Why you're unhappy doing nothing

May 06, 2021
4 min read

Back in college, we used to have pretty tough final exam phases. Projects were still due up until a week before the exams. Plus all the studying on the side, usually for 4-5 exams. Even though this was a very stressful time I kept my good habits (exercise, eating + sleeping well) pretty consistent during those 3 months a year.

Falling into the hole

But as soon as the final exam was penned, as soon as the final paper was handed in, I spiralled. Out of pure boredom, I was back into excessively indulging in sugar, alcohol and other dopamine killers. I even started smoking again after not having a single cigarette for six weeks.

Was the sudden freedom so overwhelming that I just couldn't handle having the free mind that I craved so much beforehand?

This pattern repeated nearly every semester. It was like I was taking a leak when I've been holding in a gallon of Volvic for a six thousand mile highway without rest stops.

However, the "letting loose on the reins and just enjoying life" approach, the built-up cravings of just binging a show on Netflix wasn't as rewarding as I expected. Rather it was like feeling lost, and interestingly enough, about a week into the summer break I was already looking at course descriptions for next semester.

You don't want to do nothing, believe me

Today – a year after graduating – this same feeling comes to mind when I indulge in a day of maximum unproductivity. I mean doing the bare minimum for survival, and spending the rest of the days' energy on going from one YouTube recommendation to the next.

Many people envy the idea of becoming rich, quitting their job and just do nothing all day. What they don't realize, is that while this sounds good in theory, it would take a disastrous toll on their well-being in practice.

Doing nothing makes you miserable because you're doing nothing. (if you tweet this, @ me: @nikoisonfire. thx.)

At the end of the day you want to have achievements, you want something to be proud of. Whether that be a checked of todo-list, a new workout PR, meeting your calorie goals or getting praise at work.

Even the smallest tasks we successfully complete give us a sudden feeling of excitement and pride. The more difficult the task is, the deeper we feel marking it as done.

Getting better every day

Does this mean you have to be productive every single minute of the day? Write and fulfil hundreds of to-do items? Of course not. You can take small steps every day, and as long as your doing something, you're on the right path.

Make sure that what you're doing is aligning with your goals.

If you want to get shredded, track and stay under your calories. Or cook better meals.

Doing homework? Do it first thing in the morning to get it out of the way.

Writing a book? Write 500 words every day, even if it's just gibberish.

Baby steps

Don't just start pomodoring 15 hours a day and building six different side hustles at the same time. You'll burn out. Do you bench 300 lbs if you're a gym beginner? No.

Gradually over time build the habit of being more productive. I started out just doing two hours a day – which sounds like nothing – but try truly, deeply focusing for two hours (no phone!) and see how much freaking work you can actually get done in that small amount of time.

Then do half an hour more next week. Habits are hard-wired into your brain once they are continuously practised long enough. If you need some temporal guidance use a Pomodoro timer and note down how much you've done every day.

I'm up to 4-6 every day, and my output is probably twice as much as when I was "studying" in the library for 12 hours.

Give it a try. And then tell me what you think on Twitter.

Further recommended reading

Deep Work by Cal Newport

James Clear on the 1% Rule

Credits

Photo by Jordan Whitfield

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