwhelmed, and our motivation fades. The only way to cope with this is to practice mindfulness, avoid constant stimulation, spend more time in nature, in this reality away from technology.
With the current coronavirus issue and people being told to be at home most of the time, there is a lot more downtime for most people. It’s easy to waste this time, but it is a huge opportunity to spend time creating, learning, reading, spending time with your loved ones, or starting a new business. Use this time to get better. One quote I’ve heard is “things don’t get better, you do”. While somewhat true, the world as a whole is getting much better (read Rational Optimistic, Enlightenment Now). When things recover, you’ll be glad you put in the effort in this downtime, and you can carry the momentum forward.
Take time off your devices, away from the TV, go into nature, and simply be. You’ll be surprised what your own mind discovers about itself.
If our brains were simple enough for us to understand them, we’d be so simple that we couldn’t.