Finding Your Optimal Zone of Life-Squandering

I’ve been known to go on and on about living a “squander-free life”; it’s kind of what Four Thousand Mondays is built on, this notion of not wasting our precious 4,000 Mondays, of not getting to the end of it all and thinking, “I really half-assed that one life of mine.” (For the record: we want the full ass of life! Not the half ass!)

But the definition of squandering has been bumping up against confusion lately, so I’m here to set the record straight . . . so you can decide on your own optimal zone of squandering.

Squander-Free Life Badge

Oh how we love/ hate to do nothing

Living in a culture that glorifies productivity makes us queasy to press the pause button on our GO GO GO-ness. Studies confirm that “hedonic goals are usually understood as jeopardizing important long-term goals”—so a pleasurable break in the action is more often viewed as a guilty pleasure than a rightfully earned (not to mention restorative) part of a healthy and balanced life.

“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” as the Proverb goes.

Yet as uncomfortable as we are with being idle, we do tend to idolize it, don’t we?

In its native Dutch, niksen refers to the art of doing nothing. Italians extol the virtues of la dolce far nientethe sweetness of doing nothing. The French embrace the word flâner, which is to wander about, wasting time while strolling (presumably with a fresh-baked baguette in tote). Boketto is a Japanese word for gazing into the horizon with a reverent calmness. These are all charming, enticing notions that scare the bejesus out of us.

“Non-doing has nothing to do with being indolent or passive. Quite the contrary. It takes great courage and energy to cultivate non-doing, both in stillness and in activity,” says Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

Confusing self-care with squandering

What’s the difference between embracing the art of doing SFA and living like a laggard?

Spending time dilly-dallying a day away just might be what your soul ordered.
Mindless daydreaming might be the antidote to an overburdened cognitive load.
Vegging out on a beach vacation might be the perfect way to reset after a bananas period at work.

So here’s a (trick) question for you:
Sleeping in, having a leisurely breakfast, reading, lounging at the pool, getting a massage, enjoying a crisp salad and even crisper Sauv Blanc for lunch . . . Is that you looking after yourself, or wasting your Saturday away?

Only you know the answer to that.

If that Serene-spa-Saturday scenario is actually every day of the week for you, well, that might look a tad bit squanderish, but who am I to judge your lifestyle? (Even if I am sitting over here envy-judging your life of luxury, who cares anyways?)

It all comes down to how YOU feel about your squander time.

I feel the need to say that again: It all comes down to how YOU feel about your squander time.

Cast aside for a hot sec your likely deranged perspective of “down time”—as a productive member of society, I know you second-guess every day off, every moment you aren’t Type-A-ing the shit out of your day. You are wise enough, though, to know that you DO need down time (i.e.: vacations, weekends, evenings, the odd lunch that’s not wolfed down at your desk, pee breaks)—so I trust you can rationalize a long weekend away from work and not feel like a deeply flawed sloth.

Squandering is different from the art of doing nothing.

Squandering is la dolce far niente gone awry.

Squandering is when the permission-granted self-care time off tips over the scale into feelings and thoughts like:

  • “I am so bored.”
  • “I feel like my life is passing me by.”
  • “Inertia might be my middle name.”
  • “Netflix has every right to charge me double this month.”

Most of us have a squandering radar that differentiates between rest and ruin. The trick is to find the sweet spot between giving ourselves well-earned, refreshing breaks and feeling like we’ve wasted our evening/ weekend/ entirety of our lives.

The Spectrum of Squandering

Where might you find yourself on this spectrum when you take an R&R break?

The Spectrum of SquanderingWhen you start to veer off to the land of the dead, let that be a signal to get up and do something.

When you start to feel guilty for “slacking,” ask yourself if a jury of your peers would agree that you are in a healthy restful mode, or if you are criminally squanderous. If you’re veering towards criminality, maybe get up and do something.

When you wonder if you’re frittering your life away, ask yourself if you’d look back on this fritter-ish phase and feel justified or regretful. Let the answer to that question either validate your niksen or motivate you to get up and do something.

It’s possible to live squanderliciously—as a part of an alivealicious life—if we’re joyfully embracing down time within a wide and deep life.

I dare you to do nothing. Revel in the stillness for the sake of your well-being. And when it starts to feel squandery, get on up and live your full ass (i.e.: not half ass) life.

Jodi Wellman

P.S.: We should do Instagram together, right?

P.P.S.: Oh and just in case you missed it… I’d love you forever if you took 16 minutes out of your life to watch my TEDx talk!


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