Benefits of puttering and unfocused time

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Do you regularly allow unfocused time to be free, putter or play in your life? Time where nothing you do needs to be productive or of “value” to a greater cause or for others? We used to spend more time daydreaming, walking and pottering around, but now thanks to a multimedia device in our back pocket, we can be entertained (or distracted) at any given moment. While the dopamine hit to the brain from the digital stimulation may feel good—as much research now shows—excessive use is unhealthy.

From this Seattle Times article titled How smartphone addiction is affecting our physical and mental health:

Why, you may ask, is it so important to limit our digital lives? “Without open spaces and downtime, the nervous system never shuts down — it’s in constant fight-or-flight mode,” [Nancy] Colier said in an interview. “We’re wired and tired all the time. Even computers reboot, but we’re not doing it.”

Courtney Carver from Be More With Less asks us “Remember recess? We need unscheduled blocks of time to be free. I don’t say no because I’m so busy. I want free time. We all deserve time to be curious, bored, and idle. We deserve time to putter or to do nothing at all.”

A healthier option is to find an undemanding hobby that’s easy to pick up and put down, instead of relying on a digital device for entertainment. Making art is a simple, cheap and accessible hobby (if you can give yourself permission to spend time making something for fun). There are countless benefits to making art, having hobbies and spending time not working.

Srini Pillay in Tinker Dabble Doodle Try talks about how being in an unfocused state (not-working) is beneficial and can ironically help us get work done more efficiently. “In other unfocused states, you may be doing something less demanding, like knitting or gardening… You’re cruising along on autopilot, getting stuff done. When you do, your brain gets a much-deserved rest, but it also brings the puzzle pieces of memory together to increase the accuracy of future predictions. Lying in a hammock, showering, knitting and gardening are all things you can do to unfocus and relax.”

Giving your brain a rest is essential and spending time on a device doesn’t allow space to connect to the peaceful and restorative inner world. Like meditation, puttering and unfocused hobbies allow you to be more mindful in the present moment, give you a breather from the chatter of life so you can come back to it refreshed and re-centred. This practice is worthy of your time and attention.



Why new habits are hard and how alarms can help

The Sparkle Experiment small creative play equals connection

Why is it so hard to stick with a new habit? When you decide to start a regular art-making practice, you’ll unknowingly have to battle your brain to keep going for more than a few attempts. You’d think the brain would be on your side and help you on your quest to become more creative. But unfortunately it’s wired to be against change so you’ll have to be prepared to face inner resistance. Srini Pillay in Tinker Dabble Doodle Try explains “Your brain likes to maintain the status quo. It’s most comfortable cruising along, in habitually, familiar behaviour. Trying to make a meaningful habit or attitudinal change causes a kind of stress in the mind, or cognitive dissonance which is visible in brain scan. Your brain is trying to reconcile two things here. You want to change but you can’t change without psychological discomfort.”

How can you overcome this mind-battle? Make art regardless! Decide and then take action. But how can you commit to regularly practicing? Pallay says it’s not likely you’ll automatically carve out time for something new and suggests using an alarm as a reminder: “An alarm can act like your coach, reminding you to do what you really should do. Start small and set an alarm for one period of unfocused activity. Prepare to obey it when you hear it, no matter what.”

Setting an alarm overrides deliberating over whether or not to make art and gets you focused for action. You don’t need to make art for long. Start with 2 minutes and aim to build up the time spent as your habit-building muscle grows stronger.