The creative potential of unstructured time

This month I have been contemplating who I am and what my interests are quite a bit. I have been wondering where I am going as a psychologist and psychotherapist.

I notice that when I get really absorbed in work, I end up having trouble answering the question….who am I?

Take a minute to let that sit.

I am a psychologist focused on applied clinical practice. Shouldn’t I, more than others, be able to answer that question with confidence and authority?

Of course, I can answer that question with descriptors which reflect the career roles I play throughout the course of my waking life.

I’m a therapist.

I’m an assesor.

I’m a supervisor.

I’m a blogger.

I’m a small businesswoman.

I also can approach that question from a notably different slant, by focusing on the roles I play within my family structure, both biological, chosen, and otherwise.

I’m a daughter.

I’m a wife.

I’m a sister.

I’m a friend.

I’m a dog parent.

Or, I could take this in an even more different direction and make a list of the social roles I play when I’m not in my formal, paid roles connected to who I am as a clinical psychologist:

I’m a yogini.

I’m a writer.

I’m a dog lover.

I’m a reader.

I’m  a polyglot.

I’m a world traveler.

What if I asked myself the following….

Who is the “I” underneath my descriptions of what I do?

Or, to put it in another way…..what are my values?*

What do I want my life to be about?

Or, I dare to ask..what do I want to be remembered for?*

I only use myself as an example to highlight that because so many of us are focused on what we are doing and how accomplished we are that we lose sight of the reasons behind the actions we take to acheive. We become so busy and so caught up in completing our to do lists, that we loose sight of what really matters to us, and what brings us to the table to begin with.

When the gap between what are want to be remembered for and what we do becomes bigger, or when we go into autopilot, I believe that we may suffer an increased risk for burn out, anxiety, and depression. I’m not aware of any actual studies which have been conducted that demonstrate this, this is a hunch I have so far only based upon both lived and professional experiences.

So what is the antidote?

Unstructured time.

I know having an hour or more during the week is a privlege for most of us. For those of us who can, let’s see if we can find some time to let our minds wander and remind us why we show up for life day after day, with all its imperfections and everything that is lacking from it.

Do you have an hour a week to do this?

How about a half an hour?

You only have 10  or 15 minutes? That works, too.

Now, I’m not talking about yoga time, or meditation time, or anything quite so lofty. I’m talking about time, preferrably spent outside in a yard, a park, a front porch, an apartment patio, or if you’re fortunately enough to live near one, outside of a body of water, doing nothing.

If it brought you one step closer to living your values, would you be willing to dedicate time to doing nothing?

*Writer's note: Much of this blog has been highly influenced by my ongoing training in and practice of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and the many resources I have explored recently connected to this model. If you would like to learn more about this model or access the numerous resources and wonderful writings that have grown from this model, visit the website of the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science website at

Much of this values discussion is also loosely inspired by my recent reading of the following book written for clinicians and practitioners of ACT:

Zettle, R. D. (2007). ACT for depression: A clinician's guide to using acceptance & commitment therapy in treating depression. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

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