The 24 Hour “Do Nothing” Challenge

12 Secret Benefits of Doing Nothing | Radiant Life Chiropractic

There’s not too much to say on this one, so I’ll keep it short.

My goal was to do nothing for 24 hours. Like everyone in the modern world, I’m hopelessly addicted to little dopamine bursts provided by algorithmically optimized technology (in my case – Reddit, video games, phone messages, and having music or tv shows in the background), so I wanted to see if I had the willpower to cut off all stimulation for an extended period of time.

Rules:

  1. I cannot engage in any stimulating behavior using external mechanisms for 24 hours.
    1. This includes: using a computer, using a television, using a phone, using a book, talking to anybody, looking at anything interesting, eating, or changing locations.
  2. I must remain in my bedroom for the duration of the 24 hours.
    1. Exception – I am permitted to leave my bedroom to use the bathroom.
      1. (I briefly considered either figuring out a way to not leave the bedroom regardless of bodily demands or to spend the 24 hours in my tiny bathroom, but that would have turned into the “24 hours of pissing and shitting in a bucket challenge” or the “develop a bad back in 24 hours challenge.” Besides, it’s not like relieving myself in the bathroom is especially stimulating.)
    2. The walls of my bedroom are bare, so there’s nothing interesting to look at.
    3. I may not touch anything in my room beside the bed and the blankets + pillows on it.
    4. I may not open the curtains and look outside.
  3. I am permitted to have one full 23.7 fluid ounce bottle in my room filled with water.
    1. The bottle must not have a label (so I’m not tempted to read it for fun).
    2. I may not refill the bottle.
  4. My phone will be kept in my room face-down. An alarm will be set for 24 hours. I may not interact with the phone in any way.
  5. I am not allowed to know what time it is. I must wait for the alarm to go off.

Results

I succeeded on the first attempt. I started at 12:23 PM and finished the following day at the same time. It was challenging, but not too bad.

As you’d expect, I spent the vast majority of time lying in bed just thinking, though occasionally I’d pace around the room. For good stretches of time, I’d get lost in trains of thought, and I’d find the clearness of my mind surprisingly enjoyable as I’d drift between ideas. Other times, I’d play word games with myself, like trying to name 25 foods that start with a letter (I successfully completed C, D, S, and R, and failed on four or five others) or trying to recite the American presidents in order, or the Roman Emperors. I tried to name the first 150 Pokémon, but it was too hard to keep track of.

On bad stretches, nothing in my mind would hit those buttons, and I’d just be super bored. The first eight-ish hours weren’t too bad, but I got a lot more bored at night and especially after I had woken up the next morning. My patience and resolve were definitely tested at times, and I found my mind drifting to rationalizations about how it would be no big deal to check the time or ask Siri about my messages or just give up the stupid experiment, but I persevered. The sanctity of stupid experiments remains intact.

The only interesting part of the experience was the relative depth and clarity of my thoughts. By the time it ended, I had a list of about ten tasks that I immediately wanted to complete (mostly errands and ordinary life matters I had been putting off), plus I came up with two potential writing projects I got excited about. I was actually annoyed at one point that I couldn’t write my ideas down because they were flowing so well.

Then again, I don’t know if I had all these ideas because my quality of thought was higher than usual with no distractions, or because I was engaged in an unusually large quantity of thought since I had nothing else to do.

Either way, I’m glad I did it. I guess I’m not so hopelessly addicted to short term stimulation that I can’t deprive myself of it for a longish period of time.

I’m pretty tired of sitting in rooms doing nothing, so my next experiments will be more exciting. I promise.

7 thoughts on “The 24 Hour “Do Nothing” Challenge

  1. Thanks for sharing, very interesting to see what a day without stimulus is like. Did you sleep at all during the experiment?

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    1. I slept about 30 minutes into the experiment for almost an hour. I guess that says something about my normal state of wakefulness. Aside from that, I slept for a roughly normal length of time at night, though I had no way of telling for how long. I wanted to sleep longer, both during the day and night, because it would make time pass, but I just wasn’t tired enough.

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  2. Now that the experiment is behind you, do you think of it more as a test of willpower (or stoicism) or as a matrix for thoughts that would not have occurred to you otherwise? To put it another way, was your bedroom a cell, or a cell with a special door that opened (or could be opened) only when the regular one was locked?

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    1. I think it was more a test of willpower. Every item on the “to do” list I made were things that I had thought of before but not internalized or committed to doing. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything transcendent about the experience.

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  3. Entertaining yourself with word games and recalling Pokemon kinda breaks the “nothingness”. I can recommend a silent meditation retreat when the pandemic is over. Many years ago, I attended a 7-day one with barely any meditation experience, and it turned out quite eye-opening.

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