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How to Successfully do Nothing


When I was growing up there were a few phrases in our house that our Mum used a lot:

  1. ‘Only dumb people get bored’
  2. ‘Look busy or I’ll find something for you to’
  3. ‘Successful people are always doing something’

These things were said flippantly, with no realisation on the impact they would have on me later in life and were in no way meant to be harmful. They were throwaway comments whenever myself or one of my siblings announced we were ‘bored’ or if Mum caught us in the act of ‘doing nothing’. Knowing that our Mum would always try and find something for us to do, my siblings and I learnt pretty quickly to fill time, look busy and remove the words ‘I’m bored’ form our vocabulary.

As I got older, the strategies I used and the need to be busy so to avoid being told to fold the washing or weed the garden soon became engrained, habitual practices. The idea of doing nothing was not an option for me as a child, and as an adult, being busy was all I knew.

Any spare minute I had I would fill with something; going to the shops, cleaning out a cupboard, reorganising my wardrobe, exercising. The idea of doing nothing was like committing a crime, and something I could never do.

When I started learning about wellbeing and self-care and embarking on my own self-development journey, it didn’t take long to discover that I had a high need for control, and controlling my time, tasks and activities was one way I met this need.

Filling every moment of my time with tasks, meaningful or not, meant I was smart, more intelligent than bored people and heading towards what I thought was successful (a version of success that I now know wasn’t my own, but that’s another newsletter).

When I really started to work on who I was, discovering all this was a hard truth to learn. ‘How could I let go of being busy, doesn’t that mean giving up on success?’. ‘I can’t do nothing; I am way too smart for that’. ‘If I do nothing, won’t I be bored?’. Turns out the answers to these questions were as made-up as the statements themselves. Untrue, unnecessary and unneeded.

Doing nothing won’t make you dumb, get in the way of success (whatever that is to you) and there is no need to be busy all the time. Doing nothing is a skill. One that is important for your wellbeing. Doing nothing can make you more productive in the long run, it allows you to connect with yourself and decrease the chance of burnout, it allows for your brain to pause which is when you can become more creative and it gives time for mindfulness and rest.
When I first started doing nothing, I struggled with feeling like I wasn’t in control and not having a plan for every minute of my day freaked me out a little. So, I did what any control freak would do and put a process in place for learning to do nothing.

If you are bit freaked out by doing nothing and struggle with the idea of not having something to do, here are the steps I followed which may help you too:

  1. Schedule in time do very little (going straight to nothing is a big jump) – read a fiction book, sit and listen to music, walk in silence, meditate.
  2. Schedule in time to do short bursts of nothing. 10 minutes of sitting, resting, pausing your mind, being still.
  3. Listen to when your body needs nothing and know what nothing is to you.

It becomes quite easy to do nothing, nothing for me some days is reading, sometimes it is walking, and sometimes it is just sitting on the floor, in the sun or laying on the ground, breathing, resting and doing nothing.

If there is anything teachers are guilty of, it is doing too much, being busy all the time and always having something to do. This year, as you prioritise your wellbeing, build into your self-care routine the idea of doing nothing and be OK with having nothing to do.

Warm regards,