*Note: This is a guest post by Ludvig Sunström. I’ll be back in a few days with a new post of my own. – Steve
Why is it that so many people spend their free time watching TV or movies, playing video games, or simply killing time – engaging in activities that build up to absolutely nothing?
I see the majority of my peers wasting away large chunks of their lives in completely unproductive activities.
Why do so many people do this?
I would argue that it has to do with…
The Leisure Mindset
Many people are stuck in the mindset of thinking of leisure in a certain way. Their cognitive schemas have been constructed to associate leisure with certain activities.
For example, many people unconsciously shy away from working, reading, writing, pursuing a project, or studying in their free time.
The reason for this is because the brain works mainly by associations as mentioned above. But the brain also works in terms of dichotomies by comparing things and thinking:
“Is this good or evil, cool or lame, work or leisure?”
So, as you can see, it’s very easy to let the brain trick you into thinking that things are one thing or another – when in truth neither may be correct.
I can see this mindset reflected in many people – probably because I was the same two years ago and had to struggle hard to get out of it.
Oftentimes people don’t consciously avoid doing productive things – it’s just that they’re acting out automatic behavior as a result of having done it for years. The negative habits have been firmly rooted.
The Misconception of Leisure that Leads to Unhappiness
Very little is needed to make a happy life.
– Marcus Aurelius
Here’s how I see it: people don’t use their time productively – and as a result it gradually makes them unhappy.
But they mistake the root cause of this unhappiness.
They think that they are bored or unhappy because they are not doing enough of the “fun stuff”, so they try to resolve the problem by engaging in even more unproductive activities related to instant gratification.
But this only furthers the root problem of their dissatisfaction.
It’s not that there isn’t enough “fun stuff” to do.
It’s not that they aren’t watching good enough TV-series.
It’s not that the clubs they go to are boring.
The problem is much more fundamental than that.
The problem is in how they spend their time shallowly pursuing so many things rather than to immerse in a select few and allow it to build up to something over time.
The problem is that they’re not spending their leisure on enough productive activities.
So, I ask again: why is it that most people don’t spend their leisure productively?
To answer this I need to get into the concept of immersion.
Thou sufferest justly: for thou choosest rather to become good to-morrow than to be good to-day.
– Marcus Aurelius
To immerse is to pour a lot of time and effort into one or a few activities and pursue goals within these areas with a dedication that borders on obsession.
This dedication cannot be faked – it has to be earned over time.
The problem is that people think:
“Well, I’d do it if it seemed like fun. But now I’m feeling neutral, so why should I do it?”
People who think this way misunderstand how the brain works.
They don’t understand that they are in need of a serious reboot of their habits – in this case their leisure-related habits.
When one’s habits get broken it’s very uncomfortable – and most people fail to recognize the source of this discomfort and unconsciously go back to what they were previously doing as result of wanting to maintain homeostasis and stay comfortable.
It requires a ton of energy and effort to change habits, let alone the numerous habits related to how a person spends his or her leisure.
In other words, most people fail to go through the initial discomfort that comes from spending more energy than they’re used to. As a result they don’t go through the period of immersion needed to receive this obsessive dedication that serves as a long-term motivator.
How Logical is the Brain?
The brain is constantly trying to find a cause and effect for the things that happen to us. It’s scrambling to come up with a rational explanation for why this thing happened now.
As a result we often see meaning where there is none due to attribution.
But in truth most things happen for very different reasons than what we think they do.
The brain isn’t very logical at all, but it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that it is – because it definitely appears that way to us.
When it comes to behavior, the brain works by means of post-rationalization, meaning that something happens and then we strive to make things logically understandable. We try to fit it what just happened into our frame of reality.
The more time, effort, and dedication you invest into the pursuit of an activity or a goal the more your brain will rationalize it as being important to you.
This is a very important principle to understand because it shatters the reality that most people are living in.
It means that you can get yourself to like or become interested in just about anything IF you are willing to immerse yourself in it.
But to do that you must pour in the initial invest of time and effort until it starts becoming interesting, and that is usually uncomfortable at first.
Now that you know this, the question becomes:
Will you do it?
Will you immerse into a cool activity and begin spending your leisure more productively?
Ludvig Sunström runs Start Gaining Momentum where he writes about no-nonsense practical tips related to self-development . He is also the author Breaking out of Homeostasis, a book about reclaiming control of your life by challenging your brain. Feel free to connect with him on Twitter and Google+.
photo credit: Dennis Bjørn Hansen