The Importance of Mindless Activities

I spent the majority of Labor Day weekend home alone, camped out on my couch, playing an old video game from my childhood.

This was an odd occurrence, as I don’t do much video gaming anymore, but the urge to go back to the nostalgic pastime of my youth was unusually strong. I had just finished working a couple of six-day weeks, and I’d been putting a lot of time and effort into building this site for more than a month straight. I was tired.

At first, I felt a guilty about spending a long weekend inside, glued to a television screen. I thought, “I should go running,” or “I should write something new,” or any number of other more productive activities.

But then I realized that time off is a good thing. Joshua Becker, of Becoming Minimalist, just wrote a post about the underappreciation of rest in today’s society:

Rest has become confused with laziness. We live in a society that praises those who work 60hrs/week and makes faulty assumptions about those who work 40. We have confused rest with laziness. And while too much rest may indeed be an indicator of sloth, the regular practice of finding rest is not.

Sometimes, you need to do something mindless. It lets your mind and body recharge and recuperate so that you’re better prepared for what comes next. There’s no reason to feel guilty about not going to the gym once in a while. Your muscles — physical and mental — need time to recover. Forcing additional work from them when you’ve got nothing left in the tank will only run yourself into the ground, and then you’ll miss several days due to illness or injury.

When I was working in a cubicle and sitting at a desk for eight hours a day, I was exhausted. I’d wake up, drive 45 minutes to a building, sit there all day, go to class, and then drive 45 minutes home. Add in homework and finding time to sleep and exercise, and things weren’t all that enjoyable. I’d daydream about all the things I’d do once the weekend finally arrived and I had some time to myself. But when the weekend finally did show up, I didn’t do anything. I’d just spend it screwing around on the computer, not getting anything done that I’d wanted to. I was too tired to do anything but sit.

This is why the occasional mindless activity is so important. If you work too hard for too long, you get burned out, which can be depressing and actually make you sick. That’s your body forcing you to rest. When you take a rest voluntarily, be it with video games, or reading a book, or taking a walk, your mind and body get a chance to regain their strength. Once you’ve gotten enough rest, once you’ve done nothing for a while, you actually regain the drive and motivation to do things naturally, without having to force it.

After I finished my coursework for my master’s degree, I spent all of June and most of July doing a whole lot of nothing. I worked at my usual summer job, but otherwise I spent my time relaxing. Once I had gotten enough rest, I found that I wanted to start doing something, to start creating something, which turned into this website. If I hadn’t had that time to decompress and get back to neutral, I may not have created QLE. So those two months weren’t full of laziness, they were full of necessary rest, which gave me the strength to create something new.

So, don’t feel guilty about doing nothing once in a while, whatever your version of nothing may be. The gym will still be there tomorrow, and you’ll be able to hit it twice as hard. If we never stopped to rest, we’d still be doing everything we ever started, and that’s no way to get anything done.