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Never Waste a Day Again

Rest is never a waste!I was sitting with a client the other day who’s having a hard time getting unstuck after a series of challenges in her life. She feels like she’s just going through the motions and spinning her wheels.

It’s extra difficult for her to feel that way because she’s been a workhorse her whole life. She’s the hero in her family, and everyone relies on her for emotional and material support.

Nowadays, all she wants to do is stay in bed.

When I asked her why not stay in bed if that’s what she feels like doing, she looked at me with dread.

“I hate to waste a day,” she said. “I need to be productive.” Never mind that her efforts to do that aren’t working.

I told her, “Don’t worry about wasting a day not doing anything productive. Worry about wasting your life doing productive things just to avoid wasting a day.”

After I went home that night, I thought about my own advice. How often do I unthinkingly gravitate towards being productive, rather than paying attention to my life?

How much am I really living when I’m focused on productivity as the highest good, and ignoring what I want and how I feel?

“What Do I Want?”

So last Sunday when Mike was out of town, I decided to do exactly what I felt like doing for the entire day. No chores, no obligations, nothing productive.

My plan was to live from minute to minute, presumably like animals do.

In the morning I felt like staying in bed and finishing the novel I was reading. If animals could read, I feel certain that’s what they’d do.  So I did that.

It took the whole morning. It was GREAT. Finished my novel! (Oops. That might have been productive.)

I made myself a nice lunch, and after that, I asked myself what I wanted to do.

Turned out I wanted to go outside. It wasn’t a should, mind you; it was what I genuinely wanted to do. I was surprised, since I don’t consider myself someone who ever feels the need to go outside.

It was hard to figure out where I wanted to go. Normally I’d consider the distance I “should” walk, or think about a task I could accomplish if I took a certain route.

I decided to walk through a pretty, quiet neighborhood until I felt like turning back.

On my walk I noticed my pace; it was much slower than normal, especially up hills. I usually push myself forcefully up hills because hey, free workout!

But I wasn’t looking for a workout. Instead, I strolled comfortably.

The moment-to-moment attention to my desires and experience made me feel very much alive. This was really living. This was … different.

Later on at home I caught up on the video lectures for my Coursera course, but only because that’s what I felt like doing.

Later, I … accidentally … might have spontaneously had good ideas for some projects I want to start. And it’s possible that I took copious notes about them.

I didn’t mean to be productive (she said to the judge, wringing her hands). It just sort of happened.

The Truth About Lazing About

Rest is productive. Slowing down actually seems to speed up the visioning process.

Perhaps it’s a paradox. Maybe the more rested and centered you are, the more the organism-that-is-you wants to create, produce, act, do something to express itself.

So when you don’t feel like doing anything, and you’re worried about wasting a day, think about just living your life from moment to moment like an animal.

Ask yourself what you feel like doing, and honor your desire. Doze, read, eat, shower, don’t shower, stand up, sit down, stand on your head, etc. according to your preference.

Sooner or later your productive, expressive nature will kick in again.

It might take hours, days or weeks. But once you’re good and rested, you’ll be meaningfully productive.

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado.
She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations.
The author of “Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them” and the “Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children,” Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships.
Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called “Constructive Wallowing.”

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11 Responses to "Never Waste a Day Again"

  • Cheryl
    March 23, 2013 - 9:35 am Reply

    Thank you for this!!! This is exactly what I didn’t know I needed to learn at exactly the right time.

  • barb
    March 24, 2013 - 5:58 am Reply

    I’m very grateful for moments like this when answers seem to come to you when struggling with familiar situations like this….thank you!

    • Tina Gilbertson
      March 25, 2013 - 9:07 pm Reply

      Synchronicity … I love it! Thanks for stopping by, Barb.

  • John
    June 4, 2013 - 9:30 pm Reply

    Hello. I found this very interesting and made alot of sense, however, what if even being productive at school or helping out, or work, still gives you the feeling of wasting a day. I feel like even if I built the Great Wall of china I would feel as if I wasted a day because there is more to life, but I don’t know what it is. Could I be depressed?

    • Tina Gilbertson
      June 5, 2013 - 8:18 am Reply

      John, the answer to the question, “Could I be depressed?” is almost always “Yes.” If you’re asking, then it’s a possibility.

      It’s also possible you’re being too productive, too often. You might want to read the article again to review ways to decrease productivity and increase your sense of being alive in this moment. Just hanging out more could give you ideas about what you might be missing from life.

      If that doesn’t work, counseling can help you figure out next steps. Thanks for visiting!

  • Sivani
    November 19, 2016 - 11:46 am Reply

    I am not a Facebook fan nor will it make any difference if FB suddenly shuts down. But today, I did nothing but Facebook. I spent the entire day in watching random videos, going through pages which have no meaning in my life, refreshing the home page to find more new posts etc etc.. And now, at the end of the day I am realizing that I just wasted a day. I know that I cannot balance today’s productivity which is lost by spending double the time tomorrow but at least I want tomorrow night a happy night thinking the way I spent my day. For me productive day not necessarily means to think of ways to earn more or spend more. It means spending a healthy day, some learning, some teaching. Honestly, I am regretting. I am unable to sleep in the fear of getting up late and losing some important hours of the day again.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      November 19, 2016 - 3:35 pm Reply

      I feel for you, Sivani. I can imagine feeling exactly the same way after spending the day on Facebook.

      I notice you didn’t say you WANTED to spend the day looking at Facebook. You just said that you DID spend it that way.

      There’s a big difference between wasting time on purpose, and wasting it by accident. It sounds like what happened to your day was an accident.

      As I said, I feel for you. I’ve been there myself, and it’s a drag to lose a whole day. Here’s hoping tomorrow is better. Thanks for visiting.

  • Senior
    January 21, 2017 - 7:19 pm Reply

    What if you feel like wasting days and weeks participating in forums on the Internet but can’t because you have obligations like school?

    • Tina Gilbertson
      January 21, 2017 - 7:40 pm Reply

      Senior, you bring up an excellent point, which is this: Not everyone can follow their desires all the time. What if a surgeon decided in the middle of surgery that she’d rather be outside playing touch football? Indulging that impulse could have dire consequences.

      Students are often required to put off having fun and/or relaxing while they study and write papers. Delaying gratification is part of being a good student. The challenge (as I recall, from when I was in school) is to somehow create balance by building some free time into your schedule.

      If you can find SOME time for yourself, even 15 minutes, you can at least let yourself indulge in those forums during that time. I think that might be the best of both worlds: You get some time to do exactly what you want, but you won’t derail your academic goals in the process.

      I wish you the best in your studies. Thanks for your comment.

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