Why ripping yourself out for a day in the middle of the week might work wonders
Since the beginning of the year I've committed, for those weeks I'm in town and not on some madcap adventure, to taking what I call Hump Days. Here's why.
I am guilty of working 90-hour weeks most of my life as though some mad moron was going to put his stamp of approval on my forehead for sacrificing both my happiness and any kind of life joy for the sake of killing myself at work. While that most certainly lives up to the brutal Calvinist values of our society, it does not bode well for health or for any kind of joy. I've been steadily chipping away at those idiot values once I realized my mistake.
So, Hump Day. First, here's why I take Wednesdays:
I brainstormed this with my social media guy, then threw myself into the new schedule.
I love it.
Yesterday, January 19th, I drove in the pouring rain to Portland from Eugene. Not what you'd call a nice day for the beach, which is where I usually head. So I redirected. I balanced a few shopping chores with a Very Important Side Trip.
I had sent a text to my social media guy and asked him for recommendations to pastry shops and what he and his fiance fancy. That in hand, I did my chores, then located the bakery on a busy main road in downtown Portland. There, I selected a big bagful of goodies, crammed them into a protective plastic bag. Then I slogged through the downpour to my social media guys' RV, parked right on the Columbia River, where they stay much of the year.
To say he was surprised was the least of it. The reason? He's quarantined, this is his second ugly bout of Covid, sick as a dog and stuck in his mini home RV with his fiance, who must also quarantine. Along with two big, impatient puppers.
I had thirty seconds to stand outside in the rain and hand over the goodies, masked, because I don't want what he has. What I did want, and got, was the pleasure of knowing that my Hump Day was spent largely in service.
Does taking a day off midweek make me lazy?
Hell no. It unleashes me. Let's explore. First, there's this:
To that I strongly recommend the NPR interview with Dr. Price which you can find here.
That will get you started. But wait! There's more!
For those of us battling the compulsion to produce in order to prove our worthiness in the world, let's take a quick test. Go to TherapistAid.com and look up and download the Values Clarification worksheet.
I strongly recommend taking this quick test. Once you've chosen three values, you can swiftly see if your choice of lifestyle is or is not in alignment. If you say one value is family, and you only have five minutes PER DAY at best with said family because of your gerbil-on-the-wheel work habits, two things are possibly true:
- You're being disingenuous about your values, or
- You've bought into the lie that your only value is in what you produce, which might be one reason that you're feeling burned out and resentful, if indeed you are.
When you and I are living out of alignment with our true values, we're in trouble. We see it every single day. So this is where it makes sense to start.
Second: I am reading the excellent book by Michael Easter, The Comfort Crisis. While I might not align with all he writes, the majority of the book is very well-researched and extremely informative about how important taking ourselves away from what is comfortable can transform our lives.
The particular piece that is relevant here is about boredom, and how boredom leads to greater creativity. He spends some time explaining how IQ is nowhere near the Great Predictor that we once thought it was (hardly, plenty of folks with considerable IQs are horrific failures). Instead he explains how the Torrance Test for Creative Thinking is a far better indicator of what we are capable of.
Here's who Torrance is:
Above all, Torrance found that the disruptors and hyperactive kids in school who were bored by rote learning were in every way the BEST life performers. In other words, the very kids we drug with Ritalin and try so hard to control are those most likely to become, as Torrance's research indicated, the architects, CEOs, authors, diplomats, etc. etc.
Easter points out that social media has killed off what Torrance found was one of the single most important aspects of our creativity: mind-wandering.
A researcher at William and Mary analyzed 300,000 Torrance Test Scores since the 1950s. She found that the creativity scores began to nosedive in 1990, leading her to conclude that we are now facing a "creativity crisis."
The scientist blames our hurried, overscheduled lives and "ever-increasing amounts of (time) interacting with electronic entertainment devices." And that's bad news. Particularly when we consider that creativity is a critical skill in today's economy, where most of us work with our brains rather than our brawn.
Easter concludes, and I concur, having found in practice,
that the key to improving productivity and performance might be to occasionally do nothing at all.
In other words, succumb to boredom, which is what often happens when I drive to the beach, find a big log and sit for hours watching the waves, fog and rain roll in.
Doing that once a week is already paying off big time.
To this, then, one of my favorite curators of brilliance offers these nuggets on how one can become brilliant via boredom:
From her article:
When Jane Goodall set out to turn her childhood dream into reality, she spent three years squatting in the dirt to patiently perform repetitive work that required an enormous capacity for boredom — something at the root of the art of observation upon which all science rests. A capacity for boredom is equally central to the arts. Without boredom, there would be no daydreaming and no room for reflection. Without “positive constructive daydreaming,” there is no creativity; without reflection, we are no longer able to respond and instead merely react.
To be bored is to be unafraid of our interior lives — a form of moral courage central to being fully human.
You can see why I support Popova. She is a gem collector, and she offers up her findings to those of us in search of great wisdom. Sign up, pay up, and drink up. You'll be glad you did.
We are a nation terrified of our internal lives. That is precisely at the heart of what is hurting us. We cannot bear to be quiet, to look within. We cannot bear to be bored. The combination of workaholism and perpetual scrolling has made us robotic, idiotic and terrified shades of what we might become, far more focused on a false avatar or our lives than actually going out and living them unapologetically.
I have done plenty of time in that jail. The more I take these days off, the more I realize how critical this kind of time is for all of us.
Hump Days for me are far less about DOING than BEING. As I explore my new state, I also explore the state of boredom.
It's all about where we place our attention. To that, again, Popova:
From the piece:
Long before contemporary psychologists came to examine the self-referential base of consciousness, James writes:
Millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind — without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos. Interest alone gives accent and emphasis, light and shade, background and foreground intelligible perspective, in a word. It varies in every creature, but without it the consciousness of every creature would be a gray chaotic indiscriminateness, impossible for us even to conceive. (author bolded)
Perhaps most importantly, this quote serves why I do adventure travel, find places to sit for hours, stand in rapture staring at paintings at an isolated gallery on the Pacific Coast, and otherwise allow my mind to bathe in "otherness":
But the ultimate measure of genius, James notes in a sentiment that echoes Goethe, isn’t so much the mental style of how attention is paid as the disciplined discernment of what we attend to:
When we come down to the root of the matter, we see that [geniuses] differ from ordinary men less in the character of their attention than in the nature of the objects upon which it is successively bestowed. (author bolded)
"The glowing rectangles" to which we are so obsessively addicted, as Popova calls them, rob us of our precious attention, and therein our inherent ability to see, think for ourselves, and create. Above all, to create.
A man I am pleased to call my friend, Dr. Carl Safina, is the author of a great many stunning books on our world. One of the first books of his that I read a few years ago was The View From Lazy Point.
In it, he writes about a transcendent moment during which he is in remote Alaskan woods. He states "Wild things pay attention." They must, or die. I might make the same comment about us. We have stopped learning how to pay attention, and we are dying slow, terrible deaths all day long, attached like bumbling, robots to the umbilical cords connected to our bright and shiny devices.
Safina is also a scientist, a seeker and a magnificently poetic observer, gifted with the combination of a lively, creative, but also scientific mind. His books are the result of that immense curiosity and the patience to take his time to look beyond what he is seeing to the many layers which speak to him. The prize-winning work he has produced is not the result of an overly-busy, overworked, overheated brain, distracted all day every day by constant scrolling. His work is the result of a man who knows how to be quiet for hours on end.
In June of that Lazy Point year of wandering, Safina was in Alaska, fishing for salmon, as were the grizzlies. He described what he saw, which was so full of portents and awareness that it was transformational:
Ravens crock and dong in the dark surround of the forest, eagles whistle and chitter regal proclamations. The stream sings. An occasional salmon splashes. But the silence here is so big and enveloping and resonant, that it casts a tone into the air, the way a silent room can have a tone. This place has a sky tone, a world tone, the music of the spheres.
...I try to avoid trouble, too. But the wild raises a level of alertness that feels alive in me. It puts the bird back into my chest. (author bolded)
That last bolded line is when I fell fully in love with Safina's work. Because being in the wild, the real wild, not the fake Disney adventures and the fake CGI adventures in warm movie studios is precisely what puts the bird in mine.
However to have that feeling, it helps to be willing to be bored, to be quiet, to have the creatures of your own Dark Lagoon rise and face off with you in that deep quiet. Then, in allowing those things to happen, discover who we really are, and can truly become when we attend to nature, to silence, to something other than the dopamine hit of scrolling and likes.
There is much more to like in a day full of boredom.
Hump Days are for me a way to put the wild in some form back into every week, not just on the long adventure trips I take. The wild isn't that far away from me, nor is the ability simply to step outside into my gazebo and sit. And be. And watch. And listen.
And invite the bird in my chest to sing.