Have you ever bought into the idea that in order to reach your goals and live your best life, you have to jam-pack every week, day, and even hour with productive activities? Ever felt guilty for just sitting and doing…nothing…for a few minutes? I used to constantly battle that guilt, my mind racing with all of the tasks I could and “should” be smooshing into that little pocket of time. That is, until I learned first-hand the power of doing nothing.
My grandpa John knew and appreciated the power of doing nothing. He was my grandma’s faithful chauffeur for over 50 years, driving her to work, doctors’ appointments, and more, all at least 30 minutes from their home in the country. And since he was also our babysitter for many years, my brother and I would join him.
We would drop my grandma at the door of the doctor’s office, park their old Buick where my grandpa could watch that same door, and just…sit there. We rolled down the windows, we watched the cars driving past, we daydreamed, we talked.
Grandpa felt comfortable just being. He taught my brother and me that it was perfectly fine to do nothing, an inevitable and natural part of life. Those hours spent in parking lots, or pulled up to the front of the department store where my grandma worked, all felt so peaceful.
Now “doing nothing” doesn’t mean that I sit on my couch and stare at the wall to delay or avoid my responsibilities. No, it means that when I find a few minutes not otherwise occupied by my schedule, I don’t fill them. And I don’t multitask, at least when I can help it.
So when I’m sitting at a stoplight, I don’t pick up my phone to scroll social media. When I’m driving to the grocery store, I don’t automatically call a friend to fill the silence. And at the doctor’s office, I don’t pick up a magazine to read while I wait for the nurse to call my name.
What do I do instead? I observe my surroundings. I allow my mind to relax and wander and just be for a few minutes. And I’ve experienced truly incredible results from this simple practice.
Doing nothing allows you to more fully experience and treasure what’s in front of you.
I experience this constantly with my five-year-old. Like anyone else, I often take advantage of the time she’s entertaining herself to pick up around the house, pay bills, or do whatever else my mental load dictates.
But sometimes, I pause what I’m doing and take a seat on the couch. I eavesdrop into her conversation with her Ken doll or look over her shoulder at what she’s drawing or really listen to the words of the song she just made up.
And it brings me so. much. joy. To hear her thoughts when she thinks no one is listening, to peer into her imagination for just a few minutes, these are small treasures that are otherwise overlooked in the hustle and bustle of our busy-ness.
When you pause to just be, you’ll notice things you never did before. And those things will often surprise and delight you.
Doing nothing makes you more mindful even in your busier moments.
What’s been interesting is that doing nothing in those small pockets of time has increased my mindfulness even when I’m busy. I tend to notice the small things more as I’m running from task to task. And I can more easily differentiate between busy work and important work.
The power of doing nothing isn’t contained to those moments you’re actually doing nothing. It spreads to touch every moment and every facet of your life.
Doing nothing increases gratitude and optimism.
When you’re noticing more of the small things, you begin to appreciate those things. And the practice of constant appreciation and gratitude lends itself to a spirit of optimism. Because when you take the time to stop and notice the beauty of the sunset, or the wonder in your children’s play, it’s very difficult to believe that everything in life is terrible.
Doing nothing lowers anxiety.
Dr. Susan Smalley, co-author of the book Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness, found that rates of depression, anxiety, and stress increase as people pack their schedules full of constant “doing.” She suggests we can lower our anxiety levels by capitalizing on opportunities to do nothing, and by remaining present and focusing on the moment at hand (rather than on an uncertain future) more often.
Doing nothing helps you to think differently and more creatively.
There’s something about clearing your mind, taking a break from your normal day-to-day grind, that leads to the discovery of new and creative solutions. In fact, some of my best ideas have come to me while sitting in traffic.
Because I believe in the power of doing nothing, I usually won’t turn on music or audiobooks in my car. I simply consider my commute a time to drive, observe, and think.
Suddenly, a solution that has eluded me for months despite my best efforts, will float to me on the exhaust-filled winds of the Texas highway. “Of course,” I say. “Why didn’t I think of that before?!”
Even new ideas I’d never considered will find their way into my thoughts. I’ve stumbled upon new book and post ideas, creative home design ideas, exciting weekend or vacation plans, and more while doing nothing in rush hour.
And it’s not just me! Studies have found that “mental wandering” acts as a proven way to boost creativity, innovation, and problem-solving.
Doing nothing makes you better at doing something.
Running nonstop with zero opportunities for rest has never, ever worked in our favor. But when we allow our minds to do nothing for short amounts of time, our brains have the opportunity to actually rest and recharge. That means we come back refreshed and even more productive for the next task at hand.
So how can we harness the power of doing nothing?
The simplest way to capitalize on the power of doing nothing? Simply set down your phone and other distractions when you gain a few minutes to yourself.
Don’t fear silence or boredom. Sit in it.
Observe your surroundings. Listen carefully. Just breathe it in.
Another fantastic way to experience the power of doing nothing is to set a time to do nothing every day. Maybe it’s the last five minutes of the day before you go to bed. Or maybe it’s the first ten minutes of your lunch break.
You don’t need to schedule huge pockets of time. Start small and make those few and sacred moments count!
Though it sounds counterintuitive, the power of doing nothing will do so much for you! It will increase your mindfulness, optimism, problem-solving skills, and creativity, lower your anxiety, and make you more productive at the things you do, do. So put down your distractions and experience it today!
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