On Doing Nothing

This sentence popped into my head yesterday:

Seek out places where it feels easier to do nothing.

I was at my mom’s house in the woods this weekend when this idea occurred to me. I had spent the day doing the following: reading a book, eating a snack, playing with the dog, talking to my mom, making dinner, and going for a walk. All I did, all day long, was some combination of those activities, and that’s it.

Do Nothing to Do Something >> Life In Limbo

What made the day especially magical was that I didn’t feel that guilty push/pull I normally do when I’m at home on a sunny Saturday in the city. On those days, it’s as if I’m afraid of “doing nothing”. I feel like I have to be productive somehow, even when I’m relaxing. (No, it doesn’t make sense to me either, but it’s true. Can anyone relate?)

But that day at my mom’s, like all days at my mom’s, I didn’t feel guilty for sitting in a deck chair reading a beachy summer novel. I didn’t feel like I “should” have been going for a run, or exploring a new part of the city, or checking something off my to-do list. I didn’t feel depressed that I felt like having a nap or that I wanted to sit on the couch for awhile to decompress. All day long, I never once noticed the time. Things felt simple and easy. I was perfectly content. 

Do Nothing to Do Something >> Life In Limbo

This is why one single day at my mom’s house can feel like a weeklong vacation: it’s a place where it is actually easier to do nothing than it is to run around trying to do “something”. The internet connection is unreliable, so it’s not easy to watch TV. The house is down a long windy road, so it doesn’t feel convenient to run errands or really go out at all. The driveway is hard to find, so you can’t exactly order a pizza if you feel lazy. It’s quieter than most places. It’s more peaceful than most places. There are a handful of simple activities that you can do, and those are your options. You don’t feel overwhelmed by all the choices available to you, because some things are easily ruled out. You don’t feel guilty for “doing nothing” because you don’t have much of a choice.

I’m reminded here of Gretchen Rubin’s Strategy of Convenience: “To a truly remarkable extent, we’re more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and less likely if it’s not.”

At my mom’s house, it is far more convenient to do “nothing”. But of course, “nothing” is not the right word for what I’m describing. Here, “doing nothing” refers to what remains when we stop rushing, stop hustling, stop worrying, stop fussing, and just slow down. Here, “nothing” is what’s left over when we turn off our screens and stop making so much noise. In the space that remains, we end up laughing more. We play more. We talk to each other. We linger over meals. We move slowly. We’re more present.

Do Nothing to Do Something >> Life In Limbo

Rob Bell writes, “What seem like the small things are actually the big things”. He’s absolutely right. And similarly, by doing “nothing”, we actually make room for what is meaningful, important, and precious:

Quiet. Groundedness. Peace. Connection. Stillness. Grace. Rest. Satisfaction. Joy. Presence.

So let me amend my original thought:

Seek out places where it feels easier to focus on what is meaningful, important, and precious.

For me, that’s reading, writing, being with the people I love, and spending time outdoors. I tend to get pulled away from these things by unimportant things like movies, social media, busywork, distractions, or a fear of missing out if I choose to opt out of things in order to “do nothing”.

I’m still in the process of figuring out ways to exploit the Strategy of Convenience in my daily life (without being at the cottage in the woods) by making it less convenient to get sucked into bad habits and easier to get pulled into good ones: keeping my phone plugged in outside my bedroom, logging out of Facebook on my computer, having a stack of library books on the table to make them easier to grab. The intentionality is helping, as is the thought that “doing nothing” makes room for the most important of “somethings”. 

How do you remember to focus on what’s important? What are the ways that you help yourself carve out time to do “nothing”?

PS. I also like this post from my friends over at Mindshift Ninja which has some similar ideas & strategies.

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