There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”
I don’t know where my belief that doing nothing equated to laziness originated, but I held that belief for a very long time. Busy, busy, busy. And of course, that included being busy judging others who were lazy. I even agreed with the sentiment that there’d be time to sleep when I died.
Now if you ask anyone who knows me, they might still see me as a constant doer. That’s because I do a lot. But most people don’t see me being. I actually spend a lot of time being. Doing nothing. Just sitting, perhaps contemplating life, but just as frequently, not thinking about much at all. People don’t see this side of me because most other people are so uncomfortable with silence and just being that I don’t do it in front of other people. The first thing I’m asked is “What are you doing?” When I reply, “nothing,” it prompts another question, such as “why?” I’ve had people respond to my doing-nothingness with a genuine desire to help me find something to do.
I just “be” more now because I understand the value of it. We are not human doings, we are human beings. And I now believe it’s that 'just being' time that helps me be so explosively productive when I switch back into 'doing' mode.
We live in a society where doing is highly admired. And our brains have become conditioned to being constantly stimulated. It’s hard not to pick up a device if you have even one spare moment and scroll through the latest news, entertainment or social media postings. We’re not only instantly bored if we don’t have something to do in every minute, but most people experience true discomfort when bored. And as humans, we do not like to be uncomfortable with anything, even for a minute.
Our minds, bodies and souls need down time. Our systems are truly on overload all of the time now and the results are evident in the state of our health as a society. Anxiety is commonplace, as why wouldn’t we be worried all of the time about everything going on? The media blasts us every day with all of the ills of the world on every front – politics, religion, terrorism, failing education and health systems, the climate, and on and on.
The word worry, by the way, is based on an Old English word that meant strangle. When we worry, we’re strangling relaxation and creativity. We’re strangling well-being. We create stress and anxiety over whether we are enough, have enough and do enough. We worry about world events we have no control over. We worry about all of the things that could happen in life, even though they aren’t happening right now.
Then there’s FOMO – the fear of missing out. Workshop participants consistently respond to my suggestion that they stop watching the news with, “How would I know what’s happening in the world if I don’t watch the news? I need to know.” Why? Why do we think we need to know what’s happening everywhere in the world, all of the time? I actually understand the urge. News is under the entertainment division of most networks and cable companies, designed to be exciting, argumentative, divisive. That certainly appeals to our brains as enticing to avoid boredom. But I still argue we do not need to know. The news coverage, digitally or on television, is driven by advertising dollars, so the more negative and hostile, the better because that fear-based rhetoric stimulates the amygdala in the brain to release stress hormones. Stress, whether negative or positive, is exciting. It’s designed that way. Stress hormones include adrenaline, which increases our heart rate and blood pressure. We feel excited. It at least temporarily vanquishes the boredom.
We don’t just stop with the news. We obsessively check our social media apps to make sure we’re not missing out on something. And many people attend events they don’t really want to attend so that they don’t miss out. We monitor our email as if missing something even for a little while could ruin our careers. According to survey on LinkedIn last year, 70% of employees don’t disconnect from work while on vacation.
Is it any wonder that we’re perpetually tired, anxious and feel unfocused? Some of the most popular apps right now are monitoring and reporting apps – apps to tell you how much time you’re spending on apps! There are apps to remind you to stop using your device, apps to track how you’re spending time on your device, apps to automatically turn off your device if you surpass your pre-set limits on apps. There are some interesting app and device addiction apps, like Forest, where you earn credits for not picking up your device that can be cashed to plant trees. But Houston, I think we have a problem.
I highly recommend switching from FOMO to JOMO – the Joy of Missing Out. The joy of missing out is the mindful antidote to FOMO, being present and content with where you are in this moment.
How do you shift form FOMO to JOMO? Reduce your distractions. Set the phone or laptop or I-Pad down for a while. If you’re really addicted, put the device in another room or in a drawer. You don’t have to go long without it, but you need to start creating some space between you and your portal to the online world. Turn off the TV. Then spend a little time reflecting. Get to know yourself again, notice your surroundings, notice other people. You may be surprised at what follows as you realize you have been spending more time looking at a screen than at actual humans. If not, if you’re feeling very antsy and uncomfortable, try taking a walk around the block, device free. Notice your neighbors’ homes or the condition of the road, or the variety of plants in people’s yards. There’s a lot to look at because even though you drive by it all every day, the odds are you pay little to no attention to the detail.
Take multiple tech-free breaks each day. Step outside and notice nature. Sit quietly for a few minutes each day and notice how your body feels. Practice spending a little bit of time each day doing nothing. Schedule everything you want to do in your calendar instead of just work commitments or meetings. Want to work-out? Book it. Want to do something you enjoy like cooking, walking, reading? Block that time off on your calendar so that you remind yourself it is just as important as your other obligations.
Try missing out on the news for a day or two. Then check back in if you’d like and notice how you didn’t really need to know what happened in your absence. Notice how 99.9% of the news doesn’t even pertain to you or have anything to do with your life! If you do want to know what’s happening with a specific subject or person, look only that subject or topic up online, from a reliable source. That could well mean having to hunt for unbiased reporting not sponsored by big corporate America. But it’s worth it – you can read (yes, read, not watch) information that is more factual and less hysterical. This in turn won’t trigger your brain to flood you with stress hormones. And you won’t waste time listening or viewing the other 99% of the news that you don’t need to know.
By the way, I broke my news-junkie habit years ago and have found that any time something of import has happened, someone always tells me during a conversation, or I hear about it on a comedy program, so that pesky fear of missing out isn’t even a real fear. I still know what’s going on, even though I don’t seek it out specifically.
Technology has greatly intensified FOMO and negative energy we encounter. Move your social media app buttons off your home page. Turn off breaking news alerts. Unsubscribe from social media that triggers you or is depressing. All of these steps lead to requiring that you make a conscious decision to open news or social media versus an automatic habit based on FOMO. Keep newsletter subscriptions only for positive or useful information. Unfriend or unfollow people who rant and rave. I’m always surprised when people talk about all of the negativity they encounter on social media because I never do, but I mindfully follow, like or friend only those who focus on either positive information or that offer solutions or calls to action for the improvement of negative situations.
When you practice JOMO, you’ll have more free time because you eliminate the wasted time scrolling through screens you don’t really need to see and you’ll feel better by skipping a lot of the negativity out there. Be intentional with your technology use and observe how you begin to move from FOMO to the more peaceful state of JOMO.
Slowing down, relaxing, doing nothing some of the time…these all lead to increased productivity, clarity in thinking, better emotional self-regulation, and boosted creativity. Ever notice how your best ideas pop into your head in the shower? That’s because you’re relaxed and doing very little brain processing.
Henry David Thoreau said, “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”
As with any change, it’s always best to start with baby steps. Just set aside a little time each day to practice JOMO. And before reconnecting, get in the practice of first taking a deep breath and asking yourself if going online or using your device for other purposes is going to help you feel more relaxed and centered or is it going to make you feel distracted or drained.
So be joyful. Live in the moment. Connect with people in person instead of just through a device. Experience the whole mess of life. And for goodness’ sake, when you’re on vacation, disconnect from work. The word vacation is derived from the Latin vacare, which means “be unoccupied.” In other words, a human being instead of a human doing.