Well-Being//

Why It’s Psychologically Imperative To Make Time To Do Absolutely Nothing

It’s much easier to do almost anything incessantly than to spend time doing nothing

Alena Ozerova / Shutterstock
Alena Ozerova / Shutterstock

Have you had a good break lately?

When was the last time you switched off and let your thoughts drift without feeling under pressure to respond to dozens of emails, check social updates, or engage in multiple conversations online?

Sadly, most people can’t.

In a world that increasingly asks us to move faster, and do more to be effective, the idea that what you actually need to do every now and then isstop and do nothing mayseem counterproductive.

Many people are caught up “doing” so much that they don’t make time stop, take a productive break, and do nothing to recover and restore lost energy. They are caught in the “busy” trap dread what they might have to face in its absence. Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness.

Planning to do nothing is easier said than done, especially in a society that suffers from extreme busyness. “Making time in your life to do nothing can be challenging — especially during the workweek where we are constantly pummeled and bombarded with meetings, notifications and an ever-growing list of tasks,” argues Aytekin Tank, founder of JotForm.

“Busy founders have started implementing “Think Weeks” into their annual schedules — week-long periods they spend reflecting, reading, thinking and living outside the all-encapsulating world that is running a business,” he adds.

The idea of productivity is about making real progress, doing high-value work and achieving our goals, but we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way.

Knowing when to engage is just as important as knowing when to disengage

The necessity of doing nothing is perfectly articulated in this passage from Gilles Deleuze in Negotiations (1985)courtesy, Jenny Odell:

…we’re riddled with pointless talk, insane quantities of words and images. Stupidity’s never blind or mute. So it’s not a problem of getting people to express themselves but of providing little gaps of solitude and silence in which they might eventually find something to say. Repressive forces don’t stop people expressing themselves but rather force them to express themselves; what a relief to have nothing to say, the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing the rare, and ever rarer, thing that might be worth saying.

A purposeful pause is exactly what you need if you constantly demand more from your brain. According to research, the brain gradually stops registering a sight, sound or feeling if that stimulus remains constant over time. You lose your focus and your performance on the task declines.

Planning to do nothing is about taking regular time out in ­silence when you can choose to meditate, explore your thoughts or link up with nature — all aimed at building a joint sense of inner and outer calm.

Charles Dickens wrote his novels between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. After that, he would go out for a long walk. He once said, “If I couldn’t walk fast and far, I should just explode and perish.”

Leonardo Da Vinci had a bed in his studio and when patrons accused him of wasting time, he said: “If I don’t do this, you don’t get the work.”

Silence seekers include Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO, who recently went on a 10-day silent Vipassana yoga retreat in Burma (Myanmar). There he practiced a technique that he said would “hack the deepest layer of the mind and reprogram it.”

Hollywood star Halle Berry shares her stillness workouts — holding difficult yoga positions for up to one minute — on Instagram. “There is strength and power in stillness,” she says.

The Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge, the first person to reach the South Pole alone, is also an advocate of stillness. He published a book called Silence last year. He says: “Silence is about rediscovering the things that bring you and me joy, through pausing. Experiencing rather than overthinking.

You can’t afford not to plan for downtime. If you don’t give the brain enough breaks, and moments to process information better, it will take them in the form of loss of concentration, or mental breakdown.

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times.

“The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done,” he explained.

It pays to make time on your calendar and commit to spending time alone without screen or work distraction. Just giving your brain a chance to power down and refresh makes a huge difference in life.

Everyone could use more “white space” during the week. When you enter a space outside the flow of goals, tasks and deadlines, you can start to focus on what is happening in your life right now.

Pausing to ask yourself what, how, and why you are doing things can be exactly what you need to resume forward progress.

Kristin Armstrong, a former professional road bicycle racer and three-time Olympic gold medallist stress the many benefits of taking a productive pause. She says, “It’s not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities.

Downtime is an opportunity for your brain to make sense of active projects. It allows ideas and new projects the space to grow and make better connections.

Once a while it pays to take a pause on purpose and reflect on how far you’ve come. Pause your forward momentum for a few minutes and let my mind wander. Slow down your momentum. Pause in the moment. Stop to reset.

Take a short walk in the middle of your race. A pause. A breath. A moment to take stock. To realign your form. Your focus. Your purpose.

Rollo May, theauthor of The Courage to Create, was right when he said, “Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between the stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight. The capacity to create ourselves, based upon this freedom, is inseparable from consciousness or self-awareness.”

Making time to do nothing enables you to see the path that can help you reclaim your productive life. It allows you to bring your whole self into your work and life. It helps you spend your time on the things that matter most to you.

When you begin to routinely take a few moments to intentionally stop, you can begin to notice when you are living your life on autopilot. It pays to withdraw to a place within yourself momentarily where you can re-fuel, renew and reflect.

Solitude allows you to reboot your brain and unwind. Constantly being “on” doesn’t give your brain a chance to rest and replenish itself.

Solitude allows you to reboot your brain and unwind. Constantly being “on” doesn’t give your brain a chance to rest and replenish itself. It’s hard to think of effective solutions to problems when you’re constantly distracted.

Shake up your routine and create white spaces for yourself. Schedule it. Block off a few minutes every day, on your calendar, if you can — — to reset, think or disengage.

“If it’s important, it should be on your calendar. Yes, it might sound silly, but if thinking can lead to that creative idea, or result in solving that problem, or benefit you mentally or physically, why wouldn’t you have it on your calendar?” argues Greg Baird.

Pause to reflect. Pause to feel progress. Pause to create. Pause to think. Pause to take control. By all means pause. You can’t do your best work while moving from one jam-packed day to the next.

Make time for yourself. By spending time with yourself and gaining a better understanding of who you are, you’re more likely to make better choices.

Originally published on Medium.

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