As a student, I often feel the need to constantly be doing — to make the most of my time by always being productive, whether it’s working on assignments or developing friendships. I feel guilty for sitting and doing nothing, but I have come to realize that doing nothing is not really doing nothing. By purposely allowing myself time to let my mind wander, I am actually taking a more intentional approach to my life.
In my quest to live more intentionally, I’ve found Epictetus’ Handbook helpful. The stoic philosopher talks about how what we think becomes our reality — the world is not how I see it; it is how I think it. In other words, we must think well to live well. But how do we think well?
Epictetus says it starts with capability. He encourages us to look inward and ask ourselves what we are capable of in any given situation. Once we have done this, we can start to develop our mindsets and our intentions for any situation, big or small.
In my approach to “thinking well” and changing my capabilities in the ways Epictetus suggests, I’ve added three things to my day to cultivate an interior life: reflection, wonder, and creativity. I set aside a few moments of each day to stop doing and just think in these ways, and have found that they help me get my mind right, so to speak. And when my mind is right, my heart is in a better place, too.
Choose one time of your day to reflect
I am prone to overthinking, so I constantly find myself reflecting on the past. During this reflection time, I try not to let my overthinking of the past overpower my present and my future. I can’t change anything about the past, so it helps to anchor myself in the present and to direct my thoughts toward the future.
Reflection looks different for everyone. You may choose to reflect while you drink your coffee or during your commute to work. For some, it may involve journaling or doodling to get your thoughts in order. For others, it may involve sharing thoughts with God through prayer, even if they’re rambling and seemingly mundane. I use my shower as my reflective time. The idea of washing away anything negative in my head is very comforting.
If you’re not sure where to start, consider a simple approach: attend to your breathing and become aware of where you are in the moment; identify the emotions you are feeling right now; consider the desires you have in your mind and heart for the day ahead. The point of reflection is simply growing in self-awareness, which will give you clarity about what you are experiencing and what you want.
Choose one time of your day to wonder
I don’t know about you, but when I find myself in line or waiting for something, I constantly pick up my phone to busy myself. Not doing anything makes me uncomfortable because there is so much pressure to always be doing or to always be entertained.
In her 2017 book Bored and Brilliant, Manoush Zomorodi shares that boredom can actually improve the capabilities of our minds. “Boredom has been hijacked and equated with mediocrity,” writes Zomorodi. “When you’re bored, you are, in reality, opening the gateway to feeding, nurturing, and cultivating your thoughts.”
Allowing our minds to wonder can actually help us lead more productive lives. Try to take five to 15 minutes each day to use your imagination. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be productive. Instead, daydream, look out the window, or even lie on the ground and stare at the sky. Instead of reaching for your phone the next time you’re waiting in line for coffee, try opening up your senses to where you are. Plant yourself in the moment by taking in the smell of coffee beans, the sound of the espresso machine, the sight of people smiling and chatting.
Choose one time of your day to create
Someone once told me she must always have a “passion project” on the side of school or work to help maintain her creativity. While I have not chosen one, single passion to pursue as a project, I find that dedicating time each day to be creative improves all aspects of my life.
If your work is creative by nature, try setting time aside to create in a new and unfamiliar medium. Writing is my primary creative outlet, but some days I really do not feel like writing. I often find that organizing my desk or bookshelf in different ways instills the same emotions that writing does for me. Being creative helps me feel fulfilled, productive, and positive about the rest of my day or week.
By intentionally spending time to reflect, to wonder, and to create each day, we can lead richer lives. Fostering the habit of thinking in these ways grows our capacity for gratitude and joy — it expands our hearts.