How to have healthy unstructured time?
September 2, 2017 7:22 AM   Subscribe

I feel I need some time each week that isn't burdened by need to schedule or discipline myself in any way. I struggle with avoiding temptations and destructive distractions during time I set aside for this.

I'm not thinking of a quick need for a distraction, where I've become pretty good at doing something constructive like laundry and changing pet water as a quick break from onerous work. I'm really looking for a sense of freedom. So even planning a nap can feel constraining as I have to schedule my meal and exercise times around it.
If I'm feeling centered and happy, it's easy--I can enjoy playing with pets, or sit and slowly read a book, etc. But if not, then my brain might interpret "no need for discipline" as eating something unhealthy or just going for other superficial pleasures. Curious if others have suggestions for resolving what feels like a paradox between giving oneself unstructured time while feeling like it was constructive or productively restorative in a general sense.
posted by Jon44 to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Can you label your un-structered time "Play" or "Creative Growth" or "Recess" or something like that? This is with the understanding that Creative Growth does not mean researching a taxing training program and following that program, but when that period comes up in your schedule it triggers you to think, okay, what would make me feel or become more creative?

Another thing you can do is make up a list of activities which you do not do during your unstructured time: obsessively stalk your ex, leap up and tackle a structured project, take two Sara-Lee frozen cheese cakes out of the freezer and eat them without defrosting them, etc. and a list of activities that might work or have previously worked: play with dogs, take a random walk, hunt for new webcomics to follow, doodle, put on music and call a friend who likes to chat at length about nothing, etc.

By thinking of some unstructured free time activities and prepping for them - buy some felt pens, get some library books, you have a list of possible activities to choose from but don't have to stick to any one activity because those are just things you have made possible, but not committed to. You don't have to use your felt pens. But if you are trying to think of something to do they will be there.

It sounds like anxiety is making you feel you are wasting your unstructured time, so that even if you don't do something actively bad for you, you will describe it as superficial pleasures. Superficial pleasures are not inherently bad for you. In fact, superficial pleasures are inherently good for you. Just what is it you are afraid you will do with your unstructured time, and why don't you trust yourself to relax and not do anything productive? I think you want to examine that question. Because you sound like you either get anxious if you are not being productive, or that you are in recovery from some harmful habit. In that perhaps you might call your unstructured time activity "Anxiety reducing activities time."

The question to ask yourself at the beginning of your unstructured activity time is: "What can I do that will make me feel more relaxed and more happy?" at the end of this time.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:09 AM on September 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

Music. Listening to music is generally good for you, soothing to your brain, and gives your brain something to attend to, which helps reduce unwanted distraction. Cue up classical music, Jazz, or other music. Or listen to Ted talks or lectures of interest.
posted by theora55 at 12:26 PM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: "superficial pleasures are inherently good for you"
I appreciate your overall comment but have to disagree with this. Mechanically sitting in front of a TV show you don't like eating a bag of chips that you're not particularly hungry for is simply not a good restorative activity for anyone. (That doesn't happen to be one of my vices, but I think it's something we can all relate to.)
posted by Jon44 at 1:06 PM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can you give yourself unstructured time in a place/at a time that is less conducive to your vices? Like "I can do whatever I want so long as I'm outside of my home," or, "once I unplug the playstation I can do whatever I want"?
posted by mskyle at 1:45 PM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

A yoga teacher once talked to us about discriminating between things that will make us feel good in the immediate moment versus things that will make us feel good in the long-term, which I've since found a helpful distinction. Either one can be decided in the moment, though -- I can spontaneously decide to go hiking just as easily as I can spontaneously decide to eat ice cream (and I can certainly plan to eat ice cream just as easily as I can plan to go hiking!). Would it help you to frame it that way, as immediate satisfaction vs. long-term satisfaction rather than planned vs. unplanned or structured vs. unstructured?
posted by lazuli at 3:02 PM on September 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

When I said superficial pleasures are good for you, I was thinking of other things than vegging mechanically while eating junk food. I don't consider zombie-ing out in front of the TV a superficial pleasure. It's what you do when you are too tired and too brain dead to do anything that is actually a pleasure. By superficial pleasures I was thinking of other types of activities - grooming, nesting, socializing, playing - as opposed to activities that have a goal or are competitive.

Rule of thumb for a pleasure. You should feel in a good mood when you are done and if you started in a bad mood you should be in a better one at the end. If not, it wasn't a pleasure at all.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:09 PM on September 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

One question I like to ask myself when a chunk of usable time opens up for me is "What can I do with this time that would mean I would go to bed feeling really happy and satisfied?"

Sometimes the answer to that question is a chore or task that has been hanging around, but often the answer to the question is some kind of pleasure that I have been wishing I had more time for. If I have been thinking, "I never get a chance to write..." then I will likely think of writing as one of the answers to my question.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:17 PM on September 2, 2017 [11 favorites]

« Older My new loveseat is trying to kill me.   |   Local animal rescue group trying to figure out... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.