When was the last time you did nothing?
By nothing, I mean absolutely nothing — no scrolling social media, no reading books or articles, no listening to podcasts, and no watching movies, TV, or YouTube videos.
Well, if you’re like most folk, you’ll probably have to stop and think about it, because we don’t “do nothing” very often. And we don’t do it very well.
Even when we’re not working, many of us feel obliged to do something productive.
Go to the gym, running errands, going to a class; take care of bills or other responsibilities.
We feel a sense of obligation to be productive every waking second of every day.
For many their self-worth as a human being is based on how busy they are.
If they are not running around, getting things done there is a feeling of guilt.
Sadly, so much of our busyness has resulted from a kind of cultural conditioning that conveys a message that compulsive doing is a necessary evil to keep ahead in life.
Subsequently, behaviours like checking your work email during off-hours have become the new norm.
However, if you took the time to pause for a brief period of time during your day do you think you might just become a little less stressed and a little bit happier?
Could consciously embracing ‘doing nothing’ improve the quality of your life?
If so would you like to know how?
The argument for ‘doing nothing’
We are a work-consumed society and that has generated guilt and perceptions of laziness if we aren’t working all the time.
Our culture equates busyness with both high status and moral virtue.
Relaxing without talking on the phone, checking emails, or consuming books, or listening to podcasts, signals to the world a lack of purpose and drive.
However, buying into these myths can have a detrimental impact to our sense of self and our overall quality of life. Also, it can influence our health, both mentally and physically.
Science is starting to show the value of spending time in silence, and not engaging in constant external stimulation.
We need time doing ‘nothing’ and just being to find our best true selves. The ‘doing’ side of our nature needs a ‘being’ side to be in balance.
You don’t need to try too hard at doing nothing
It’s important to find the time to just sit there and be. No screen or book or podcast booming into our ears. We need to turn down the constant cognitive engagement, find stillness and soothe the mind.
Some of the most significant philosophers of all time made ‘doing nothing’ a priority in their lives. This allowed them the time to think deeply and ponder questions in life.
You can’t do this if you’re constantly running around crossing things off your to-do list, or if you are endlessly glued to a computer screen.
Of course, it goes without saying that many of us do not have the luxury of ample free time.
Things need to get done.
However, there’s a fine balance to strike. Knowing the importance of creating free time for our wellbeing we need to try our best to find ten or so minutes each day to get quiet.
So where do we start?
Would you rather be electrically shocked than left alone with their thoughts?
It’s ironic in life that we all happily take the time to charge our mobile phone’s battery, yet we ignore recharging ourselves.
When boredom strikes, we instantly reach for our phones and scroll through social media or binge-watch a show we’ve already seen.
‘Doing nothing’ has become a thing of the past. Sitting with your thoughts can be a challenge many seek to avoid at all costs.
No better example of this was a study conducted a number of years ago. They placed a number of people in a room and asked them to just sit with their thoughts or apply an electrical shock to themselves.
Remarkable, a huge proportion of the people in the study, especially young men, chose in favour of applying shock treatment compared to sitting alone with their thoughts.
If doing nothing is beneficial, why would people take a path of pain to overcome the boredom?
Mindfulness offers a solution
Noticing what’s happening in your mind when you are not ‘doing anything’ is a useful step for understanding oneself and your relationship to others.
However, many of us don’t know how to work with our mind.
To achieve that outcome we need some tools to help us when we are sitting quietly doing nothing.
This is where mindfulness and mindfulness education comes in.
If I did not have a mindfulness practice and I just sat there with my thoughts, I can guarantee, I would I get more and more anxious.
That would not be very beneficial. The last thing I need is to add something — ‘doing nothing’ — to my to-do list, thereby piling on more pressure.
Alternatively, a simple way to practice would be to simply apply our focus and concentration solely on our breath. This anchors us to the present moment.
There is no ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Every time our mind wanders back into thinking mode we just reconnect it back to the present moment and our breath.
During these times of ‘doing nothing’ it’s important to suspend any kind of judgment of our experience. Nothing is good or bad. It just is.
Take home message
Doing nothing cannot be learnt overnight.
It will take a bit of time and practice to master the art of doing nothing, but it’s worth the effort.
No doubt taking the time to stop when there are so many things on the ‘to-do list’ might seem counter-intuitive to many. But this mentality can be fixed with a change of mindset.
Instead of seeing it as “not being productive,” think of it as an investment in your own wellbeing.
Because that’s exactly what it is.
There are so many benefits of doing absolutely nothing.
When you turn off all distractions, it allows space for your subconscious to expand. This boosts your creativity and helps you with making the right decision with important issues.
Try it out and let me know how you go. If you need any help or have any questions around this topic feel free to contact me.
I’m here to help.