Idle time is a hole in my soul. I am envious of people who can take advantage of “free time” in a healthy way, but that’s never been me.
Free time, for me, tends to immediately get filled by unhealthy things. If I find myself unexpectedly having a scheduled thing delayed by an hour and I have to wait, for instance, all the things that naturally occur to me to do in that hour are unhealthy. I’ll doom-scroll social media, I’ll eat an unhealthy snack, I’ll bug someone who’s busy, buy a thing I don’t need, etc. These are things I don’t ever do when I’m planning – but they’re what happens when my plans get disrupted.
So why can’t I just fill unexpected time with something productive? I overthink it, primarily. For instance: very rarely do plans get delayed in such a way that lets me know exactly the length of the delay. Sometimes people text and say “I’ll be an hour late,” but more often that text says “I’m running late, be there as soon as I can.” That means I don’t know if I have time to squeeze in an extra workout or get some writing done. I hate starting things and not finishing them.
The reality is that I need the rigidity of a packed schedule in order to not be slothful. I’m pretty good on the other six deadly sins, but that one haunts me. I’m terrified of being slothful, lazy, idle. I think it might be the most dangerous of the seven, because it’s so sticky. It actually takes a lot of effort to maintain wrath all the time! But sloth? That takes no effort at all.
So I fight against it by always giving myself planned things that need to be done. I don’t trust my instincts; given free reign to “do whatever I feel like,” the choices my id makes always chase short-term satisfaction instead of long-term health. I feel as though the best way for me to never do unhealthy things is to never have time to do them; to always be doing so many healthy things that there’s no room for anything else.
Then, when time to do something else is thrust upon me unexpectedly by the random chaos of daily life, I don’t have a healthy thing to fill it with. The obvious solution would seem to be to keep a list of “Healthy Things to Do in Case of Emergency,” but the question is – if those things are good and healthy to do, why would I only do them in case of emergency? Shouldn’t I be doing those things all the time, and not just in case of an unexpected wait?
As is often the case, writing this out has given me a thought. There is one particularly healthy outlet that is easy, can be done at any duration, and while it’s something that I do normally it still has plenty of marginal utility for extra time spent on it – reading. Reading also has the benefit of relaxing me, whereas waiting is generally pretty anxiety-driving for me. If idle time is a wound, my beloved kindle may just be the first-aid kit I’m looking for.
So I’ll make a habit of keeping my kindle more accessible (right now it resides in a specific “reading nook” in my home, but having it a little more on-hand may be the key) and take it with me when I leave the house more often. Make it easier to make something healthy the default. If you’re the kind of person whose instincts are tuned towards healthy choices, bless you. If you aren’t, all is not lost – the fight for your own physical, mental and spiritual health is one you can win, no matter where you started.