10 Tips for What to Do When You Have Nothing to Do

New research shows a creative component to solitude, perhaps a gift to yourself.

Posted Dec 02, 2017

Boredom by Gaston de La Touche, 1893, Wikimedia Commons
Source: Boredom by Gaston de La Touche, 1893, Wikimedia Commons

Do you ever just feel bored? I had a conversation with a colleague last week wondering aloud what my day would look like if I had nothing to do. It was an ironic question because I am an advocate for solitude despite a too-busy schedule. However, there is a difference between appreciating alone time and being socially withdrawn. New research reported in Personality and Individual Differences, December 1, 2017, by University of Buffalo psychologist Julie C. Bowker, determined that even in those who appear to be socially withdrawn, there might be a creative component.

For the study, there were 295 participants self-reporting as to reasons for social withdrawal. The study "assessed creativity, anxiety sensitivity, depressive symptoms, aggression, and the behavioral approach system (BAS), which regulates approach behaviors and desires, and the behavioral inhibition system (BIS), which regulates avoidant behaviors and desires," as noted in the UB News.

Personality and Individual Differences reported that "structural equation modeling revealed findings that challenge theoretical models regarding withdrawal sub-types":

The models also revealed new evidence of specific and non-specific associations, including the first evidence of a potential benefit (creativity) associated with unsociability.

In thinking of creativity and social withdrawal, consider the work of Henry David Thoreau and Thomas Merton. Thoreau retreated to a wilderness and pond area in Concord, Massachusetts, as a young school teacher in 1845. He decided to live simply, study, keep a journal, and write about his retreat in his book, Walden.

Merton was torn between his desire for contemplative living and the demands made upon him because of his writing. As such, he chose to withdraw. Merton addresses this in a book edited by Mary Tardiff, OP, At Home in the World: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Rosemary Radford Ruether. He took the side of the wilderness, while she argued against taking off to the hills and instead living in the city.

10 thoughts on what to do

While you may not be a person who relishes social withdrawal, when bored, you might feel unnerved. So often a person with nothing to do might find themselves thinking—I have no friends. I have nothing to do today. What’s wrong with me? And then there are Millennials, who always need to be busy or online. For them, nothing to do can be a bit disconcerting.

Why not consider the opportunity of having nothing to do as a gift to yourself? This is a time to embrace your creative side and think positively. Here are some thoughts to consider:

1. Make a wish list that gives you purpose. Fill it with wishes for right now, for yourself and people you love.

2. Enliven your imagination by reading a children's book. The Polar Express will restore your belief in holiday magic.

3. Forgive someone to refresh your soul. Spend some serious time thinking about a situation that created strife in your past, including your own role in what took place. Then wish blessings for the other person.

4. Embrace nature.  Look out your window to find little miracles in a chirping bird, the beauty of a tree, or clouds making shapes ranging from dragons to angels as they float by.

5. Write a letter — a serious, handwritten letter, even if it takes a full week to complete—to your spouse, lover, friend, parent, or child.

6. Revitalize your brain power. Loretta Graziano Breuning, the author of Meet Your Happy Chemicals, says that by embracing a goal, we trigger dopamine. Serotonin is triggered by confidence—feel good about yourself, and then see how good you feel when others respect you. For that endorphin “runner's high," take time to laugh and stretch beyond your limits. 

7. Start a gratitude journal, so that you can make notes each day of little blessings in your life.

8. Begin a memoir. It does not need to be an entire book, but rather start by capturing a moment in time to treasure a memory (see Memoir Writing Bridges Past and Present).

9. Read a fiction book. Researchers have found that fiction improves vocabulary, language skills, and emotional intelligence.

10. Practice meditation or mindfulness.

Here is another thought: Plan alone time as part of your day. Schedule it (see Create a Solitude Space and Find Your Gratitude Voice). Some people are afraid of solitude because it comes too close to feeling lonely. Instead of being fearful of solitude or boredom, cherish it (see Overcoming the Fear of Solitude: 10 Thoughts).

Copyright 2017 Rita Watson


Bowker, J.C., Stotsky, M.T., Etkin, R.G. (2017) "How BIS/BAS and psycho-behavioral variables distinguish between social withdrawal subtypes during emerging adulthood."  Personality and Individual Differences, Elsevier.