Our Western culture is so busy doing. We live in an outcomes-oriented society where our success often depends on our achievements: Do more. Be better. Keep moving. Succeed. This fast-paced lifestyle contributes to increasing stress levels, health problems, and high rates of burnout. And burnout all-too-often leads to tune-out where we run ourselves so ragged that we have to unplug from everything to escape the very life we’ve created with our ongoing busy-ness. But what are we so busy doing?
In the midst of all this doing, how often do we simply do nothing on purpose? I mean intentionally setting aside time to simply “be” instead of “do” all the time. I have started asking myself the following provocative question when I get into the habit of living life at a breakneck pace: Leslie, how are you honoring that you’re a human being…not just a human doing?
Consider the benefit of unplanned time. (*gasp* did a pre-disposed super-planner actually just say this?!) Surprisingly, there is unspoken purpose and extreme benefit behind doing absolutely nothing!
Dr. Ichak Adizes, one of the world’s leading experts in organizational performance and change, shares that “having nothing to do can create the opportunity to make a strategic change in ones life. What may seem to be a problem could be a blessing in disguise.”
By intentionally doing nothing, you have time to consider what you truly want for your future and begin to set plans in motion to make this happen.
And there are tremendous physical and psychological benefits to doing nothing. Practitioners of mindfulness meditation and other forms of contemplative practice teach the importance of letting go of the desire for acquisition and performance in order to let the mind rest. The effect of this restful state on one’s body and mind allows regeneration, renewal, and revival (and it’s cheaper and more effective than a caffeine boost!).
And as Energy Management expects, Jim Loer and Tony Schwartz, share in their book, The Power of Full Engagement, our most fundamental need as human beings is to spend and renew energy. This process called oscillation helps us maximize our performance when we’re “on” and fully recover and rest when we’re not. Through their reach they found that:
- Too much energy expenditure without sufficient recovery eventually leads to burnout or breakdown (over-use it and lose it)
- Too much recovery without sufficient stress leads to atrophy and weakness (use it or lose it)
- We’re hard-wired to pulse and are most productive when we move between expending energy and intermittently renewing energy
So it’s not intensity that produces burnout, but the duration of energy expenditure without adequate recovery!
Because our activity and rest patterns are tied to circadian rhythms in our body, we have a 90 – 120 minute attention span before our body begins to crave rest and recovery. That’s where purposeful nothingness comes in!
Intentionally unplug. “You will never find the time to do nothing; you have to consciously and intentionally take the time to do nothing,” shares Dr. Adizes. Try sitting outside and watching the sunset or looking up into a star-filled night sky.
Take a moment to pause in the middle of your workday and breathe deeply, remembering that you are a living, growing, amazing person. Notice the wave of calm and relaxation that often follows from these simple and mindless actions. Your heart rate slows, your breath deepens, and a smile may even begin to form at the corners of your mouth.
Now you may be thinking, “Okay, Leslie, but who will [fill in your “doing” tasks here: Do my work? Clean my house? Pay my bills?] if I’m doing nothing? How does this really work?”
I’m not advocating doing nothing all the time because that would lead to replacing extreme busy-ness with perpetual laziness. Rather, I’m asking you to simply try on purposeful nothingness as an alternative to running on high-octane fuel on all cylinders all the time.
To do nothing, try these three easy steps:
- Stop doing your normal routine – Hit the brakes on whatever is keeping you so busy and intentionally pause.
- Dedicate five minutes to mindlessness – Find a quiet, uninterrupted place to simply do nothing.
- Reflect on the impact of this break before jumping back into your busy life – What was it like to make this time to “be” instead of “do”? How can you build more “being” into your daily life?
So the next time you feel the urge to do more, try doing nothing for a change and see how it feels. While it may seem uncomfortable or abnormal at first, training your body and brain to pause, recalibrate, and reenergize is crucial to allow yourself the capacity to create and continue doing, while practicing being.
Create a great day,