I’ve spent years studying the impact of today’s distracted culture, but I wasn’t quite ready for the results of a new study by Science Magazine. Last month the magazine revealed just how difficult and unpleasant people think it is to sit alone with nothing to do but think. The magazine states: “In the study, participants were asked to rate the pleasantness of a number of stimuli, including an electric shock, and asked how much they’d pay (up to $5) to experience (or not) each stimulus. They were then asked to sit alone with their thoughts, but told that they could shock themselves if they wanted. Among those who thought the shocks were particularly unpleasant and would pay to avoid them, 67% of men and 25% of women nonetheless shocked themselves instead of sitting alone with their thoughts.
“Without such training,” the researchers reflected, “people prefer doing to thinking, even if what they are doing is so unpleasant that they would normally pay to avoid it. The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself.”
I love that last line: “The untutored mind does not like to be alone with itself.” This is where we’ve come. 65% of men and 25% of women would actually prefer receiving an electric shock rather than sit alone with their thoughts.
And why not? We carry an anti-boredom machine in our pockets. It’s called a “smartphone” and anytime we’re alone, bored, or by ourselves, we just whip it out and text a friend, check email, or listen to music. We do it so often it’s just become natural. So it shouldn’t be surprising to find that many people are uncomfortable with being alone.
This week, be intentional about solitude. Take the time to turn off the mobile device, shut down the computer, and hide the iPad. Take a few minutes to listen to YOUR ideas, not everyone else’s. The surprise? I bet you’ll probably hear a few “God ideas” as well.