the art of doing nothing

A few years ago I realized I had a BIG problem.

I was at the beach with my family, and as always, I was looking for something exciting to do. You know, I wanted to tour some historical location or find some quaint little antique shop to peruse or maybe look for an amusement park….anything besides sitting aimlessly on the beach staring out into the horizon for hours. I couldn’t imagine just sitting there being unproductive for a whole day. My brain was relentlessly going over all the reasons that would be a waste of time, boring, and generally NOT fun…….when it hit me.

I had become one of THOSE people!

Somehow I had lost the ability to feel happy and content in silence and tranquility, but instead needed constant entertainment and input. And even worse, I felt like this type of down time was unproductive and wasteful. Now, this truly sneaked up on me because I have always been the type to put down my phone and turn off other electronics. I consciously revel in my alone time.

So I was completely overwhelmed when I realized I lost the ability to enjoy the simplest joys in life – quiet, uncomplicated time that allowed my body and brain to completely rest.

After all, there are many ways to fill our minds and time, right?

Information/Input Junkies

Consider this quote from Psychology Today titled “Flooding Your Brain’s Engine: How You Can Have Too Much of a Good Thing” by Joanne Cantor, Ph.D:

“According to a recent international poll by LexisNexis, workers around the world are increasingly overwhelmed by the amount of information they have to manage, and information overload is widely seen as a growing threat to workplace productivity.”

So here’s the problem: We live in a world of constant input. We have gone from a slower, more natural pace of life that evolved around the seasons and agriculture to a life that is always switched on.

Many elements of our modern life have contributed to this shift, but here are the main offenders:

  • the Internet
  • 24 hour television stations
  • 24 hour stores

I remember when I was young (which wasn’t THAT long ago) and most stores closed on Sundays….or at least kept shorter hours.  In fact, I actually remember when Wal-Mart used to close. Sounds strange now, doesn’t it?  (What I can’t get dog treats after 10:00 pm????)

We are used to getting what we want, when we want it. This has caused our addiction to instant gratification. No one has to actually wait for anything now.

Want to watch a movie? Boom……it takes than less than a minute to find it on Netflix or Amazon Prime. How about reading a new book? Download it in about 30 seconds on your Kindle. Or music. No wonder we are all so spoiled and entitled.

And with this comes the need to be the coolest, hippest person in any room. So you try to ready EVERY new best seller-book, and watch EVERY discussion-worthy movie, try EVERY fashionable new recipe, and try to fit in EVERY attraction on vacation so you don’t feel like you are missing something….etc, etc., etc……

Which leads me to the next problem……

How and When to Turn Off the Noise

Let’s be honest. The world of constant input has become our “normal” now. Even those of us young enough to remember a slower life are now acclimated to the constant barrage of information that is currently our world.

So when should we turn it off?

Every chance we get!

I used to mindlessly come home and immediately turn on the television or radio for “background” noise. But why?  Because that was my normal. Is that your normal, too?

Here are some ways to cut out some of the noise in your life and also find ways to do nothing and rest your brain.

  1. Place a small fountain in your living/family room and use it instead of turning on television/music.
  2. Open windows and listen to the sounds of nature.
  3. Turn on low, calming music such as classical or slow jazz (instead of other music).
  4. Sit on your front porch with a cup of tea or coffee (we installed an outdoor fan so we could do this more often).
  5. Sit outside at night and watch the stars.
  6. Go on vacation and purposefully plan time to do nothing except sit on the balcony.
  7. Don’t put a television or radio in your camper.
  8. Turn off the radio in your vehicle and just listen to the lulling sounds of the road.

Science has proved that resting our minds and bodies gains more productivity in the long run, so there is your excuse to try all of the above.

How To Find the Joy in Doing Nothing

Okay, you now have a list of ways to do nothing, but how do you learn to enjoy it (instead of constantly thinking about things you could or should be doing)?

This one is simple: Give yourself permission to do so.

It is amazing how simply and easily this works. When I told myself it was perfect and natural to want to some down time and it didn’t matter if I didn’t see every attraction while on vacation, my trip immediately got better. The pressure was off and my time was now mine. I was in complete control of my vacation and no longer felt the urge to cover as much ground as possible while on vacation lest my time and energy be ill spent.

It was so liberating that I wondered why I hadn’t given myself this gift before then. But I guess it all boils down to sometimes not seeing the simplest solutions for our lives.

When we talk about minimalism and removing the clutter from our lives, we can easily forget about the things we can’t see. Giving yourself this permission is also giving yourself love on the most basic level.

And love is like money, you need to give to yourself first. When you love yourself, you have abundant love to give to others.