An Idle Mind is the Devil’s Playground


Last night, Jershon was at a meeting so I was doing the bedtime routine by myself.  I was feeling lazy so while the kids were playing I was just sitting around, browsing social media.  Then I put Roxanne to bed and turned on a movie for the kids to kill time for that last hour before it was their bedtime.  I just sat there, browsing social media.

Photo by Jordan Bauer on Unsplash


I finally got around to putting the kids to bed and I could feel an negative feeling starting to creep in and I just felt unsettled.  Jershon has a meeting every Wednesday night and he’s usually home a little after 8. Well, 8:30 rolled around, and he still wasn’t home. 8:45, still not home. I texted him. No response (found out later that his phone died). 9:00 came and he still wasn’t home. I was getting minorly worried but mostly kind of irritated. 


A few things were adding to my feeling of irritation: the kitchen was still a mess from dinner (Jershon normally cleans up the kitchen after dinner) and I was hoping that he would come home soon so he could clean up the kitchen (because I didn’t want to); We were almost out of milk and I thought about going to the store really fast (but couldn’t go until after he came home to stay with the sleeping kids); and just irritated that he had been gone so long.


So after feeling moody for a little while, I decided that I needed to process that emotion for a little bit and then evaluate my thinking that was causing it. Part of me (the victim side) didn’t want to start feeling better. But I decided that I could go clean the kitchen. One, as an act of service for J, and two so that I would stop being lazy and just browsing my phone.


I put my headphones on, turned a song on (one that I have been loving lately) and got to work. I sang the song out loud, with enthusiasm and feeling.


And as I sang, the words really stood out to me…


Through countless dangers, doubts and fears 

I have already come 

Gods grace has brought me safely here 

And grace will lead me home 


My chains are gone I’ve been set free 

My God, my Savior has ransomed me 

And like a flood His mercy reigns 

Unending love, amazing grace


I really felt the meaning of those words as I belted them out.  Even though this moment was such a little thing that seemed so insignificant, it really wasn’t. God was rescuing me in this moment. He was rescuing me from idleness and the feelings of irritation and worry. He sent the spirit to tell me to “forget yourself and go to work.” And that helped to bring me out of my self-pity (victim mindset). It helped me to stop thinking so much about myself and start thinking about how I could help Jershon.


This morning when I was reflecting on this experience and writing about it in my journal I was thinking about idleness. If I dug deep, I think that I was also feeling restless and irritated because I had just been sitting around, browsing on my phone. Idleness doesn’t bode well for my mood. I don’t always recognize this as the reason behind my bad attitude (and it’s not always the reason but probably more than I realize). 


One thing that I have been learning from Jody is that our brains are problem solvers and they are always looking for problems to solve.

“Your brain is designed to solve problems.  This is why, as you start diving in and taking a look into your brain and running models, you are going to find that you have a lot of negative thoughts in there – because your brain is supposed to solve problems.  That means it is constantly looking for problems.  And that is exactly how it is supposed to operate.  But, with a little awareness, and with some re-directing of your brain, you can temper that part of you that may sometimes get out of control and thinks that everything’s a problem.” –Jody Moore

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Here are a couple more sources that explain this same concept…

“Our brain evolved to scan for problems and it is skilled at finding problems when it looks. … We have inherited the brain that helped our ancestors notice threats in time to act. We are skilled at finding threats, even as we seek rewards.” (*source)


“When we reflect on the mind, we begin to see that the mind has certain functions. It has many functions, one of these functions is to look for problems; constantly. This is a great function, it keeps us safe. It is very important to have if, you are in a fight or being chased, in a war zone or a very challenging situation. The mind will be vigilant searching for problems. The problem with this type of functioning is that often, in this day and age, it is not needed. Most of us do not live in a war zone. 

So when we are simply sitting in our room, our mind might, out of habit, begin to find problems with the room. “I wish I had a bigger room, a warmer room, lived in a bigger house, I need new windows, this room would look better if it were green” etc. It is amazing how our minds can find problems so quickly with everything, imagine a person comes in the room, and watch all the thoughts you have about this person. Our minds might start with quick judgments, such as “she’s too small, wow look at her nose, he needs to shave,” and move on to judgments, such as “I wouldn’t trust him,” to even unconscious judgments that we don’t even see happening, such as this person reminds me of my father, so I am going to view him through a projection. 

As you can see we can get into trouble very quickly by not understanding that our minds automatically look for problems in everything.” (*source)

Going back to my reflecting this morning, I was thinking about how there are probably so many times that I could avoid the spiral of negative emotions (that seem to come out of nowhere) that get me down in the dumps if I would be more conscious of not having an idle mind.

There is an english proverb that says “An idle mind is the Devil’s playground.”  And the more I reflect on this experience (and applying what I am learning to past experiences,) the more I can see the truth in this proverb.

Photo by Vruyr Martirosyan on Unsplash


If the mind is designed to look for problems, then just sitting there and being idle (mentally, spiritually, and physically) is like giving your brain an invitation to go find some problems.  It’s like the mind gets antsy and needs something to work on.  So we make things into problems.  We turn mole hills into mountains.

A couple things came to mind when I was thinking about this.  1. When we have big problems all the little issues lose importance and we don’t waste time thinking about them.  Our brain already has a problem to work on.  2. When we don’t have big problems we subconsciously come up with little problems (that then become big in our minds) to keep our mind busy and doing its job.

To me, and idle mind means a couple of things:

It can mean wasting/killing time (like mindlessly (or excessively) browsing social media, binge watching shows, etc.)

We learn from the scriptures and the temple that we should avoid “light-mindedness.”  I’m sure that this could have multiple meanings but I think that “light-mindedness” refers (at least in part) to an “idle mind” – lacking serious purpose or value.


“Remember the great and last promise which I have made unto you; cast away your idle thoughts and your excess of laughter far from you.” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:69)


An idle mind can also mean overthinking and overanalyzing the problem – focusing too much on the problem and not on the solution.

This makes me think of a car that is idling.  According to Wikipedia, idling refers to running a vehicle’s engine when the vehicle is not in motion.  So to me, this is like running our brains (thinking and analyzing the problem) with no action (figuring out a solution.)

“Talking about something is sometimes a focus on the problem.  What we focus on, we enhance in our lives.  Our brains want to focus on the problem because they want to identify the problem and to notice that “this isn’t fair and this isn’t right” and to spin out in the problem.  But that is not necessary.  Once we’ve discussed the problem one time and we understand it, a much better use of our brain is to now focus on the solution. 

Anytime you find yourself in resistance and spinning out in a focus on the problem, I want you to stop and take note and decide “do I want to magnify and add energy and intensify the problem?  Or do I want to just know that it is what it is and now let me move on and intensify and add energy to the solution.”  This is huge.  And this will show up with everyone.  We want to focus on the problem.  That feels useful to that part of our brain that thinks it should look for problems.  But when you recognize “ok, we’ve talked about the problem” move to “Now let’s make a shift and talk about the solution.”  Ask yourself, when challenges come up, “am I focusing on the problem or am I focusing on the solution?””   –Jody Moore

 Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash


So what do we often think of as the opposite of being idle?  We think of working.  Work is important for a lot of reasons (to make money, to accomplish necessary tasks, etc.) but it’s also important for a healthy mind.           

One reason why work (mental, physical, spiritual work) is important is because if we aren’t working on solving some sort of productive problem (and we are being idle (mentally, spiritually and/or physically) then our minds will find a problem so it has something to do. And this problem usually isn’t necessary or worthwhile, and is often damaging (finding fault with someone, gossiping, victim mindset, etc.) It’s like our brains crave a problem to solve. So if we aren’t working on a productive problem, then our minds will go find a problem (that is usually unproductive.)

I don’t think that not being idle means that we can’t ever relax and that we always have to be up doing something physical.  But I do think that it means that we need to be conscious of not allowing our relaxation to become excessive and turn into idleness. And even when we are taking some time to relax, we can have a conscious and intentional purpose.  This will keep us in the position to act instead of to be acted upon.

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

Doctrine & Covenants 58: 27-28


I still have some thoughts to share on this topic but I’ll continue them in another post…

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