Shockingly, being alone means finding ways to motivate yourself.
Why does doing nothing feel so hard? In these covid times many people report feeling more listless and tired having to work from home than they did sprucing up in the morning to go out and go to work. Maybe there’s some sapping energy from wearing sweatpants too many days in a row? Maybe too much Netflix isn’t good for promoting any get up and go. It’s hard to stay motivated working from home, or merely waiting out shelter-in-place. People are bored easily, and boredom can turn into chronic low-energy laziness.
There’s that classic experiment that demonstrates people’s inability to entertain themselves by themselves. The experiment took individuals and put them in isolation. They could either do nothing and while away the minutes, with only their imaginations to keep them company, or they could choose to press a button that would give them a jolt of not so pleasant electricity. At least half of the subjects ended up choosing to shock themselves, some over and over, to distract them from their own boredom.
Maybe our daily habits can become a bit like this, where we choose things out of boredom that are easy to do but not all that good for us. Like too much TV, too much sleeping, too much staying up late because we can and have nothing else to do.
There are articles everywhere that say this is the perfect time to pick up a new hobby, learn a language, find the painter in you, learn a new skill. But that takes work! And it’s not so reasonable to expect people who have been laid off or furloughed to be thinking about self improvement instead of finding work. Our habits get the best of us day after day, and the easier course to take is often the path taken. Not the roads less travelled, but the well trodden roads to easy things that take no effort at all. Like eating too much bacon for breakfast and having two-hour naps, capped by Netflix at either end.
Are you feeling less than motivated right now? Listless? Exhausted? Bored? Instead of pressing that easy button next to you, maybe you need to find other patterns of behaviour that refresh and stimulate you in the right ways. With things so far outside the frame of normal right now, keeping a regular schedule and achieving your daily goals are important, even if they are not as grandiose as learning nuclear physics in your spare time.
Here are some simple things that could help you stay motivated and energized through what can be long days of boredom.
Keep up on your work. Schedules move around a lot now, and it seems more of an effort to join a Zoom meeting than any old regular in-person meeting (remember those?). It’s important to feel face to face even when we’re not. And knowing that your team or peers are working to the same goals, though the work might happen at odd times, later or earlier than the regular 9-5, is important for your personal sense of self and motivation.
Make goals every day. If you can, get your work out of the way efficiently, do it as soon as you can, and check off the things you’ve accomplished. Then go do something for yourself. This might mean a noon walk, creating a home-made dinner for yourself or family, or even simply cleaning your home on the weekend. Having regular patterns of achievement and small goal setting is important to feeling livelier and more fulfilled.
Keep the movie and TV watching to a minimum. There must be a psychological reason for the obvious fact that watching too much passive media seems to drain us. Watching too much of the daily news too early can as well. Keeping your media viewing habits in check will help you from overthinking, being over stimulated, or feeling like you’ve not accomplished anything today except watching EVERYTHING on Netflix. Too little activity with the body means a lot to the relaxation and health of your attitude.
Get outside for the sun. With spring upon us and summer on the way, it’s about time you got yourself more sun, which means more vitamin D. The so-called sunshine vitamin leaves us feeling good, brighter, more energetic, and more restful. You can’t buy this kind of therapy, so get out and thank the sun beaming down into your face. It’s a good feeling.
Don’t be too alone. Being alone isn’t really a big deal, but even the most reclusive of us shouldn’t stay that way for long stretches of time. For one thing, you might start to talk more to yourself, which isn’t altogether a bad thing if you’re a good conversationalist, but why not share that conversation and a little of yourself and what’s going on with friends and family? For some, this is a hard thing to do. If it’s hard for you, maybe it’s time you do more of it. One of the most pleasant things in the world is to be called out of the blue and asked how you’re doing. So, do that for someone. Maybe they will return the favor.
Don’t just sit around doing nothing. Whether you’re retired, employed, unemployed, on sabbatical, on maternity leave, whatever your situation, the best advice is simply not to just sit around doing nothing. Doing nothing makes us feel weary, over tired, even cranky. Self-esteem can be eroded over the days this way if we aren’t attempting to get something done in our days. We don’t need big plans, though, if you have them, that’s good. All we need to do are the little things to keep a bounce in our step, to keep our spirits high, and feel unworried and unhurried.
If you find yourself reaching for that remote too early and too often, remember the shock experiment, and go find something else to do that’s better for you emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Being bored sure isn’t the end of the world. But it can feel that way if we let it.
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