Lessons from the casual

Doing an activity differently breaks monotony and injects energy into mindless routines

October 15, 2017 05:00 pm | Updated 05:00 pm IST



Those of you who are on social media may have noticed those inky line drawings popping up at regular intervals over the past two weeks — from the beginning of October, to be precise. The “inktober” initiative aims at getting people to pick up a pen and doodle in a mindful way, prompted by a single word. Poison, swift, crooked, and screech were some of the words on the list, this year, and the sketches I have seen so far have ranged from simple to complex.

There is another Internet-fuelled motivational movement called “Nanowrimo” or “National Novel Writing Month” which began in the United States, and has spread across many countries. Here, you begin and finish a writing project within November. You set the parameters — short or long — but the idea is to write regularly and meet the target.

Creativity is the key

The two initiatives are quite different, yet they share something. The first aims at getting everyone to draw, to have fun with lines and ideas. The second pushes those who want to write to do something about it. But, they both offer a clear project, and a definite timeline. You set a short-term goal and work towards it.

In the first instance, the appeal is in playing with words and ideas and expressing them visually — without having to be a serious artist. In engaging with this playful activity, you might surprise yourself, discovering an interest, ability, or way of thinking that you had never really considered before. Our education system, by and large, schools us out of this way of engaging our minds, and we end up falling into predictable, narrow ways of doing things. A commitment to doing something different, in a lighthearted, un-serious way, can help us break that and inject some energy into a mindless routine.

This may sound somewhat contradictory — commitment and lighthearted are not words that usually go together. But that is exactly the appeal, and the joy, of something like inktober. It is also a bit different from a regular hobby or pastime, which, however enjoyable, can also become habitual and routine.

In the second instance, you use the month — or any specified period of time — to challenge yourself to do something you have always wanted to do, but had been putting off for whatever reason.

By setting aside time for that particular activity, you are committing to it and making space for it in your life. Having others doing this along with you, as happens during Nanowrimo, can also be hugely motivational. Plus, the idea that it has to be done within that short time forces you to put in a higher amount of effort than you might have otherwise, given that we all tend to be procrastinators when we get the chance. This limitation of time can also make it seem like less daunting.

One can take something from these two approaches and apply them to other activities and areas of life — and work too.

What if we allowed ourselves to periodically engage with new, unfamiliar activities, simply for the fun of it, to exercise a different part of our brain or body? What if we consciously made a small space within our cluttered, distracted existence to allow ourselves to finish some task we had always wanted to complete?

Maybe sketching and writing aren’t for us. But there may be any number of other activities that could help us break the habits of poor thinking and under-doing!

The author teaches at the University of Hyderabad and edits Teacher Plus. usha.bpgll@gmail.com

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.