In this modern frenetic world, with all its trials and tribulations and hustle and bustle, we have forgotten how wonderful it feels to… simply do nothing… to be at ease with one’s own thoughts… to just lie on the sofa, to go for a walk to nowhere in particular, or just stare out of the window and daydream…
Believe it or not, doing absolutely nothing can be hugely beneficial, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It takes courage and determination to do absolutely nothing, but doing nothing is the perfect antidote to stress.
Trying to do everything creates stress, not to mention feelings of anxiety, insomnia and irritability, even guilt. Chronic stress can also affect the immune system. Because we can’t do everything, our bodies and brains are permanently in a permanent state of high alert, and once our stress responses are activated, it can take a while for them calm down.
Just a few minutes of relaxation every day is enough to lower stress and allow longer periods of relative calm. If there’s nothing demanding your attention, you can feel the stress seeping out of you.
Less stressed people are more friendly – they smile more because they’re happier with their lives.
When neurologist Marcus Raichle at the Washington University School of Medicine, Saint Louis, Missouri used an fMRI scanner to measure brain activity, he was able to study how our brains are working when we’re not. The results were surprising – the relaxed brains were more active than those whose owners were given a specific task to do. In fact, the network that lit up when people lay still and did nothing included all the major connections in the brain. It turns out the brain is always active – always ‘on’ – even when you’re not using it.
This is why we’re more productive after a spot of calm relaxation – it gives the brain a chance to reorganise… a chance to reboot. We become better at problem-solving and more creative because our mind unconsciously embarks on a process of problem solving – just like sleeping on a problem and waking up the next morning with a much clearer idea of a solution.
So when we’re taking a shower, sprawling on the couch, or just daydreaming, ideas come together as if by magic. This quiet, seemingly passive work is less obvious, but it’s important… even just a few minutes is enough.
Generally, men find it easier to do nothing than women. Men seem to have more free time than women and they’re better at protecting it. Generally, women protect their husbands’ free time too, even at the expense of their own.
While men and women do approximately the same amount of work, generally men do more paid work, while women do more unpaid work. From the most primitive jungle societies to modern 21st century cities, doing nothing is practically unheard of among women, even in the most gender-equal countries such as the Norway.
Of course a busy life can be happy and fulfilling, but women also need to slow down! It’s no shame to put some time aside for yourself and do absolutely nothing! Really… all you have to do is absolutely… NOTHING…
So forget mindfulness, or meditation, because it’s too much like hard work. Forget being aware of your body, how you breath, the present moment, or your thoughts. Instead, just escape into your head and start daydreaming. Daydreaming requires no preparation, no training, and no special lighting or weird music.
Instead of making a ‘to-do’ list, make a list of the things you want to stop doing. Ask yourself if any of these jobs will really achieve anything, and whether there are any major negative consequences associated with not doing them. Learn to say no to the tasks that don’t move you forward. The time you free up is yours, and yours alone.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2020. All rights reserved.