Today's society seems to entail putting ourselves into a constant state of frenzy. For a long time, I fell right in line: feeling obligated to attend every activity, rushing from place to place, never saying no, and then finally falling into bed, only to wake up to repeat the cycle.
The game-changer for me was when I realized a few things: that this way of existence was actually a choice I was making for myself and my family, that no one was happy living this way, and that we had the freedom to choose differently.
Awareness is the first step. In a world where our attention is constantly being sought by external forces, I invite you today to take a single step toward transforming your mind and better managing your emotions.
I want you to take 10 short minutes to do NOTHING.
By nothing, I mean finding a space (let’s call it a hiding place), void of any external stimuli (household commotion, workplace chatter, traffic) and sitting with only yourself.
For just 10 minutes, breathe and be still. Consider this time as a gift to your present and future self that should be gifted daily as essential part of your self-care practice. How often do we say we want to slow down and step out of busyness—but never quite take action? This is your chance, and the technique is always available to you.
You may think that this isn’t worth trying. I get it. Doing nothing doesn’t sound very alluring. After all, if done right, it is pure emptiness, and may have a connotation of lack. While our minds and souls desperately require emptiness for restoration, creativity, and the joy to flourish, we feel a more immediate sense of reward when we cross off lots of tasks from our ever-growing do-list.
This sense of reward is thought to be the essence of the Ego. When we allow ourselves to set this sense of doing and achieving aside, the Ego is quieted, and the True Self will emerge.
Despite the importance that we assign to our daily tasks, completing most of them are not true requirements in our lives. Even further, we tend to create a false sense of urgency for them. (How many of us can just allow our phone to ring without answering it?)
We also tend to assign a distorted sense of importance to unimportant tasks, often due to societal pressure about how life should look. Notice how often we say we need to or have to do something, rather than acknowledging that these are choices that we are making about how we, and our children, spend our time.
Consequently, under the strain of these self-imposed demands, we seek respite by sinking into mindless activities like snacking, overdrinking, shopping, binge TV watching, and social media scrolling.
The Do Nothing practice is an alternative approach to create calm and spaciousness in your life, and there are exciting neuroscientific studies to support its effectiveness for mental, spiritual, and emotional health. A part of the brain called the Default Mode Network (DMN) is active whenever we are distracted and thinking about ourselves, and this strong DMN-activity has been linked to negative mood.
Brain scans have shown that DMN activity decreases during a Do Nothing session. This period of quiet calm elicits a positive mood that can be compared to a flow state-- that spaciousness felt when we immerse ourselves in a creative activity for a duration of time.
Creating the new habit of setting aside 10 minutes to Do Nothing every day may be challenging, so in the beginning it might be helpful to pair the practice with another well-established habit, like brushing your teeth or eating breakfast. Treat your Nothing time like a doctor appointment or as if a lot of money was on the line: non-negotiable and important.
As you do the work (because it will feel like work at first), it may feel strange, or like it’s not working, or that you are doing it wrong. And that’s fine. Dismiss your brain’s disapproval and stick with it! Over time, you will notice a newfound creativity, joy, and sense of balance.
Since adopting this practice, I have discovered a vast, calm mental space that I was unable to access before. Spending just a few minutes there each day has allowed for me to tap into creative thought that has accelerated projects and led to unique problem-solving. There are days where the quiet doesn’t come so easily, and my Ego will want to tell me that my Nothing practice was a total waste of time.
But then, when I least expect it, a fun idea will pop into my head. Sometimes it is the “perfect” flow for a Pilates class. Yes! Or a new song --with choreography!!-- for a spin class. Bonus! When we allow time for doing Nothing, we are giving the brain permission to play. With practice, revisiting this blissful state will require less effort and be more quickly accessible for you when you need it.
Step out of the cycle of trying to do everything, while not getting very far. Rather, try doing Nothing, and see how rich your life can become.
Then guard your 10 minutes like your life depends on it…because a meaningful life does.
How has a Do Nothing practice made a difference in your life? Please be sure to share.