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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Tidd

Finding Something to do with My Idle Time is a Lot of Work

My book club decided to read The Humans by Matt Haig for our next book. I haven't read it yet. The reason I haven't read it yet is because I accidentally read the "add on" book, The Humans: An A to Z. I'm telling you this is so you don't make the same mistake I did.

Anyway, the A to Z book is pretty awesome by itself, so I can't wait to read the actual book. This "guide" provides the reader with definitions of terms written by an alien who is interpreting humans.

There are things like:

Memory: A fantasy inspired by the past.

Mirrors: Never will you encounter a species as aesthetically disturbing as this one and yet, ironically, there seem to be reflective surfaces almost everywhere you go.

Decision: If a human says out loud "I have made a decision" they are going to tell you something very bad.

Anyway, one of the definitions that struck me as completely true was for "idleness."

Although humans feel guilty about most of the things they do, doing nothing is equally frowned upon.

Ugh. We can't win. Damned if we do, damned if we don't.

Now, before we get into this I will tell you I am someone who does not feel guilty about doing nothing (most of the time). I could easily waste a day like a pro. As soon as I get sucked into a Law and Order binge or my Saturday morning cooking shows, it's easily 1:00 before I do anything remotely productive.

But I am having a hard time finding ways to spend my idle time. In fact, I would say it's taking a lot of effort to be idle.

My sister is going through the same thing and I laughed at one point because she had put "find something you love to do" on her to-do list. (For those of you who like Gretchen Rubin's The Four Tendencies, she's an Upholder.)

"Did you really just essentially put 'find inspiration' on a to-do list?" I asked.

But the less snarky sister in me understands her predicament.

This is not just something that women in their 40s and 50s go through. I had an almost identical conversation with my 21-year-old daughter this week; she is in her senior year of college but wants to find something to do in her free time that she looks forward to.

It is actually feeling like work to find the thing that lights us up. My sister and I are having a hard time finding a pickleball group. I didn't golf as much this summer as I did last year. Hell, I don't even enjoy drinking wine as much as I used to.

As I was in my therapy this week, discussing this issue, I came to a realization.

  1. My favorite thing to do right now is read. Getting in bed at night and opening a good book is my absolute favorite time of the day.

  2. It's okay that something as simple as that is the thing I enjoy the most. It's what lights me up.

  3. There could be a way to make myself look forward to that time even more.

I realize that I'm about to mention yet another book in this blog (thus, the reading), but it made me think of James Clear's Atomic Habits.

  1. We will build habits when we make it easy. For example, when my therapist suggested that I join a gym 20 minutes from my house, I knew that wasn't the answer - I'd never go. Taking a walk every evening, however, is easy. I'm more likely to do it.

  2. By doing a simple list of things before I lay down to read at night, that will make me look forward to that time even MORE and enhance the experience.

  3. Doing those things before reading might make me look forward to doing those things.

Now, keep in mind I'm a person who DOES NOT like to-do lists. There are people who thrive on them - I am not one of them. I'm also a person who dislikes that all self-help books seem to begin with you getting up at 4 AM to do a 20-item checklist of things before you even start your day.

Yeah. Not this girl.

But I could see how incorporating a walk in the evening (or something like that) before I shut down for the day will make me look forward to that reading. And that by habit stacking (as James Clear calls it) for PLEASURE not for "have tos" that might make me then look forward to the walk.

It's possible that using this method, I might stumble upon something else that I enjoy. Maybe I'll take a class that ends before I get into bed with that book. Maybe that's when I do my paint-by-number.

As I have read in several professional books, it's not often that we're able to "follow our bliss" when it comes to work. Often what happens is that we start working and THEN find something we're passionate about within that work.

That could also be the case when it comes to being idle.

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