In a 2014 study, participants were given a choice between sitting in silence with their own thoughts for 15 minutes or giving themselves electric shocks. Most chose to shock themselves.
At some point today you will disengage from the rest of the world and just think. It could happen any number of ways: if your mind wanders from work, while you’re sitting in traffic, or if you just take a quiet moment to reflect. But as frequently as we drift into our own thoughts, a new study suggests that many of us don’t like it. In fact, some people even prefer an electric shock to being left alone with their minds.
In 2014, researchers at the University of Virginia recruited hundreds of undergraduate student volunteers and community members to take part in “thinking periods.” Individuals were placed in sparsely furnished rooms and asked to put away their belongings, such as cellphones and pens. They then were given one of two tests that lasted between 6 and 15 minutes. While some were told to think about whatever they wanted, others chose from several prompts, such as going out to eat or playing a sport, and planned out how they would think about it during the period.
Afterwards, the team asked the volunteers to rate their experience on a nine-point scale, where the higher the number, the more enjoyable their time was. In both the free-thinking and planned-prompt scenarios, about 50% of people did not like the experience, reporting an enjoyment level at or below the midpoint of the scale.
The researchers then decided to take the experiment a step further. For 15 minutes, the team left participants alone in a lab room in which they could push a button and shock themselves if they wanted to. The results were startling: Even though all participants had previously stated that they would pay money to avoid being shocked with electricity, 67% of men and 25% of women chose to inflict it on themselves rather than just sit there quietly and think.
And it’s interesting, because in my experience of coaching clients, a subjective but consistent measure if someone’s resilience is how long that they can sit with absolutely nothing to do. There’s something about being comfortable with a lack of adrenaline-stimulating action or problems that indicates just how much capacity someone has for dealing with what life throws at them.
And this is one of the big problems with the likes of meditation or mindlfulness as a cure for burnout etc., and is why most burnout clients tell me that they tried meditation and it just didn’t work for them… they are physically and biologically unable to cope with the lack of stimulus because their adrenal system is shot from overstimulation. When you are constantly in fight or flight mode, it’s impossible to sit comfortably in the absence of stimulation, because your threat detection system can’t handle it.
So what do we do about that? Well the first step is to understand how big of a problem you have. Go sit in a room, leave your phone behind and see how long you can do nothing for. No meditation, no reading. Nothing. If 15 minutes is a real stress for you then it’s time to take restorative action. There’s lots of materials on my youtube channel to help you, and I have numerous articles on the subject. And if you have a really bad case of downtime madness, then give me call and we’ll get you sorted.
#resilience #anxiety #burnout #stress