Wasting Your Time Doing Nothing

Relaxing and doing nothing is something for your self-care and anxiety treatment

Wasting Your Time Doing Nothing
Are you preoccupied with using every minute wisely for fear of wasting your time?  Does “doing nothing” feel like a waste of time?  Do you find yourself ruminating on the thought that you are “wasting time” when you’re relaxing, taking a day off work or simply giving your feet a rest?  This is a great example of a recurring thought that individuals often think is theirs alone.  In addition to being a song by singer Brent Faiyaz featuring Canadian rapper Drake, it’s one of many manifestations of perfectionism. 

Perfectionism is often lurking when we find ourselves in a driven mode of endless pursuit.  The “I’m wasting time” cognition is also a common example of distorted thinking that frequently visits depressed moods.  This is not to say that it’s always a sign of distorted thinking, but in some, this thought can plummet a mood or initiate a chronic bout of endless busyness and goal setting. 

Some people literally cannot sit still to enjoy a meal, a movie or pass time with friends without leaping into some activity or “white knuckling” through the feeling that they are horribly off course.  It should come as no surprise that perfectionists have a higher risk of eating disorders, anxiety and depression and that underlying self-esteem issues have been linked to less, not more, personal satisfaction, and increased risk of suicide.  

Building new habits to replace perfectionist thinking that you are wasting time and doing nothing

Building Muscle Memory for New Habits
One of the values of this online mental health journal is to help you gain perspective with respect to the myriad of ways that symptoms present themselves.  Another purpose is to help you recognize your unique manifestations of dysfunctional thinking or behavior so that you can engage in corrective measures

Simply knowing a bunch of “tools, strategies and coping skills” isn’t sufficient to sustain lasting behavioral change.  Among other things, you need to recognize when to employ corrective measures.  Ideally, you develop a sort of “muscle memory” of maladaptive (i.e. unhealthy) behaviors and thinking and can react in an automated way to employ your personalized solution.  This happens with practice, practice, practice.

Why Old Habits Linger
Why does it take a while to build that muscle memory?  Think of all the times you have reinforced skewered thinking and self-defeating behaviors.   Our bodies become quite adept at masquerading dysfunction, and it gets buried behind rationalizations, excuses, denial and other defenses.  Being able to identify the various forms in which our unhealthy behaviors take shape, in an embodied way, helps us challenge behavior at its core within our neural networks and nervous system. 

Overcoming Survival Mode
After a significant period of engaging in healthy behavior through repetition, the body takes notice.  Remember, the “body” i.e. limbic system cares about survival.  It will recognize when you keep doing something else and that something else produces better outcomes that expend less energy and establish increased connection to Self, others and purpose.  The more “dysfunctions” you recognize, the more flexibility you have to divert your behavior and experience different outcomes in the long run.  The more you do so, the more relief, confidence, self-trust, empowerment and resilience become absorbed into your being.  After a while, healthy behaviors such as boundary setting and self-care start to feel “right.”

Confronting The “Wasting Time” Demon
Put the laundry away. It’s ok to chill. You don’t have to be doing a chore every minute.
So let’s break down this debilitating mindset that saps our energy, fuels hopelessness and robs us of a sense of purpose.  Before we dissect this “wasting time” and “doing nothing” plague, keep in mind, what follows is by no means a comprehensive analysis of distorted thinking.  There are several ways to go.  The following is an example of how you might tackle such a cognition using a cognitive behavioral approach.  Such analysis, is best done “out loud” where negative cognitions are torn from their whirling grip and where your brain can more readily take notice.  (Research shows that putting feelings into words reduces the intensity of emotions and makes your amygdala less active).      

How to Challenge Thinking Errors-One Example

Strategy for Challenging “I’m Wasting My Time”

  • Center yourself
    • “Go inside” to notice any shift in your body from your baseline. After practice doing so, you’ll become more perceptive regarding your emotional state and lack of perspective.
  • Slow things down
    • Focus on your breath. Feel your body soften.

  • Take note of what is going well that evokes pleasant feelings
    • Use tapping to cement that good feeling

  • Ground yourself in the present
    • Use any of your senses
  • Describe out loud
    • Single out the offending thought.
    • Increase focus.
    • Decrease the potency of the thought and its accompanying emotions/sensations.
  • Reality Test
    • State the facts.
      • What are you actually doing with this “wasted” time?
      • What else *should* you be doing with this time?
      • What is the value of what you are actually doing?
      • What are your beliefs around “productivity?”
      • How does “being productive” actually serve you? What are the limits of this productivity? How many hours and what is the outcome? Is the outcome of this productivity another more distant goal?  What is the ultimate payoff?
    • Reflect on whether the following activities are “nothing” or have some value:
      • Entertainment
      • Rest
      • Enjoyment
      • Talking to loved ones
      • Connecting
      • Hobbies & interests
      • Spiritual engagement
    • Reflect on some of the activities and benefits of retirement as a possible outcome of productivity:
      • Entertainment?
      • Rest?
      • Enjoyment?
      • Talking to loved ones?
      • Connecting?
      • Hobbies & interests?
      • Spiritual engagement?
    • When you are “busy” or “being productive” are you still living out your purpose?
Pause and reflect after challenging thinking errors

Pause and Reflect: It’s OK to do Nothing.

Where are you at the end of this analysis? Did you notice that some of the “doing nothing” activities are not unlike those that people list for retirement.  What message does that suggest to you particularly if you are busy working for the day that you don’t work anymore? 

Sharing your outcome, thoughts and reflections with your therapist can help you advance in terms of this distorted thinking and get the ball rolling in your therapy.  If some of the coping skills mentioned above are alien to you, drop me a note for further explanation or explore the Journal some more. 

“Our bodies become quite adept at masquerading dysfunction, and it gets buried behind rationalizations, excuses, denial and other defenses.  Being able to slow down, take a breath and identify the various forms in which our unhealthy behaviors take shape, in an embodied way, helps us challenge behavior at its core within our nervous system.”

A Sensory Moment

Play Video about Micro Self-Care Sensory Moment

Busyness and Achievements-An Endless Treadmill?
Here’s some additional food for thought for your therapy session or further reflection.  If you cease being busy or productive and don’t feel a sense of purpose, is it possible that your purpose lies outside of your work and/or “busyness?” Do busyness and achievement serve as grand distractions from your life?   If you are working to retire and to not work anymore, will you be doing the same things you now consider “nothing” and a waste of time? If so, what are you doing with your life now and where do you think you are headed?   Keep going with this reflection.  You may discover, at the end of the day, the “waste of time” is the real something, and the “busy,” the nothing.


Below is additional information to help you understand thinking errors and cognitive distortions on a deeper level::

You can find other soundbites related to well-being, self-compassion and healing on our coaching website that adds a big picture perspective on well-being in the context of current events.  Stay in tune with issues related to your well-being and mental health right here in the Urim Recovery Journal updated 2x a week.

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