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‘I’ve embraced doing (almost) nothing during quarantine – but it hasn’t turned out as I hoped’

by Jennifer McShane
31st May 2020

We’ve seen countless studies on the psychology of ‘doing nothing’ and how it’s as important as any other activity on your to-do list, but Jennifer McShane, a self-confessed ‘extroverted introvert’ says she hasn’t felt the euphoria she thought she would as the weeks of lockdown continue  

Having weeks stretched out ahead of me to do nothing but read books, watch films, write with music in the background – it’s everything I thought I ever wanted. Prior to lockdown, this was a dream scenario. I’m sociable, I love the company of others, but equally, I’m more than happy with my own company – with long periods of time spent alone. It’s why I could attempt to move across the pond, almost knowing no one, to a new city in a flat by myself and not be phased by it.

As someone who has always felt extreme pressure to be doing things, who has felt guilty about the many hours spent daydreaming about future wants rather than taking action to get them, initially, I felt great during lockdown. I missed friends and family of course, but here it was, my excuse to stop.

Stop worrying about why I wasn’t trying hard enough, why I was always two steps behind everyone else – and just embrace the downtime to do the things I loved. I’d read and watch so much, surely I’d feel as creative as ever. Maybe I’d finally get a start on the book of short stories I always wanted to write, try to up my general knowledge for Zoom quizzes (it needs work), get a handle on Photoshop.

Time to pause

While the world was on pause and we were trying to stay healthy and safe – I too could pause, without the guilt and worry that time was passing me by. Everyone is in the same boat, I reasoned. And I was, and still am, aware of how lucky I am.

I have a home with some family members to cocoon in, I’m safe and healthy, have a place to work – I can’t even begin to fully imagine how difficult it is with children at home, working from home, and not being able to take them further than 2km from the house. How stressful the daily cycle must be, even with all the positives which come with this extra time spent together.

I’m lucky to be able to even think about uttering the words, “I feel bored.”

The case for doing ‘nothing’ 

“The way I think about boredom is coming to a moment with no plan other than just to be,” Doreen Dodgen-Magee, a psychologist who studies boredom, told the New York Times. But what we’re talking about is … doing nothing.

Or, as the Dutch call it, niksen.

Niksen can be “when we’re not doing the things we should be doing. Because perhaps we don’t want to, we’re not motivated. Instead, we’re not doing very much.” On a practical level, the idea of niksen is to take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless.

This pretty much sums up my lockdown experience. But I’ve had all the motionlessness I can muster.  Yes, we’re in the midst of a pandemic; these are extraordinary, uncertain times, but temporary, even so. We know this will eventually pass. So, in theory, more reason to embrace this idea of pausing our perpetual need to be busy.

“Psychological research suggests that doing nothing is essential for creativity and innovation, and a person’s seeming inactivity might actually cultivate new insights, inventions or melodies,” Simon Gottschalk, Professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada told LiveScience.

This has not quite been the case for me.

A shift in mindset

While it’s true, I’ve embraced doing (almost) nothing during quarantine – but it hasn’t turned out as I hoped.

I read, I watch, I’ve won two Zoom quizzes in a row. I’m trying to get the hang of Photoshop.

But, I’ve felt, stilted, stuck. With a fresh sense of guilt: For all the time I wasted pre-lockdown. All the things I didn’t do, but could have. All the wasted opportunities I passed, because, there was ‘loads of time’ for it

Why can’t I just ‘be’?

I think it’s because my whole concept of time has shifted. As a daydreamer, I have always thought that there was plenty of time to do all the things I wanted. This ‘pandemic pause’ has shown us all that day-to-day changed in the blink of an eye. Life is something to be grabbed, embraced and my thinking of, ‘do it, but some other time’ has made me melancholy over some things that might have been.

But, while I might feel slightly stagnant, quarantine has, at least, made me change this mindset.

When all this is over, whether I do everything or nothing, I’ll appreciate it all the more. I’ll (try to) do it without the guilt.

Live life.

Because we’re all doing our best either way.

Now, or in the future, that’s more than enough.

Main photograph: Unsplash

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