I recently started reading an interesting book, Deep Work, by Cal Newport. I describe it as a manifesto for resisting the shallowness of the digital age’s approach to work while adopting what the author describes as “focused success in a distracted world.”
While reading the introduction the author shared a personal revelation that really got my attention:
“…the lack of distraction in my life tones down that background hum of nervous mental energy that seems to increasingly pervade people’s daily lives. I’m comfortable being bored, and this can be a surprisingly rewarding skill…”
I have never heard or read anyone as remotely accomplished as Cal Newport–author of 4 best-selling books, a PhD, professor of computer science, and father of two young children, describe themselves as “comfortable being bored.”
Moreover, instead of a weakness to be avoided, this author views boredom as a “rewarding skill.” Reflecting on his insight, I realize how uncomfortable I have always been with being idle. Even during vacations and days off, I am often plagued by an inner restlessness–a need to be productive, to accomplish something in order to feel validated. Is there an inherent problem with this mindset? Some observations:
• As I shared in an earlier post, our culture values activity, fueled by the “background hum of nervous mental energy” described by the author, to an extent that people increasingly wear busyness as a badge of honor. Ask someone how they’re doing at a social gathering and the reflexive response is usually, “I’m so busy.” If I’m honest with myself, I’ve said the same thing on plenty of occasions. How about you?
• Reflecting on my own proclivities, I am often prone to an impulsive mindset that loves looking for new experiences. I can tire fairly quickly from the mundane, repetitive, and predictable. While I have generally considered this a positive attribute, Cal Newport’s provocative insights have compelled me to reconsider.
• As a reinforcement to Cal Newport’s revelation, Dr. Sandi Mann, the author of The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom is Good, writes:
“The more entertained we are, the more entertainment we need to feel satisfied. The more we fill our world with fast-moving, high-intensity, ever-changing stimulation, the more we get used to that and the less tolerant we become of lower levels.”
Interesting insight, especially when you consider the impact of technology on entertainment.
If you’ve followed my posts, you’ve found that most are prescriptive, offering insights and strategies to aid in personal development. But since summer tends to be a reflective season, I’m not offering any answers here — only questions to stimulate and perhaps challenge your perspective on productivity and purposeful accomplishment, the main theme of Deep Work.
So I invite you, during this summer season when, for many, life’s rhythms slow down just a little, to ponder:
How do you approach idle time?
Do you agree with Cal Newport’s revelation? Are you comfortable being bored? Or do you thrive on filling your hours with productive, accomplishment-driven activity?
What’s your take on Dr. Mann’s observation? Are we filling our respective worlds with overstimulating activities that fail to satisfy? If so, what does it mean to the quality of your life? Moreover, what ‘s one step you can take to create more margin in your mind and in your life?