Restless Energy: What to Do When There’s Nothing to Do

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Whether it’s a staycation, an unexpectedly free Saturday, or an unprecedented worldwide quarantine, sometimes life gives us a moment where there isn’t all that much to do. As busy as life is most of the time, as much as we sometimes yearn for a break, these moments tend to catch us by surprise. Surprise free time can quickly lead to an abundance of restless energy.

You may know it as boredom, laziness, or blasé. But whatever you call it, restless energy is an uneasy feeling that comes out of a sense there is something else you’re meant to be doing right now — something better that you could be doing with this time. 

Dog lying down looking bored and restless

When you figure out where that feeling is coming from, and decide what to do about it, you can find some great opportunities for growth, and develop a new sense of inner peace. By opening yourself up to these moments and knowing what to do with them, you can turn boredom into joy and restlessness into excitement.

Here are a few of the most effective strategies you can try to get to the root of the uneasiness and get your day running smoothly again.

Mix Things Up

Restlessness is an uncomfortable feeling. Like every other uncomfortable feeling, it is a way for your body to signal to you that something isn’t quite right. Your nervous system is recommending that you make a change.

Basically, your body is asking a question that you don’t have the answer to yet. It’s a question that goes something like, “what should I be doing right now? Where am I supposed to be?”

And how do you approach a question you don’t have the answer to? Well in this case, by thinking like a scientist! You may be able to navigate boredom using simplified version of the scientific method we all learned in primary school:

Research question – What do I want to be doing right now?

Hypothesis – If I find the right activity, then I’ll be engaged and won’t feel restless

Experiment – Change what I’m doing, try different kinds of things

Result – What worked? What felt better and what didn’t?

The experiment step is the real focus here.  Mix things up. Move around, both literally and figuratively. Stir up your routine a bit, change where you are and what you’re doing until you find something that feels right.

If you’re feeling bored, the only thing that certainly won’t fix it is to keep doing what you’re already doing. If you wait for the feeling to go away, it will not. So try something else and see if that’s the right fit. 

Sometimes there isn’t a right fit at all, and that’s okay too. We’ll tackle those with these next two strategies.

Eat a Frog

If you’re not familiar with the phrase “eat the frog,” it’s based on a Mark Twain quote popularized by Brian Tracy in his book by the same name:

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

— Mark Twain

The idea is that if you do the least pleasant thing on your list first, you’ll be free from worrying about that thing for the rest of the day. On top of that, everything that comes after it will seem more enjoyable by comparison.

What better time to do something you don’t want to do than at a time when you don’t feel like doing anything?

Eating a frog is a great way to satisfy restless energy. Remember, boredom and laziness are ways of your body asking you a question. And sometimes the answer to that question is to close the motivation loop.

Mastering the Motivation Loop

When you work on something, over time you’ll become tired, but hopefully satisfied. If you overwork, you’ll become exhausted and overwhelmed. Either way, you’ll need to follow work with rest. This is why great self care is such a critical need.

When you get adequate rest, over time you’ll build back up your energy and motivation. Of course, resting too much is one way to end up with an overflow of restless energy. And either way, you’ll need to follow rest with work.

Restless energy motivation loop

Work creates the need for restful leisure, and rest creates the need for productive work. It’s a delicate cycle, one that can stir up unhappiness when it falls out of balance. 

In a lot of cases, restless energy is just motivation with no clear direction. Eating a frog could be just the direction you need.

If an excess of leisure time has left you feeling restless, try doing something hard — that thing you keep putting off when you know it needs to get done. It’s the best way to refresh your motivation loop and get your day moving again. Plus, even better, now you can get back to enjoying the rest of your day with a newfound air of self respect!

Enjoy the Space Between Things

As normal as it feels to be buried under a mountain of competing priorities, it’s easy to forget that not every inch of space in our lives actually needs to be filled. A moment with nothing in it isn’t always a problem that needs to be fixed; sometimes it’s a precious gift all on its own.

Just like bricks need mortar between them to form the strongest walls, you need space between the pieces of your life to form the strongest you.

Just as sleep rests your body and leisure rests your mind, quiet moments provide rest for the soul.

Woman standing still near a window with her eyes closed, feeling calm.

When you find yourself in a moment that seems empty, it’s normal to feel a little restless about it. But you can choose how to handle that restless energy. And instead of running from it, or trying to “fix it,” sometimes the answer is to lean into it.

When you let a moment simply exist, without trying to fill it, you may be surprised by what you find there. 

A Restful Moment out of Restless Energy

So, what does it look like to slow down and enjoy the free space of a moment? There are different ways to go about it, so you probably want to play around a little to see what works best for you.

One approach is mindfulness – the practice bringing all of your full awareness into the present moment, and letting go of the thoughts and feelings that take you away from now. If you’d like to explore mindfulness further, this article is a great starting point.

Another method you can try steers away somewhat from traditional mindfulness: free-thinking. Let your mind wander, and see where it takes you. Put the rest of the world on the shelf, be where you are, and think. It can help you establish a sense of calm, discover new ideas, and gain new perspectives. 

Most people do this regularly already and don’t even notice. If you’re not familiar with the term “shower thoughts,” it’s a phrase for the silly realizations, new perspectives, and big epiphanies that tend to happen while we’re showering.

We associate these thoughts with showering because for many, taking a shower is the sole moment in the day with no work, no conversations, no distractions, no TV, books, or phones. Free-thinking is inevitable in that environment.

The good news is, you can create that environment for yourself anytime. And a restless moment, where you’re not sure what to do next, is a great time to try it.

If you learn to enjoy the company within your own head, and find peace in the mortar between the bricks of life, you will never be bored again.

restless energy title pin

Have you tried any of these techniques? What helps you work past restless energy?

7 Comments

  1. Ann M Lynch said:

    Using my restless energy to expand my horizons here. Now to put more those shower thoughts to work before the quarantine ends …

    April 19, 2020
    Reply
    • Sam said:

      It’s a great time to take advantage new ideas and fresh inspiration!

      April 20, 2020
      Reply
  2. Mark Crone said:

    Fabulous post. Thanks for making me think more about restless energy and in particular what to do when there’s nothing to do. Cheers,

    May 7, 2020
    Reply
    • Sam said:

      Thanks for the feedback, Mark, I’m glad you found the post helpful!

      May 8, 2020
      Reply
  3. Emiliana Quintero said:

    Thanks for your post, really related to everything! Are there any specific books you would recommend about restless energy?

    December 14, 2020
    Reply
    • Sam said:

      Glad you liked it, Emiliana! Great question. I can’t name any right now that take on restless energy directly, but a lot of the inspiration for this post came from stuff written on procrastination. So in that light, Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy (mentioned above) could be a great place to start.

      December 15, 2020
      Reply
  4. Lynn Mejia said:

    Great post! I often have restless energy and have troubles sleeping because of it. I am training myself to wind down and not think about anything earlier before bed. I’m the type of person who always has a long to do list so its been a struggle but I’m getting there! Thank you for sharing x

    Lynn | http://www.lynnmumbingmejia.com

    March 25, 2021
    Reply

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