Why we don’t have the time to think

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

No time to waste!

There are so many things to do. Writing the next article on Medium and watching the lectures online. Attending singing and theatre rehearsals. And I must not forget my applications for the Masters; I should be writing personal statements and my CV!

Everything is going so fast these days.

Text messaging in seconds, eating fast-food in minutes. We wake up in the morning and the first thing we think about is: “What do I have to do today?” Answering an email, following the classes, working on a project; we always have something to do.

We are busy. If it’s not at work, it’s in activities. Sport, music, theatre, whatever; everything makes us busy.

Our mind is constantly stimulated.

I am sharing one of the Medium articles on Twitter. I am writing when, all of a sudden, a notification pops up at the top of my phone’s screen. BBC Breaking News: “Virus cases are going down across the UK”. I tap on it and begin reading the article. A few minutes later, another notification: New video posted by TwoSetViolin on YouTube. Again, I open the content. I watch the video.

What was I supposed to do at the beginning?

Once you’ve entered the endless loop of social media, it’s difficult to get out of there. You’re always watching for new content. You fear to miss any important information.

Photo by Erik Lucatero on Unsplash

It’s so easy to be distracted these days. And this distraction takes up a lot of our time. A quick break on Instagram can easily turn into 30 minutes of scrolling. Yet, it felt like 3 minutes.

It’s an addiction, that some studies have tried to explain. Social media platforms meet our need to build relationships. It has been particularly amplified in this period of a global pandemic when physical social interactions are considerably reduced.

We seek affection and recognition. We feel so accomplished when our content is liked and shared by other people. Dopamine, a neuro-chemical associated with this pleasant feeling, contributes to the drug of social media.

With all of that, our mind is unable to rest for a single moment.

We keep being busy all the time. Why? We don’t like doing nothing, we hate being bored. What a horrible thing, only sitting on a chair and waiting, isn’t it? We have the impression to “lose our time”.

I was one of those kids who hated naps. While the other children were sleeping, I was keeping my eyes open, looking at the ceiling. The teacher ended up allowing me to do other activities instead, to my relief. For me, sleeping in the middle of the day meant I was losing precious time to do something else.

We fear boredom. We fear introspection. Many people would prefer to receive electric shocks than be left alone with their thoughts. You don’t believe it? Yet, it has been demonstrated by a 2014 study.

Photo by karolina skiścim on Unsplash

We are able to find anything to keep us busy, to use anything to keep us company. Think about Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) in Cast Away (2000), who becomes attached to this little balloon he calls Wilson — although I have to admit it’s quite an extreme instance.

But you get the idea. We do everything to avoid boredom and loneliness.

We always find something to do. Social media keeps us company. We are not bored. We are not alone.

But, how can we be productive, make the right choice, when everything is going so fast?

If we don’t have time to deeply think about the topic we are working on, how can we produce a knowledgeable piece? If we don’t allow ourselves to rest sometimes, how can we not be tired?

Eating, working, checking emails, scrolling on Twitter, eating, working, checking emails, watching YouTube videos… STOP!

Have a step back. Take a breath. Think.

Photo by Gabrielle Lafaix ©2020

It doesn’t need to last hours. It can only take a few minutes. But these are precious minutes in our overwhelmed routine.

We are so busy that we are unable to look closely around us, that we are not plainly appreciating the present time. We are trapped in this endless loop of day-to-day life.

“We miss out on the things that are most important to us” — Andy Puddicombe

I watched a TED Talk about mindfulness and meditation, given by Andy Puddicombe. You may have heard of these stereotypes of people sitting on the floor, the incense and the herbal tea; but it’s more than that.

It’s about enhancing awareness for the present time, awareness of yourself.

From the time he was a monk, he learnt to better appreciate and understand the present moment.

Now, don’t worry. You don’t have to become a monk to achieve the same result. All you need is to take 10 minutes out of a day for doing nothing. Not chatting on social media, not checking emails, not reading, not listening to music. Really, nothing.

It may seem scary, but you’ll see that you’ll be much more focused, calm, and it’ll bring you more clarity to your life.

“Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something” — Christopher Robin (2018)

Picture from the movie Christopher Robin (2018)

As a child, Christopher Robin used to do nothing, but this is not the case anymore. In the movie, he is an adult overloaded by his work, like many other adults. The result? He misses the opportunity to spend a lovely weekend in the countryside with his family.

“Nothing comes from nothing” is his philosophy. But in the end, is work more important than his family? He realises it should not be the case. He should spend more time with his wife and daughter.

He learnt again how to do nothing and found out it allowed him to be more productive. He managed to find the solution to the problem he was thinking about for days, merely by looking at things differently.

Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash

The greatest ideas and creative problem solving often come from boredom, when we allow our mind to wander and daydream. F. Scott Fitzgerald considered boredom as an essential condition for writing: “You’ve got to go by, or past, or through boredom, as through a filter, before the clear product emerges”.

It is also beneficial for mental health. Being constantly overwhelmed can lead to stress and tiredness. Boredom is a means to escape the everyday life routine, to recharge ourselves.

Mind-wandering also has other benefits. Researchers found that it allows us to look at the future, to think about our goals.

Read more: 11 Benefits of Self-Awareness According to Science

Photo by Andrew Ly on Unsplash

It should be a productive solitude though. We may think about our problems, about the exams, the oral presentation to give next Monday. No, we should not be thinking about that. It only raises more anxiety and stress, it’s counter-productive.

Instead, we should be focusing on things that make us happy, that give us hope. We should be thinking about how to be a better person, to take care of those we love. We should imagine there is a burst of wonderful sunshine, even though it’s raining outside.

Read more: The right way to be introspective

Photo by Ishant Mishra on Unsplash

Because everything takes time. We can’t decide right now what we’ll do in our career, it’s a long process where we discover new perspectives, we experience new things. We can’t decide right now, we need to think about it.

I watched the movie Stargirl the other day. It’s about love, but above all, about self-affirmation, finding our own identity. And there is this speech Stargirl gives during an oratory contest. A speech where she stresses the importance of taking our time. Taking our time to think, to rest, to find out who we are.

“The next time you see a flower, just remember that part of what makes it beautiful is how long it took to grow.” — from Stargirl (2020)

Conclusion?

Stop your phone addiction. Take your time. Daydream.

Author’s Note: Another version of this article, shorter, has been written and published here.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store