Hitting a Nerve

Bored? Change the world or read a book


A weekend, for most of us in solo practice, doesn’t really signify time off from work. It just means we’re not seeing patients at the office.

There’s always business stuff to do (like payroll and paying bills), legal cases to review, the never-ending forms for a million things, and all the other stuff there never seems to be enough time to do on weekdays.

So this weekend I started attacking the pile after dinner on Friday and found myself done by Saturday afternoon. Which is rare, usually I spend the better part of a weekend at my desk.

And then, unexpectedly faced with an empty desk, I found myself wondering what to do.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

Boredom is one of the odder human conditions. Certainly, there are more ways to waste time now than there ever have been. TV, Netflix, phone games, TikTok, books, just to name a few.

But do we always have to be entertained? Many great scientists have said that world-changing ideas have come to them when they weren’t working, such as while showering or riding to work. Leo Szilard was crossing a London street in 1933 when he suddenly saw how a nuclear chain reaction would be self-sustaining once initiated. (Fortunately, he wasn’t hit by a car in the process.)

But I’m not Szilard. So I rationalized a reason not to exercise and sat on the couch with a book.

The remarkable human brain doesn’t shut down easily. With nothing else to do, most other mammals tend to doze off. But not us. It’s always on, trying to think of the next goal, the next move, the next whatever.

Having nothing to do sounds like a great idea, until you have nothing to do. It may be fine for a few days, but after a while you realize there’s only so long you can stare at the waves or mountains before your mind turns back to “what’s next.” Many patients tell me how retirement sounded good until they got there, then found themselves volunteering or taking new jobs just to keep busy.

This isn’t a bad thing. Being bored is probably constructive. Without realizing it we use it to form new ideas and start new plans.

Maybe this is why we’re here. The mind that keeps working is a powerful tool, driving us forward in all walks of life. Perhaps it’s this feature that pushed the development of intelligence further and led us to form civilizations.

Perhaps it’s the real reason we keep moving forward.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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