Health & Medical

The Case for Giving Up on Books and Shows You’re Not That Into

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This article is part of SELF’s Rest Week, an editorial package dedicated to doing less. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that taking care of yourself, physically and emotionally, is impossible without genuine downtime. With that in mind, we’ll be publishing articles up until the new year to help you make a habit of taking breaks, chilling out, and slowing down. (And we’re taking our own advice: The SELF staff will be OOO during this time!) We hope to inspire you to take it easy and get some rest, whatever that looks like for you.

Lately, I’ve been plagued by a feeling I call “Don’t Wanna.” It’s not quite burnout, per se, but it’s related. Don’t Wanna isn’t a big-picture exhaustion; it’s the little voice inside you urging you to cancel or renege on an individual obligation as it approaches. “It’ll be fine once you get there,” you tell yourself, and it’s often true. But other times, you just…well…don’t wanna…and it’s important to honor that feeling on occasion.

Don’t Wanna isn’t just about not having the energy for professional or social obligations. It also applies to commitments you make to yourself. As good as it feels to cancel plans with someone else, it can be equally gratifying to break a promise you made to yourself. I love the feeling of putting off an elective task I’d assigned myself, whether it’s a professional endeavor I’m attempting on spec or a complicated culinary situation I don’t actually have the energy or ingredients for. But there’s no better place to indulge the philosophy of Don’t Wanna than with art and entertainment. Giving up on a book, movie, or TV show is, in my experience, almost never the wrong choice.

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As an act of (let’s call it) self-care, I wholeheartedly recommend quitting in the middle of basically any entertainment experience that you’re not enjoying. Closing a book or turning off a movie that you aren’t connecting with is a beautiful gift you give yourself. It’s the rare opportunity to completely give up on something with virtually no consequences. Over time, I’ve cultivated the ability to walk away without feeling haunted by regret like Don Draper, the main character from Mad Men, a show that I’ve seen for four out of the seven seasons.

I didn’t always have such a zen attitude toward entertainment consumption. When I was younger, I felt compelled to finish what I started, the way a parent might insist a child devour their entire serving of vegetables. In many ways, seeing things through can be a useful impulse. It minimizes food waste and helps fulfill professional obligations. But completism is not a habit that results in optimal relaxation. Tenacity, applied uniformly across one’s life, is a curse rather than an asset.

Here’s what I mean: At some point in my 20s I got sick of people telling me how brilliant A Confederacy of Dunces was. “A comic masterpiece,” is how friends, professors, and reviewers described it. So, beaten down by consensus, I waded through all 405 pages of John Kennedy Toole’s posthumously released novel. I spent most of the book waiting for the “masterpiece” (or even the “comic”) to kick in. It felt like that period of limbo after you swallow a weed edible, before it takes hold, and you’re not sure if it ever will. (Fortunately, there was no risk of me reading a second copy of the book, having them both kick in at once, and getting way too Dunces for the next eight hours.) In this case, the good stuff never started working on me. 

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