The Joy of Being Idle This Summer
In a week when one British institution has caused some consternation and stress, I turned to another to take my mind off the BoJo's posturing; the reassuring tones of Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 4's enduring classic - Desert Island Discs. Today, it was the turn of post-punk poet John Copper Clarke, the bard of Salford - a man gifted with an immense talent and perhaps one of the UKs most recognisable voices. Amongst enjoying his wit and eclectic choice of music, I was struck by a piece of sage advice he gave. When asked what it took to be a poet - John Cooper Clarke pointed at three requisites: a pen, a notebook and idleness. Not a tip you hear everyday in our frantic careers. The suggestion to do nothing or very little, to be bored even, seems almost counter-cultural.
It resonated with me as we seem to have lost our capacity to be free of stimulus, to truly relax and simply not do anything for a period of time. Indeed, a study by the University of Virginia in 2014 found 18 of the 42 students they studied chose to give themselves an electric shock than sit in solitude for 15 minutes. One man struggled with the boredom so much he gave himself 190 shocks just to be experiencing something.
This need to be constantly doing something has certainly created over-stimulation generally via our devices, not to mention over-reliance on the mini dopamine highs we get from certain social media engagement.
For these reasons, it really important to remember that periods of doing nothing can be good for both our mental health and our creativity (as John Cooper Clarke points out). I'm not advocating long-term systematic boredom or lethargy - which would surely be bad for our mental health. But instead, taking simple pleasure in doing nothing much for a short period of time, enjoying very gentle boredom. A kind of blissed out mindfullness.
And the good news is that the time is perfect to jump into this. We've already seen some discussion around mid-year burnout. So as we approach the peak summer holiday period, the time when we should all relax, recharge and refocus, this could be a great chance for all of us to embrace a degree of idleness.
Wherever your holiday takes you and whoever you share this special time with, I'd urge everyone to find some delicious idle time. All our circumstances are different, some might be able to find a day, others maybe 15 minutes. Both are valuable. Here are some ideas to help achieve a lovely state of idleness:
Avoid the temptation to do a whole year's reading in two weeks. I have to admit I used to try to cram all the 'key' reading I really should do into our holidays. But I found this work-related stimulus made it harder for me to switch off. So avoid the temptation to pack this type of publication. If you must do non-fiction, make it a biography or a subject that is a good stone's throw from your own career sector. There is plenty of time to read business books - your next work-related trip perhaps.
Put yourself into Monk Mode. Here I'm taking one of the key ideas in the brilliant Joy Of Work by Bruce Daisley. Bruce talks about Monk Mode mornings - getting off email, focusing on work and not phone notifications. On your hols, make a concerted effort to bring screen time down by turning off as many notifications as possible. And make sure your out of office leaves no room for interpretation - you're on holiday, please respect that!
A bit of light exercise will get the ideas flowing. You're on holiday, don't beat yourself up doing a morning hardcore HIIT or a bonkers cycle ride. How about a bit of yoga or a walk. Then, instead of rushing into the next thing, simply sit for a bit and take in the view. The exercise will have stimulated both hemispheres of your brain and the sit down will allow ideas to develop.
Meditate. Finding the space for some meditation practice - either mantra based or even using an app like Calm or Headspace - will very naturally put your mind into idle. The 20 minutes you find here will slow down your mind and re-energise you. Don't worry about being 'bad' at it - that's impossible - just find a quiet spot, close the eyes and feel the benefits.
Go watch the sunset. There's nothing quite as life affirming as seeing the earth move around the sun. It's a stunning sight but try not to take any pictures on your phone. Do absolutely nothing but sit back and admire it in glorious idleness.
Be a by-stander and not a participant for once. Find a lovely spot, maybe a cafe or well-placed bench. And simply watch the world go by for a bit. Notice people, listen to voices, think about their stories. You never know, a little poem may appear in your head!
There you have it, a few ideas to get your idleness going. As Ferris Bueller said "life moves pretty fast, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it".