Recently, a study showed that participants preferred to shock themselves rather than spend 15 minutes alone with their thoughts.
The journal, Science, conducted the study, and said this:
In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.
It’s no secret we live in a hyper-busy, stressed world. Many have no idea of how to meditate, let alone take the time to do it.
But still, for some reason this study surprised me.
It may be because I hear a constant refrain of “I’m-so-busy-I-don’t-have-time-to-think!” I would then imagine it would be a relief to finally have an opportunity to sit and think.
More from the study (emphasis mine):
Research has shown that minds are difficult to control, however, and it may be particularly hard to steer our thoughts in pleasant directions and keep them there. This may be why many people seek to gain better control of their thoughts with meditation and other techniques, with clear benefits. Without such training, people prefer doing to thinking, even if what they are doing is so unpleasant that they would normally pay to avoid it. The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself.
So what’s the answer?
I think practice would be involved. It’s not easy to meditate or to spend quality time with your own thoughts.
If you’re interested in stretching yourself, try being alone with your thoughts for five minutes. If that’s too hard, try a minute or two. And then extend the time until you reach 15 minutes.
Get to know and love yourself
When I was a young girl, during the summer I would slip a sandwich and a few snacks into a brown paper bag and take off on my bicycle. I’d ride around and then visit a nearby park, sit on the grass and enjoy lunch.
I liked the park because it was very secluded and filled with great, towering trees whose leaves would dance in the summer’s breeze. Occasionally a few others would pass through but for the most part, I was alone.
I did a lot of thinking in those days. I thought about school, my parents, my friends. I also thought about what I liked to do more than anything else (swimming). I fantasized in my head that I had discovered a secret kingdom and knights would come through any minute on their horses.
I enjoyed the environment. The fresh scent of grass, the warmth of the sun on my body, and the gentle sound of the leaves and birdsong.
Something else happened during that time, too. Something that took me years to appreciate.
I started to like my own company.
I think this is foundational for a happy life. I know that sounds ambitious. However, when I consider this trait, I cannot help but think of how much it has helped me overall in building a great life.
Let’s just list a few of them. When you like yourself, you’ll:
>> Choose good friends because they deserve you
>> Choose good romantic partners who treat you well and respect you
>> Reject any mistreatment from others as being simply unacceptable
>> Give generously to others your attention because you don’t “need” theirs
>> Understand your strengths, weaknesses, and preferences, making better decisions for yourself
When you’re happy with your own company, you don’t need other people to make you feel good. And conversely, people won’t make you feel as badly because you’ll be aware of your good points and refuse to be bogged down by anyone else’s criticism.
Many entrepreneurs and business people seek clarity, both with their own work and with other people’s work. Nothing can impede progress like confusing, complex ideas.
Being alone with your thoughts can help bring the clarity you seek.
When you’re alone with your thoughts, you often have surprising ideas. Sometimes you may have a problem whose solution eludes you. After taking some time to quiet yourself, even daydreaming a bit, you may be amazed how a solution will suddenly seem to find you.
There are hundreds of thoughts going through your mind at any given moment. Taking the time to sit and breathe allows some of those thoughts to slow down a bit and allows other thoughts to rise to the surface.
Julia Cameron, in her landmark book on creativity, The Artist’s Way, recommends an exercise called “Morning Pages.”
This exercise is to be done (naturally) in the morning. You handwrite all of your thoughts onto three pages of notebook paper. The secret is to continuously write, without stopping, any thought that enters your mind.
It is a way to “empty” the niggling thoughts, worries, fears, etc. that can impede your creativity for the day. Once your mind sees that there is now a container for those thoughts, it can then move on to those brilliant ideas that were hidden beneath the miscellaneous items.
Once you get accustomed to quiet time and being aware of your thoughts, you may find that those breakthroughs you seek start to come to you more frequently.
I know I’ve been challenged by this study. I’m going to start spending 15 minutes each day, in the morning, to connect with myself and just be. I know this will reap great rewards, allowing me to head into my day refreshed and clear-minded.
Hope you do the same. :- )