It started with audiobooks—Harry Potter audiobooks, specifically. I loved to sit and listen to them while doing something mindless like cleaning my kitchen or driving down the freeway. Then, when the iPad came along, suddenly sitcoms and Netflix were a part of my daily life, where I could watch Modern Family while making dinner or rewatch Lord of the Rings while building something from IKEA. Then it was an NPR app, an Audible.com subscription, and the discovery of endless podcasts. But recently, as I sat brushing my teeth, listening to How to Win Friends and Influence People, I realized: I am always tuned in to something else.
Whenever I'm doing anything that doesn’t require my focused attention, my mind is occupied by something else. So, in my day, I move from waking up and turning on NPR, working (just Rdio there, and I think that's safe), listening to an audiobook while walking my dog, catching up on a show after work while cooking dinner, and maybe listening to a podcast or two before grabbing a book and going to bed (and sometimes I do leave my apartment, I promise). The more I thought about it, the more I realized something else: This habit is terrible.
If I'm always focused on something else, when do I take time to focus on me? I think I've become a product of the modern world, where we can always be tuned in. Whether it started as a way to escape real life or just for the entertainment factor varies, but now, it's just become a habit. I don't know why it took so long to see how unhealthy this is.
(Walden. Thoreau knew what was up.)
Not long after my realization, I came across some supporting evidence. I was reading Austin Kleon’s latest book (which I got for free thanks to Creative Mornings ATX) “Steal Like an Artist.” In it, he says this:
“Take time to be bored... Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing. I get some of my best ideas when I’m bored, which is why I never take my shirts to the cleaners. I love ironing my shirts—it’s so boring, I almost always get good ideas. If you’re out of ideas, wash the dishes. Take a really long walk. Stare at a spot on the wall for as long as you can...”
I read that paragraph and then slowly shut the little book in horror. Really, I can’t remember the last time I was bored. Waiting at the car dealership? Hey, I have an iPhone stocked with Kindle books I’m halfway through, not to mention Instagram. On an airplane? Crossword puzzles! Painting my nails? There are still five seasons of Gossip Girl to watch! Driving downtown? This American Life.
I also thought back to Charles Darwin, who had a "thinking path" in his home where he'd walk every day. He'd set rocks out so he could keep track of his loops so he wouldn't waste the smallest bit of brain power. That kind of focused thinking is impressive, and it obviously paid off. I've never forgotten that tidbit about him.
So. My new focus is on boredom. I like making the focus about boredom itself because that's easy, and I don't have to change much in my life. For now, I do refuse to give up NPR in the shower, books before bed, or crossword puzzles on airplanes. Really, a lot of these things are a wonderful part of my life that inspire me and do make me think—when I allow the time and space for it. But I will take a bit more time to stare at the wall or at my own face in the mirror. I think I can find a good balance, wherein I hope to create exactly that.