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When was the last time you did nothing?

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

And I do mean nothing – no reading, no listening, no talking, no watching and no scrolling through social media?

Chances are you can’t even remember, because it so rarely happens.

We often talk about work-life balance and we know how important it is to relax, but despite this, many of us feel obliged to be constantly productive.

And when we aren’t running around doing busy stuff (obviously pre-pandemic) or the current lockdown equivalent of tidying out every single cupboard or drawer, then we feel guilty or unsure of what it even takes for us to relax.

It’s sad really because it’s not always our fault, it’s often how we are conditioned as a society.

People equate busyness with a high, usually successful status, possibly with a bit of moral virtue and on top of that we can use it as a way to feel good about ourselves because we are ticking off our to-do lists.

Maybe now you are thinking ‘when you put it like that, it sounds like a good thing.’

On the other hand, it’s not always the society pressure that makes us keep going, it can be because we are afraid of being alone with our own thoughts.

Do you recognise either of these busy types in yourself?

Whichever option we recognise, taking every last minute of our day to try to squeeze in some level of productivity will eventually eat away at us and our overall quality of life.

Being busy gives us a dopamine release which increases our heart rate and blood pressure. This then stimulates more dopamine to increase our motivation to take on more.

When released in large amounts, it creates feelings of pleasure and reward which we translate as a good reason to carry on with doing more of whatever we are doing.

It all sounds exhausting, and guess what, long term none of this is good for either your mind or your body.

Oh and the most important part is – it’s a proven fact that constant action makes you less productive.

Yes, really - doing more for a prolonged period will mean you achieve less.

If you are doing too much of anything, your life won’t feel balanced and you stop being productive. You might not even realise to start with until something happens to give you a warning.

If I carry on in this way, my usual warning is when I start to feel overwhelmed – that’s usually the first sign but I admit I don’t always pay attention to this.

I then feel exhausted, get the usual neck and shoulder tension and before I know it, I’ve got a migraine. I then have no option but to stop what I’m doing which can lead to feelings of guilt.

It’s a total cycle and one that will lead to burnout if we are not careful.

Figure out what doing nothing means for you

Everybody has different ideas of what it means to relax – for some people it’s a two hour massage and for some people it’s a day’s gardening.

Some people can happily gaze out of the window for two hours and others get the same relaxed feeling from doing a whole load of baking.

Whatever relaxation looks like for you, then do that.

If you are in the gardening and baking crew, then sometimes mix it up and plan to spend your time doing something that has no specific outcome and see the difference in how you feel.

Schedule in some time for yourself

In order to make some time for relaxation and your ‘doing nothing thing,’ then you have to plan some time in, otherwise chances are it will not happen.

I tell my clients to schedule in some time for themselves on a weekly basis – if it’s not scheduled it’s not real and I can guarantee that you will always put work or others first if you haven’t allocated specific time.

I suggest that you allocate the time for the forthcoming week or month by just blocking out time in the diary on the day(s) that feel right for you.

It is a solid appointment, much like a meeting and it is all for you.

When you schedule yourself in, you might not even know how you are going to spend the time, but just seeing that there is an allocated space of non-guilt making free time, just for you – it’s very freeing.

When the time comes, how you spend it is completely up to you – except you can’t do any work.

Think about relaxation in a different way

In the past, if I spent an afternoon sitting in a chair flicking through a magazine or perhaps staring out of the window and later somebody asked me what I’ve been doing – my default response used to be “I’ve been a bit lazy today, I’ve done nothing.

I should have been doing X,Y,Z and instead I have been staring out of the window.”

I might have got a bit harsher with myself, maybe a bit angry that I hadn’t finished what I ‘should’ have been doing and that would usually be followed up with a promise to myself to work harder on my To-Do list tomorrow.

Do you recognise that?

I now realise that doing nothing is not always a negative term, it’s an essential part of what we need in our lives. We’ve got to learn to talk to ourselves with more kindness and realise that taking time for ourselves is an absolute necessity.

It is not selfish to take time for ourselves and in doing so, you will have more energy that could be used to help others.

We need to lose the guilt around taking time for ourselves and understand that in order to ‘do,’ sometimes we have to just ‘be’.

Mastering the art of doing nothing is essential to give our bodies and brains time to recharge. The Dutch call it Niksen – ‘to literally do nothing, to be idle or doing something without use.’

Of course, doing absolutely nothing all the time is no better than being constantly busy, we have to learn a balance that is right for us.

I know that this week’s topic is going to feel alien and maybe difficult for some of you. You will ask yourself how on earth can you relax and take it easy while you’ve got a To Do list as long as your arm.

Please try it – taking yourself away from work and chores to recharge will ensure that when you go back to the list you will be looking at it with a renewed energy.

You may even see it with fresh eyes and question whether some of those jobs on the list are even that necessary. When we have a bit of clarity, we can work out what’s really important.

Imagine that, you might be able to cross items off your list, simply by doing nothing.

Get in touch if this is something that you recognise and would like help with, we can have a chat about how I could help and support you – I would love to hear from you.


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