A few blogs ago, I let you all know that I was heading up to Pine Lodge to do some deep thinking about you and who you want to become, and a deep cycle recharge of my brain and soul. I invited you to let me know what you were up to and thinking about. This is what I learned.
Most of you are too tired, too busy, and too many of you are already regretting that you haven’t/didn’t take enough time this summer to recharge.
We live in a society where sitting still and being quiet, completely unplugged and utterly disengaged, is seen as doing nothing – an opinion further polluted with a negative stigma, the implication that doing nothing is synonymous with being nothing. This could not be further from the truth.
To sit in stillness is not actually to do nothing in the sense that time is wasted and there is nothing gained. In reality, sitting in stillness accomplishes a lot, as it allows you to improve every aspect of your life.
When you are constantly doing something, you are constantly stimulating your nervous system to the point of exhaustion – and an over-exerted, depleted nervous system is going to lead to illness (physical or mental) and further suffering. This is how burn-out happens – you are already exhausted, you can’t recover and your body hands you a crisis like a nervous breakdown to force you to stop. Anyone who has ever had a breakdown always says that same thing: “I knew I was tired, but I had no idea I was that tired.” Resting and doing nothing isn’t just a good idea, it’s essential insurance.
I want to make a distinction in the different kinds of downtime: there is vacation and fun downtime. There is mind-numbing Game of Thrones marathon downtime, and then there is the downtime I am referring to which is quiet, unplugged, and slow downtime.
The fact is that in our hyper busy world, slowing down feels wrong. We celebrate how busy we are, and we feel shame when we unplug. Most everyone I know is overcommitted, and this compulsive behavior is not limited to working – we have overcommitted to our hobbies too; we have turned yoga into an extreme sport.
Always being busy diminishes the quality of our lives. Continuously busying ourselves, and filling every waking minute with something to check off, is ludicrous. Enough already. Stop.
It’s the middle of July. Have you taken any time off yet to recharge and rest?
You don’t have to retreat to the country or become a monk or go to sit in isolation in a cabin in the forest for months in order to reap the benefits of doing nothing in the manner I am referring to. You only need to silence your mind, to devote yourself to idleness, for five to ten minutes a day, preferably a few times throughout the day. If your first thought is that you don’t have a single increment of five to ten minutes, then you need this blog intervention more than most.
Some suggestions to help you out from my own personal play book:
When you wake up …
… just lay there doing nothing for 15 minutes. Allow yourself to slowly wake up. Remain idle. I do a little body scan where I consider my body from my feet up. I concentrate on each part; “How do my feet feel? How about my ankles? Shins? Knees?” (my right one is always an issue). When I find an issue, I concentrate on it. I breathe into it, I move it or adjust it if I have to. This isn’t rocket science; it’s just a mental exercise I use to help ease me into my day. A special bonus is that the first cup of coffee you have, after allowing yourself 15-20 minutes to properly awaken, will have the desired effect you’re looking for. Enjoy.
At work …
… take more breaks where you do nothing. Set timers and alarms, work towards self-imposed deadlines so that you can create these windows of “do nothing time” within your workday. For example, set a deadline to finish a project by 10:45 a.m. and then use the remaining 15 minutes to close your eyes, sit quietly in a break room etc. and do nothing. Don’t read the sports news, don’t get on Twitter, don’t invest any energy into anything other than finding idleness and silence.
Research conducted by The Energy Project, a consulting firm specializing in engagement and productivity among workers, has concluded that the longer people work without taking breaks to rest and replenish their minds, “the worse they feel and the less engaged they become.” Shoot for three a day. Trust me.
The Energy Project’s research on workplace productivity and idleness found that individuals who took five to ten minute work breaks to do nothing a few times a day displayed an approximately 50% increase in their ability to think clearly and creatively, thus rendering their work far more productive. This benefits everyone – owners, employees and clients.
Throughout the year …
… don’t mess this up. Go find absolutely anything you can afford to spend at least an hour out into the countryside. You need peace and quiet and room (in time) to think. Go with a single question to answer and see where it takes you. “How can I be happier?” Bring something to write with.
Turn off your phone. Turn off Wi-Fi on your computer when you are on your retreat. And when you do need the computer, limit yourself to Google. After all, some of this deep thinking will lead you to some ideas you will want to look up, so explore them through Google but don’t get sucked into the digital abyss.
You need two Do-Nothing retreats per year, and you need a couple of adventures too where you go do something fun and out of your comfort zone. It’s good for your soul but alas, it’s a topic for another blog.
You need more of your own thoughts and less of everyone else’s.
You need to do more things that make you happy and less that don’t.
You need to spend more time with people who inspire you and less with those who don’t.
You need more time off and less time on.