Why learning to do nothing is so important for your well-being and how to get started

Have you ever taken a day off only to find yourself wracked with guilt for not actually doing anything? And to top it all off, you never quite managed to get into the mood to relax after all? You are definitely not alone. Society’s glorification of the ‘hustle’ has all of us hyper-fixating on being productive, especially with all the ‘free time’ we have now. But there is nothing healthy about never taking the time to rest and just do nothing.

In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why learning to shut down and do nothing is crucial for our well-being. We will also outline some ways you can train yourself not to be on all the time.

1. Both the body and mind need to recuperate

Both our physical and mental facilities need rest days to recover and recuperate because too much stress can cause serious health problems that cannot be ignored. When left unchecked, stress can put you at higher risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases and other health complications. Stress also exacerbates mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and even severe personality disorders.

Learning how to do absolutely nothing provides our bodies and minds much-needed reprieve from our stress-filled daily lives. Learn to listen to your body since it has ways of telling you when it needs to rest. Do not ignore signs like headaches, soreness, and even irritability, and take these as cues to do nothing for a while until you’re rejuvenated and ready to return to the hustle.

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2. Taking a break IS productive

A lot of us feel guilty when we’re doing nothing. This is a bi-product of a society that equates man’s value to his/her productivity. But how is it productive when you end up missing an entire week of work because you fell ill after burning yourself out from working through your weekends? Had you only taken that break to do absolutely nothing, you would have actually become more productive overall.

This is why students are advised to relax and get enough sleep the night before big exams — it’s counterproductive to tire yourself out to the point of burnout. Whenever you feel guilty about doing nothing, just keep in mind that the time an actor spends getting into character is just as important as the big scene in every movie.

3. Downtime helps us refocus

Taking a step back allows us to see the bigger picture. When you feel like your problems are becoming too big for you to handle, maybe you just need to step back a little to gain a shift in perspective.

Doing nothing gives you the opportunity to reminisce and touch base with your personal goals (which, by the way, should be separate and distinct from your professional goals.) You can use this downtime to appreciate how far you’ve come from the time you set those goals. At the same time, you could reflect about where you currently are in life and whether everything you’re doing now is still in service of your personal goals. Who knows? That thing you’re stressing about too much might be something you don’t really need to do. Then you can decide to just let it go and do nothing.

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4. Enough rest boosts creativity

When you spend all your time just barreling through to-do lists after to-do lists, it can be pretty difficult to find enough space for creativity. When you’re working on any kind of creative output for work and you start to feel like you just can’t find the right words to express what you want to say, that’s your signal to put down the pen or shut down the computer for a while so you can do nothing for a moment to replenish your creative juices.

Take note, however, that staring at a blank document file and stressing over the fact that you can’t seem to write anything good does not count as doing nothing. Later on, we will discuss tips on how to avoid work masquerading as rest.

Being creative also means being a great problem-solver. If you find yourself stumped with a specific problem, it might do you well to do nothing for a moment. That brief reboot might be all your mind needs to come up with the simplest, most ingenious plan to solve your problem.

5. Taking a step back helps to clear mental space

Can you imagine how much more headspace you would have if all the negative thoughts just…went away? Well, for as long as you’re still doing something — anything — all these thoughts will just continue to pile up in your mind, cluttering up the space you could otherwise use for positive, inspiring, and encouraging thoughts.

Be kind to yourself and learn how to do nothing so you can clear your mind of any thoughts that might be weighing you down.

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6. Doing nothing helps us enjoy life as it happens

Some of the most amazing things in life happen without warning, and you will miss all of them unless you learn the art of doing nothing. Giving yourself time to just be will help you become more present in your own life instead of missing half of it because you’re too busy being too busy.

When you’re doing nothing, you will learn to appreciate the free blessings of life such as the sound of falling rain on the roof, or the random purring of your cat as she sleeps on across your tummy. The best things in life are indeed free, but you have to actually be present — and not just physically — to catch them. Doing nothing is your best bet to do so.

How does one learn to do nothing?

“People say nothing is impossible. But I do nothing everyday.”  –Winnie the Pooh

Understandably, doing nothing doesn’t come naturally to us, especially after years of trying to be as productive as humanly possible. But Winnie the Pooh teaches us that it’s never too late to learn how to do nothing. Here are some tips you can start working with:

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1. Stop working when the workday ends

Ever since the pandemic started, those of us who shifted to a home-based work setup also adopted flexible hours, which in theory, looks really good on paper. So instead of having to appear productive for 8 hours in the office, you can finish your tasks early and just kick back for the rest of the day, right? But that’s not what’s been happening. For many of us, flexi-time has come to mean never-ending workdays where Monday would just somehow merge into Tuesday ‘cause we keep working until the dead of the night.

To train yourself in the art of doing nothing, you’ve got to set some serious time limits to your workdays. So if your workday ends at 6 pm, make it a point to actually stop working by 6 pm. No more answering work emails, no more checking the office Slack, and for the love of God, no more taking on last-minute assignments. Let the next workday take care of itself and get yourself some good rest where you just do nothing.

2. Take back your weekends and off days

Make it a point to be unavailable for work on weekends and off days. These are golden opportunities for you to do nothing, in between doing house chores and any other chill hobby you might love doing. Use this time to actually reap the benefits of doing nothing as discussed above. Never attempt to use this time to “get work done ahead of time” hoping you’d have easier weekdays if you advance some of your tasks during the weekend. This will never happen. You’d just be setting yourself up for a seven-day stress week, so you might as well just make the most of your off days doing nothing work related.

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3. Have frequent social media detoxes

Much of the pressure we feel in relation to always being productive stems from comparing ourselves to other people who seem to thrive on the grind. That’s why going on a social media detox is absolutely essential to learning how to do nothing.

To get one thing straight: ‘mindlessly’ scrolling through social media does not count as ‘doing nothing.’ Anything that can stress you out, or affect your mood and disposition cannot be considered doing nothing. If you really want to achieve the blissful rest and reset that only comes with doing nothing, you cannot be doing that while on your phone, wondering how your friend can get so much done on a Sunday. Just put that phone down.

4. Remove guilt from the equation

Doing nothing would no doubt feel foreign at first. You will feel like you’re wasting precious time sitting around when you could be doing ‘something of value’. Well, there’s no other way but to love yourself enough to gradually let go of this guilt, so that you may eventually learn to actually enjoy doing nothing.

5. Beware of work masquerading as rest

Finally, and most importantly, you have to be able to distinguish between resting and doing low-impact cognitive work on your free time. Listening to a podcast, reading a book (no matter how good it is) or binge-watching the latest season of Brooklyn 99 on Netflix cannot be considered doing nothing. These tasks, no matter how enjoyable they may be for you, still requires you to use the cognitive functions of your brain, and thus defeats the purpose of trying to do nothing.

Sitting down someplace quiet to be alone with your thoughts is doing nothing. Laying on your bed with a scented candle lit nearby is doing nothing. Soaking in a long bath and letting thoughts occur to you (as opposed to actively thinking about stuff) is doing nothing.

Final Thoughts

Finding calm, clarity, and peaceful happiness surely seems like a luxury in this period of great global unrest. But it actually doesn’t take much. In fact, the only thing you have to do — is do nothing.