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

Restless energy. The gnawing tension that builds up when you know you want to be somewhere else or do something else, but you’re not sure what it is. Living with ADHD, I have a pretty close relationship with this weird little anxiety. But it’s something we all run into from time to time.

You know the feeling. There’s no clear thing you need to be doing right now, but there isn’t exactly one thing you want to do either. Sure, you could do a thousand things, but none of them feels quite right. You can’t sit still, but you’re unsure where to go instead.

Dog lying down looking bored and restless

Restless energy is an uncomfortable feeling. But uncomfortable situations aren’t always bad ones. Once you learn to identify and address this feeling, you’ll be able to turn “blah” days into great ones and turn restlessness into opportunity!

What is Restless Energy?

You may know it as boredom, laziness, or blasé. Whatever you call it, restless energy is an uneasy feeling that comes out of a sense that there’s something you need to change about your situation, but you’re not sure what it is.

It’s like your body knows what it wants to be doing, but your mind can’t puzzle it out. The resulting tension is what we call restless energy.

Like all negative feelings and emotions, this restlessness is there for a reason. It has a job to do. And that job is to motivate you to make some change. Something that brings you back to emotional equilibrium.

All we need is to find the right kind of change to soothe that subconscious craving. Below are a few strategies to help you get to the source of your restless energy and shake things up.

4 Ways to Tackle Your Restless Energy

1. Break the Routine

Often, restless energy is a way of your subconscious crying out for stimulation. This scenario is why my ADHD brains out there tend to experience it so often – under-stimulation tends to go hand in hand with the condition.

One of the best cures for lack of stimulation is challenge. Another is novelty. Boredom almost always points back to a lack of one or both of these things. Sticking to the same environment, the same activities, and the same routine for too long gets easy, familiar, and ultimately uninteresting.

Eventually, your brain craves more.

Our brains want to learn. They want to solve new problems and encounter new things. If you’re feeling restless, the first thing to try is to make a change. And that change can be almost anything:

  • Move to a different setting
  • Switch activities
  • Start a conversation, or make plans with a friend
  • Try a new cuisine, or a new type of music or entertainment
  • Teach yourself a new skill or topic

There’s no silver bullet cure for your restless energy. But there is a cure out there. And you’re a lot more likely to find it if you’re willing to explore a bit.

2. Eat a Frog

If you haven’t heard the phrase “eat the frog,” it’s based on a Mark Twain quote more recently popularized by author Brian Tracy:

“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

A “frog” is another word for something you don’t want to do:

  • Chores you don’t like doing
  • Phone calls you don’t want to make
  • Projects that you’re nervous about starting.

When you do that unpleasant thing first, everything that comes after will be more accessible by comparison. And what better time to do something you don’t want to do than at a time when you don’t feel like doing anything anyway?

Eating a frog when you have restless energy does two great things. First, it gets something ugly off your plate. And second, once you start eating the frog, you tend to get a lot more clarity on all the things you’d rather be doing instead.

3. Close The Motivation Loop

Building on this idea of putting restless energy to productive purpose is the motivation loop. Here’s how it works.

When you work on something, you’ll become tired but hopefully satisfied with your work. If you overwork, you’ll become exhausted and possibly burn yourself out.

Either way, you’ll need to follow work with rest.

Rest is a productivity superpower and can quickly help you build your energy and motivation back up. But on the flipside, too much rest leaves you under-stimulated and overflowing with restless energy. And either way, you’ll need to follow the rest with something engaging.

Motivation loop graphic - how to avoid becoming restless

So if you’re feeling restless, there’s a good chance this loop has fallen out of balance. 

You have energy because your body wants to do something.

Keeping the motivation loop in balance helps us to stay happy and healthy. First, work until you’re tired. Then, rest until you recharge. And then jump back into something productive. That’s all there is to it.

4. Enjoy the Space Between Things

Sometimes when you’re feeling restless, it’s not the situation that needs to change; it’s your mindset. We don’t always need more work, more stimulation, more more more. Sometimes, we need a little bit of peace in life’s quieter moments.

There are several ways you can achieve this. One is through meditation or other types of mindfulness practice. This practice can help you center yourself in the present and detach yourself from that feeling of restless discomfort.

Another great way to balance yourself out and unwind that restless energy is through free thinking. Just 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 a few times a week and don’t even notice. If you’re not familiar with the term “shower thoughts,” it’s a phrase for the silly realizations, new insight, and big epiphanies that tend to happen while showering. Showers naturally create a moment for free-thinking, but it’s okay to make more for yourself.

Quiet moments are more than okay. Allowing a little negative space into your life can be a gateway to new ideas, fresh perspectives, and a deep sense of calm.

How are you dealing with your restless energy?

Next time restless energy rears its uncomfortable head, you’ll be ready with a few techniques you can put to the test.

Are you someone who deals with restless energy often? What has helped you to deal with it in the past? Let us know with a comment below!

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Hey, I’m Sam. I created Smarter and Harder to explore big ideas, both old and new, about building a better life. My mission is to evolve the conversation about personal growth and have fun doing it.

7 thoughts on “Restless Energy: What to Do When There’s Nothing to Do”

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

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

    • 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.

  3. 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 |


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