Don't wanna think!
December 27, 2010 6:28 PM   Subscribe

Activities that are so consuming they don't allow you to think?

My boyfriend has been feeling blah/anxious. He won't do any of the usual things that help this like exercise, therapy or meds but he has said that maybe the reason he is kinda down is because we have a habit of just lying around. So, what are some really consuming activities he can do, preferably with me? So consuming he can't think about all of the things that are bothering him. I think I'm going to set up my Ps2 for him to use. He's a big gamer but his PS3 isn't here. Also, right now we have limited to no internet connectivity so nothing really internet-centric (although this will hopefully change soon.)

posted by tweedle to Health & Fitness (56 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Rock climbing!!!
posted by TheBones at 6:30 PM on December 27, 2010 [7 favorites]

A combination of knitting /and/ listening to NPR (This American Life, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me) simultaneously has done that for me.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:30 PM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Reading together? Pick a play and split the parts?
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:31 PM on December 27, 2010

posted by sonic meat machine at 6:41 PM on December 27, 2010

Really hard exercise, like boot camp. Can you drag him there and do it together?
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:43 PM on December 27, 2010

posted by milarepa at 6:43 PM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Progamming. Making music. Writing.
posted by kindall at 6:44 PM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Go help someone else. A lot of volunteer activities take some application/training time, but not all of them. Food is a good place to start. There's probably a food bank where you live, and they can always use help sorting donations or helping hand out food. There's also probably at least one program that hands out free food to homeless people; helping them out with help you. I know this sounds like a cliche, but it's a 100% true. It's not "consuming" like video gaming, but it's surprisingly powerful, and it doesn't leave you feeling even more blah, a frequent result as you stand up after sitting in front of a computer for an extended period.
Is there a volunteer center near you? A mission? Start looking around and asking who needs help.

And to balance the intensity, how about inviting a few people over for games? The sillier the better: the point is laughing and playing together. Games like Mexican train, or Scattergories, or friendly poker, or charades. Ask people to bring one they love. If you can't think who to invite, invite your neighbors whom you've never met.

I suspect it's not so much something consuming he needs as something that calms his mind and wakes up his heart.

(I'd suggest exploring art activities, but as someone who, to her surprise, at an advanced age discovered she did NOT have an Inner Artist dying to get out -- well, that can be a dicey suggestion.)
posted by kestralwing at 6:45 PM on December 27, 2010 [7 favorites]

Shoveling snow. Develop perfectionist tendencies with it. Secret to happiness.
posted by gjc at 6:45 PM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

uh, sex?
posted by fixer at 6:45 PM on December 27, 2010 [7 favorites]

Really hard gardening - ie doing anything by hand that's usually done with a tool. Like edging a buffalo grass lawn, getting buffalo grass out of a plumbago hedge, pruning a large hedge (or tree) by hand, or applying a deep woodchip mulch over a large area.

I am writing this drenched in sweat, and barely able to think. This stuff really does work.
posted by Ahab at 6:50 PM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with gjc on shoveling snow. You could also think of some new ways to arrange your room or something like that. Or like kindall suggested, think of some interesting electronic beats and turn them into little songs.
posted by jwmollman at 6:59 PM on December 27, 2010

posted by crawfo at 6:59 PM on December 27, 2010


Anal Sex.
posted by nomadicink at 7:16 PM on December 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

Roller-blading. Skiing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:19 PM on December 27, 2010

ultimate frisbee
posted by dmbfan93 at 7:34 PM on December 27, 2010

Wii Fit? They may be on post X-mas sale. You can do the games in turns and most of the exercisey things are like games. So it's more about flailing around and looking like dorks, and a side effect of 25 minutes is that it'll take the edge off the anxiety.
Note: combine this with one of the other things, because it's usually not enough to rebalance the anxious brain chemicals.

That's what works for me anyway.
posted by SaharaRose at 7:41 PM on December 27, 2010

Martial arts or boxing. It's really, really hard to think about anything else when someone is trying to hit you.
posted by hawkeye at 7:44 PM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

I, too, am a chronically depressed layabout. And I find disc golf invigorating. It's cheap, only takes an hour or so to play a round (depending on the course), the other players tend to be an eclectic and convivial bunch, it's slightly more exercise than a brisk walk in the park, it gets you outside and perspiring, and, like all good games, it's easy to learn, easy to get better at, and extremely difficult to master.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:53 PM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Build or refinish something like a bookshelf? The combination of planning and doing takes up both your executive attention and your needs-constant-entertainment side. Plus, since you've never done it before, you'll also spend the time you're not working on it trying to figure out what tools you'll need or how big it should be.

Crafting and NPR is another good one. I was just doing a combination of photoshopping and NPR, and that kept my mind thoroughly occupied.

Also, I agree with the wii fit suggestion. Or get a bunch of DVDs and try to learn funny old-timey dances like the foxtrot or the charleston (there set to daft punk).
posted by salvia at 8:04 PM on December 27, 2010

Rock climbing is one of the few things I've found that quiets my mind. The intense focus drowns out absolutely everything else. While it's good for my body, I find if even better for my brain. It's fun if you like that sort of thing, and it is a great pair activity.
posted by Wolfie at 8:04 PM on December 27, 2010

"Activities that are so consuming they don't allow you to think?"

Riding fast motorcycles, at the limit.

Either you live, or you die. Thinking doesn't help, at all. At the limit, thinking is behind you.
posted by paulsc at 8:08 PM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Cooking two or more things at once.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 8:16 PM on December 27, 2010

Drinking to excess?

Kidding aside, if they feel "blah" and they won't do the things to not make themselves feel "blah", then the only thing they have to do is to force themselves to do those things. And no one else can do that for them.

One step, everything starts with one step. Don't freak out with that one step. That's all you've gotta know.

That's the secret to when I'm successful at something, anyways.
posted by alex_skazat at 8:27 PM on December 27, 2010

Get him to a chess club.
Get some basic chess books, if he is a novice.
He must play other people. Playing the computer is too tough and doesn't give the feeling of playing another human, in victory or defeat.
posted by noonknight at 8:34 PM on December 27, 2010

Sudoku. Saturday NYT crosswords. Angry Birds.
posted by norm at 8:38 PM on December 27, 2010

If the blah feelings are caused by too much sitting around, I'm not sure video games would really help. It sounds like he's not actually willing to go out and do anything, from what you're saying. With that in mind, cooking some involved, multi-course meals together can be enjoyable as well as getting you both off the couch and moving around while not requiring you to leave the house (aside from getting groceries), with the added bonus of resulting in delicious food which you can then eat together.

A lot of libraries have cookbook sections, so you wouldn't have to look up recipes online or buy a cookbook.
posted by wondermouse at 8:40 PM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Spin class. For me, this is more like an out-of-body experience, where my brain frantically tries to escape my body so it doesn't have to recognise that I can't leave the room because everyone will think I'm a big softie. A whole hour will pass and he won't remember a thing about it.
posted by jaynewould at 8:49 PM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Pottery! Bonus for tactile experience and immediate but lasting results.
posted by Iteki at 9:12 PM on December 27, 2010

running track. if you can think, you are not running hard enough.

10 x 400m, with 200 m recoveries.

once a week should do it - run easy, fartlek and distance on the other three times out running.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:19 PM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Weightlifting. With heavy weights that require focus and attention. I often walk to the gym, thinking about things... as I'm returning, I realize I had spent the last 1.5 hours NOT thinking and worrying.
posted by franc.o.bolos at 10:23 PM on December 27, 2010

Dancing, especially ballet. There's so much to focus on that you don't have time to think about anything else.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:28 PM on December 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

posted by carsonb at 10:45 PM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

(Duets: sheet music, taking turns, indie/pop)
posted by carsonb at 10:48 PM on December 27, 2010

Jigsaw puzzles can be quite absorbing, and kinda fun when shared. No, really. Assuming you have a large enough table you can sit at together where the puzzle will survive for a couple of days until it's done.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 10:59 PM on December 27, 2010

+1 on programming and making music (either writing it or just playing it on an instrument).

For a non-programmer to get an idea of the concentration level required for programming (especially something low-level like C or assembly), the best analogy I can come up with is that it's like counting money, especially where you have to count different denominations simultaneously and aren't allowed to write anything down. You're liable to lose your train of thought and make a mistake if someone interrupts you, so you learn very quickly to tune distractions out.
posted by tomwheeler at 11:14 PM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

BTW, I meant that programming "won't allow you to think about things other than the program" rather than "won't allow you to think at all." Obviously, programming requires one to think.
posted by tomwheeler at 11:16 PM on December 27, 2010

Rock climbing.


posted by FauxScot at 1:19 AM on December 28, 2010

Some kind of physical activity. A sport. I say that as a guy who was the classic sport-hating class weed at school. I still don't like watching sport and I have no interest in following sport... but when I took up squash in my early twenties I found it fun, all-engrossing, stimulating and challenging. It wasn't long before I was studying tactics, going to the gym just to get fit for squash and honestly, genuinely, no really, spending a lot of time thinking about and looking forward to my next game. The other great thing about regular exercise is that physiological stuff happens that actually makes you feel better, more energised and happier. Honestly, it does. Again: I say this as the classic games-dodging school wimp. The propaganda is true.

If he can find a sport that fires his interest even half as much as that, problem solved. The trick is to try things, though. Try different things even if he doesn't think he'll like them. Keep trying until he finds the one that grabs him.
posted by Decani at 1:52 AM on December 28, 2010

I find reading really engrossing; books that are less cerebral and more engrossing help me more than anything else. (Thrillers, fantasy/sci-fi, comic books-- this would be a great time to get into X-Men or read all of Y The Last Man or Scott Pilgrim.) Co-op video games might work well-- I love playing dumb JRPGs with friends and switching between making fun of the plots and strategizing the fights (Tales of the Abyss is a good one for PS2). If you have a Gamecube or a Wii you might find Mario Kart appealing; you really can't think for that one. I find the Western RPGs by Bioware really full-brain engrossing; a good PC can run Mass Effect or Dragon Age, an older one can handle KOTOR or Jade Empire.

I also do a lot of stuff to relax that involves doing two things at once to occupy my brain. I listened to almost the entire Savage Love archive while running around in Oblivion-- games with really bad plots but good gameplay to occupy your hands and eyes with the game music turned off/down and podcasts or audiobooks to occupy your brain. Games like Zelda, where you spend most of your time running around in temples rather than talking to people-- not using your verbal brain-- and games where you spend a lot of time grinding work well for this. Strategy games might work well too-- he'll know what he likes there, but League of Legends, Warcraft, Civilization, etc. I can also lose hours zoning out and listening to audiobooks while designing Sim houses; I'm pretty sure I listened to 2 Artemis Fowl books while making Sims and designing their dream houses without really ever playing. Old-school arcade games are also perfect for this, and Katamari Damacy imitates their addictiveness and engrossingness while adding a bunch of, well, weird shit.

This'd also be a great time for him to break out his old favorite games, especially if you haven't played 'em. Switching off being P1 can be fun if P2 doesn't get to antsy about not being there. Nostalgia for favorite games, books and movies can color them in a way that make them way more satisfying and fun, and sharing those with a loved one is great. (I've been playing through my favorite old RPG with my best friend and it's great-- between his company, good memories of the game and watching his reactions to the parts it's a really good experience.)

Art and craft stuff might be good for him too, if there's anything there he likes to do. Once you're in the "zone" with writing, drawing, sculpting, etc everything just melts away in a way that can be really satisfying.

Two-person physical activities: sex was already mentioned, but also dancing. That'll also get the oxytocin flowing in a way that'll help ease anxiety/depression. Breaking out of the routine of sex might help-- games, kink, etc.

Card games, board games and tabletop games are good. I recommend Fluxx as a card game. For this kind of thing, faster games are gonna be a lot better-- skip Monopoly :).

Hypothetical question games tend to be pretty involving and take you out of your world a lot. Who would direct the movie of your life, soundtrack of it, ultimate adventuring party, what fictional world would you like to live in, etc-- it's a way to have a conversation that's basically escapism.
posted by NoraReed at 2:08 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Learning to juggle (or improving his juggling if he already knows how.)

This helped a lot during my worst-ever, longest-lasting depression. It's very physical. And though it doesn't require a lot of thought, it also doesn't allow much time for thinking about other stuff.
posted by wjm at 3:07 AM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's not a reason for getting a dog - a dog is for life etc etc - but a dog will give you something to focus your energies on, and a reason to get out of the house and walk it each day, something for both of you to share and enjoy together.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:02 AM on December 28, 2010

I find that doing anything while listening to podcasts* helps me stick to that, making even mundane things like laundry or dishes doable. I pick something I like, and don't allow myself to sit down till I am done with the podcast.

I also like to sew, and while you may not have a machine, he probably has the skills to hem pants, and one or both of you probably needs to have your pants hemmed.

Is it winter where you live? It is winter where I live. Send him out with a shovel. You driveway. Your neighbor's driveway. The sidewalk (those kids need to get to the bus stop). Great exercise to boot.

*Podcast I love include TAL, Savage Lovecast, Radiolab, The Moth, Wiretap, and AV Talk. All are free and update regularly, and except for Moth and TAL, all have free archives, so ou really only need one afternoon with internet access (the library) to download a megaton of sound.
posted by jenlovesponies at 4:43 AM on December 28, 2010

Cycling in built up areas
posted by fire&wings at 5:02 AM on December 28, 2010

ping pong - really fast - no time for anything but your reflexes to kick in.
posted by blueyellow at 7:12 AM on December 28, 2010

This probably involves too much legwork, but I'm a waitress and this:

Activities that are so consuming they don't allow you to think

is exactly how I feel about my job. During really busy nights I go on autopilot and don't stop; before I know it, the shift is over. It has the additional mood-boosting bonuses of getting him out of the house and making money.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:20 AM on December 28, 2010

It's not so much thinking as it is dwelling, right?

I think it's all about getting immersed in the activity and feeling good about the activity at the end of the day. It's important to be proud of the accomplishment. Immediate feedback from the activity helps.

Abstract strategy games: Quirkle, Yinsh, Zertz, Dvonn, Gipf, Tamsk, Part of the challenge is learning the rules to a new game and then formulating a strategy.

Video games though, at least for me, are enjoyable in the moment, but after the end of the gaming session, I reflect on it as time wasted.
posted by indigo4963 at 7:52 AM on December 28, 2010

Contradancing. NPR story.
posted by jvilter at 10:17 AM on December 28, 2010

I'll second indigo4963. I got Pandemic for Christmas, and it is AWESOME! We played it for maybe four rounds last night, and it was an absolute blast. I really like it because it's cooperative--you're on a team to cure and eradicate four diseases around the globe--and engrossing. It looks easy but there's only about a 50% win rate. Even when we lose, though, I feel great at the end of the game, probably because we worked together.
posted by emkelley at 10:35 AM on December 28, 2010

Break a world record. A simple one that can be done in isolation but takes a lot of time. Like build the world's longest rubber band chain.

Epic reading quests - like really massive books: Infinite Jest, Ulysses, Proust, Musil, Pynchon, 2666.

Learn an instrument. And then practice your scales. A lot.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:01 PM on December 28, 2010

posted by Sarah Jane at 2:55 PM on December 28, 2010

Tetris. I have missed my bus/subway stop before when I get to the higher levels. Also, riding a bike in traffic instead of on a sidewalk or trail requires all your attention to avoid getting hit on one side or doored on the other.
posted by anotherkate at 8:58 PM on December 28, 2010

Surfing has always been that way for me.
posted by docpops at 9:23 PM on December 28, 2010

posted by sevenofspades at 9:46 PM on December 28, 2010

posted by ardent at 9:46 PM on December 28, 2010

It doesn't matter what he does, as long as he does something.
posted by softlord at 2:24 PM on January 4, 2011

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