Perhaps the most underrated superpower humans have is the act of doing nothing on purpose.
Paradoxically, the art of doing nothing gets more done by doing less.
This article will not only show you why, but 10 ways you can effectively do nothing.
There isn't a word in the English language describing the concept of intentionally doing nothing.
'Idling' is close: spending time doing nothing.
Perhaps, intentional idling, then, is the best way of describing the art of doing nothing on purpose.
Doing nothing on purpose is not laziness
Laziness is choosing not to do something when you know you should. Intentional idling is choosing to do nothing because you know you should.
It's not putting something off that needs to be done. Rather, it's doing nothing on purpose knowing it needs to be done.
For hundreds of thousdands of years, humans enjoyed ample amounts of leisure time. Without many distractions, or language, hours were spent doing nothing.
This wasn't an accident. Having quiet, undistracted time to be with one's self allowed the body and mind to relax. Over long periods of time, this became part of the human experience. It's all but absent in today's world and it's negatively effecting us.
We experience far more distraction today than any human has ever experienced in history. The brain and nervous system have been overrun by distractions bombarding us from every corner of life through all hours of the day. It's critical we do something about it.
You can see our need for it with the recent explosion of people practicing meditation. But where meditation is the act of sitting to focus on one thing (or nothing), intentionally idling can take on many forms – including meditation.
You can't ever really DO nothing.
You're even doing something when you sleep. So how do you do it?
Schedule out time in your day to experience doing nothing. You can do different things but doing them is simply a means to the end of intentionally idling.
For example, you could schedule time in the afternoon for doing nothing.
You may end up wandering, sitting at home contemplating, or even crocheting.
But the point is you’re not wandering in order to go on a walk, and you’re not crocheting to make something.
You’re intentionally giving yourself the space to not feel as though you should be doing something.
It’s not as easy as you think to do nothing. Because of the fact we always feel distracted, our brains are going to immediately start convincing us of all the things we should be doing.
Therefore, it's necessary to intentionally schedule out space to do nothing in your day. Then, as you do it, you'll be less likely to feel guilty about it because you can remind yourself you scheduled it as part of your day.
Benefits of intentionally idling
Just because you're doing nothing doesn't mean nothing is happening. In fact, intentional idling carves out the space so things that need to happen, can happen.
The more you're able to practice the art of doing nothing, the more control you'll have over your brain to ward off distraction.
You'll have to overcome the urge to do something – pick up your phone, open your laptop, clean the kitchen, watch tv – and eventually, you'll crave distraction less.
Additionally, making this concscious choice to not give into temptation will strengthen the muscle of not giving in to immediate gratification. This in itself is a superpower. By having the ability to imagine your future self, you can choose an action that will benefit yourself in the future instead of doing something in the moment for immediate gratification.
Intentionally idling can also calm your mind and relax your nervous system.
By simply being, and not being pulled in different directions as though you always have somewhere to be, you give your brain and body a chance to relax and recalibrate.
Doing nothing on purpose provides the opportunity to conserve energy. Instead of wasting it on mindless distractions, you can mindfully conserve your energy for more meaningful things.
Giving yourself this time also provides a safe space for your subconscious to come out of hiding. This is important because most of our decisions and feelings arise from the subconscious. Usually it's invisible and we don't have much say in the matter, but by consistently creating the space for the subconscious to rise up, you can begin a dialogue with it. Then, you can better understand what is going on beneath the surface and even influence it as well.
Intentional idling also encourages the brain to make new connections.
This space of doing nothing – and many of the exercises below – encourages the brain to use both left and right hemispheres. When this happens, you may find yourself thinking things you've never considered before. New perspectives arrive and it can alter how you perceive your life.
There are so many benefits of doing nothing on purpose but perhaps the most important is the fact you can better get to know yourself. By sitting with yourself – and nothing else – you provide a unique opportunity to better your relationship to your self. We give so many other things our attention every moment of every day. It's time we also give it to ourselves.
10 Ways to do nothing on purpose
Here are some things you can do to help encourage intentional idling.
Think of them as containers – not goals – to hold the space for purposefully doing nothing.
For example, if you decide to go for a walk, the walk isn't the goal. It's simply the tool you're using to reach the goal of intentionally idling.
The goal in and of itself is to experience a sense of doing nothing on purpose. Here are some containers to hold the space to get you there.
Meditating is a great way to do nothing. There are endless resources online you can access to help guide you but feel free to start with guided meditations if you find yourself having trouble getting started. Calm, Headspace, & Waking Up are great apps to start with.
2. Float in a sensory deprivation tank
Float tanks provide an environment that removes all of your senses so you can simply be. They're dark, silent, you effortlessly float, and you can't feel the water because it's the same temperature as your skin. By removing all your senses and simply being for an hour (or more), you can get the full effect of doing nothing.
And you'll be surprised how beneficial it will be.
3. Doodle / sketch
If there is an art of doing nothing, doodling is in the Hall of Fame. Pull out a piece of paper and see what happens.
4. Stare at the stars
When was the last time you did nothing but stare at the stars?
5. Lay in the grass and think
It's a pastime and yet nobody is doing it anymore.
6. Shake hands with boredom
Some of us remember what boredom used to feel like but these days, it's hard to feel bored when everything screams for your attention. You may not realize it, but you can learn a lot from boredom. It's a wonderful place to explore – even when it feels, well, boring.
7. Wander without a destination
Go get lost. For millions of years humans wandered, got lost, and found their way back. You hand an iPhone so you definitely won't get really lost. Just make sure it's on airplane mode.
But for real, exploration is an essential ingredient in our oldest brain. If we deprive ourselves of it, we'll feel the effects.
8. Sit on the floor and see what happens
You don't have to make it an event to do nothing. In fact, you shouldn't. Sitting on your floor will do the trick.
Give yourself permission to sit, be bored, and just think. Or not.
9. Take a nap
Don't do this out of laziness but necessity. You know the difference between needing rest and being lazy, but sometimes, we just need to take a nap.
It's actually wonderful for your brain and just 20 minutes can reset your day.
10. Stream of consciousness journal without censorship
If you try to sit down and write well, you won't be achieving the goal of doing nothing. Instead, just start writing. Don't pick up your pen or don't stop typing. Keep going.
You may not only be surprised of the result, but where your mind goes in the process. Either way, it's good for you.
Like any art, be patient
The art of doing nothing is hard when you're used to trying to always do everything.
You must learn to be patient and remember that to change how your brain is wired takes time.
But by continuously making the space to intentionally idle – and actively try to do nothing – the more control you'll have over your life and the more productive you will be.