Are your pastimes feeding your soul…or just passing the time?

If you feel drained, down, numb or uncomfortable after spending time on an activity, it really doesn't count as "play" time.

I loved Rachael‘s comment in response to yesterday’s post on being selfish without feeling guilt. She wrote:

“When I am doing work that is a true expression of myself, such as working on a poem or teaching my writing class, I do not feel guilty about it. But when I am doing something that takes me (or my attention) away from my son and that is also inauthentic in some way (e.g., spacing out at the computer — which is why I’m learning to turn the computer off when I’m not using it), then I do feel guilty. So in some sense, my guilt is something to listen to. But not because it’s telling me that I’m selfish, but because it’s telling me that my priorities are awry in some way.”

Rachael makes such a good point! While lots of us do experience misplaced guilt when we take care of ourselves, that uncomfortable “I shouldn’t be doing this” feeling can also be an important barometer to let us know that the way we’re spending our time isn’t really lining up with our priorities or values.

I love that Rachael used the phrase “spacing out,” because I know that when I feel guilty for being on the computer, it’s usually because I am not really present. I’m mindlessly clicking, clicking, clicking, trying to distract my brain. Or sometimes, just waiting for something more interesting to happen…instead of making something more interesting happen. (Which might, you know, require getting up and walking away from the computer.)

Here’s an example: I used to have a daily habit of visiting celebrity gossip blogs. The particular blog I visited was particularly snarky, and admittedly, once in a while it was very funny. But most of the time, it was just mean-spirited. Plus, I don’t care at all about what celebrities wear, where they shop, or how they spend their time. In fact, more than half the time, I didn’t even know who the celebrities were. You might ask: “Then what were you doing frequenting a celebrity gossip blog?” Good question. Visiting this blog had become sheer, mindless habit; something to keep my fingers clicking when I had nothing better to do online but didn’t feel like, say, playing a game of Candyland or cleaning the toilet.

I’m not suggesting that there’s something wrong with you if you really do like keeping up with celebs, or that all our free time has to be filled with nothing but reading the classics or studying fine art. We all have our “guilty” pleasures and I believe brain candy is good for us-as long as we choose the right candy for us, and don’t over-indulge. For example, after a long, busy day, I love nothing more than to settle down in front of a half-hour of HGTV and ooh and ahh over French doors and crown molding. I feel peaceful, relaxed, and creative when I’m done. On the other hand, I began to notice an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach every time I visited the gossip blog. I ignored it for a while, because man, I really didn’t want to clean those toilets. But finally I tuned in to what my gut was trying to tell me, and no surprise: it was saying, “Hey! This has no value for you. It’s making you a smaller, pettier person. You have better things to do with your time. Close it.”

In other words, I wasn’t feeling guilty because I was reading the gossip blog instead of playing with my kids. I felt guilty because going there at all just wasn’t a valuable use of my time.

So I removed the bookmark and told myself that every time I got the urge to visit that site, I would walk away from the computer for a bit and do something else. If I was in the mood to play, I’d find something more fun, creative, or entertaining to do. If I was in the mood to work, I’d clean up the kitchen or think about a blog post I wanted to write, away from the distraction of the mouse. It took a week or so to break the habit because it had become so ingrained, but it wasn’t painful at all–in fact, I didn’t even miss it. Not surprising–the blog hadn’t been doing anything for me at all.

When you’re feeling uncomfortable because you’re doing something that seems like it’s for you, I think it’s a good idea to dig a little deeper and identify exactly what you’re feeling. Is that grumbling feeling of discomfort simply due to feeling like you “should” be doing something else…yannow, something more motherly? Or is it because what you’re doing isn’t serving either you or your family?

Let’s face it: even your free time should do one or the other. What’s the point of having a hobby or pastime if it doesn’t entertain, inspire, educate or uplift you in some way? Even a pastime should do more than literally pass the time, right? If it doesn’t, you aren’t really doing anything “for yourself” at all. Do you feel numb, bored, or anxious when you’re reading that blog, watching that TV show, or attending your monthly girl’s night out? If so, you may want to question whether it’s worth sacrificing something more valuable for. Or do you come away from the activity with a greater sense of relaxation, peace, excitement, or creativity? If so, there’s no need to feel guilt.

These days it’s so easy to zone out. We have endless gadgets and websites and resources to choose from–and of course, there’s nothing wrong with some well-timed fluff. But there is only so much time available to us, and we owe it to ourselves to spend it well. And that starts with listening to what our gut–and yes, sometimes our guilt–is trying to tell us.

Have you ever realized that one of your pastimes wasn’t adding any value to your life–or had become a habit more than a hobby? What did you do?

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