Can’t. Turn. Off.

When I was a youngster I read Peter Benchley’s Jaws. Don’t ask me why. Maybe I’d seen the movie or part of it, or something. I can’t remember what caused me to pick it up at the library, but I read it. It was probably the longest novel I’d read at the time.

Benchley at a point early in the book actually describes the thinking pattern of the shark. Always moving. Never sleeping. Constantly swimming somewhere.

I thought of that section of the book yesterday when I went away from my office and all of my electronic devices for two hours of nothing for my Critical Thinking class. Here’s a snippet from my “reflection paper” that I’ll be turning in:

During the two hours we were given at the end of class I slept. I had pulled an all-nighter to finish a project for a different class and I knew I would fall asleep if I sat down with nothing to do, so I scheduled my two hours for later.

On Monday I left the office two hours early to spend some time doing nothing. I spent a little time driving, phone off, and then parked at the top of the bluff on Grandview Drive for another hour before doing some more driving.

I realized right off that I’m not very good at doing nothing. I wasn’t sure what the rules were, which didn’t help. I pulled out a notebook and wrote, “I’m supposed to do nothing for 2 hours.”

Nothing.

Really?

No computer. No textbooks. No phone. No work. No music.

Nothing.

It felt like torture at the beginning. I wrote down all the prime numbers between 1 and 113. I drew a picture (or something resembling a picture) of the curves I could see in the river. I turned over thoughts of relationships at home and at work.

I wrote down some phrases I had been thinking and drew doodles while I pondered life, staring at the trees and the river and the big houses and wondering what should be coming to me. And I wished I had my book for the next class or my phone so I could get something productive done.

And that was the first seventeen minutes.

I have trouble relaxing and not doing anything at all. It may be a function of the phase of life I’m in as much as anything, but right now my task list is so long and there’s so much I’m just not doing (some of it on purpose) that trying to do nothing for two consecutive hours felt nearly tortuous.

I think I’m going to try it again sometime. I’ll do it differently, but not sure exactly how. Open to any suggestions in the comments!

6 thoughts on “Can’t. Turn. Off.

  1. I would be interested in hearing more about the reasons behind this exercise, as well as what exactly was meant by “doing nothing,” because it sounds like you actually *did* quite a lot (including some purposeful/directed thought).

    As you’ve described it, this activity (or perhaps deliberate lack thereof) ties in with some reading I’ve been doing lately as well, and I’d really like to know more about this assignment if you have time to explain it a bit more.

    • The purpose of the exercise was to leave margin in the thought process for creativity. I’m not sure this process works for everyone, but it was something that studies had shown increased creativity in busy folks who don’t take time to think. I can maybe add some more later.

  2. I’ve found that a slow walk in the woods away from people can be quite helpful to “do nothing”. Granted, introvert vs. extrovert, but there can be enough stimulation in the plants and animals nearby to keep you from being bored while still keeping away from the busy-ness you are trying to avoid.

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