When you hear the words “doing nothing”, what do you think of? Imagines of lounging on the couch, binge-watching Bridgerton and eating junk food come to my mind. But the art of doing nothing is just that: an art form. And most of us are doing it wrong.
The simple art of doing nothing is not an activity that Americans typically have programmed into us, but it is a skill that we can learn to master.
So what exactly is “the art of doing nothing?”
The art of doing nothing is the active pursuit of rest, relaxation, and just being without allowing outside influences in. Meditation is a prime example of “doing nothing”, but there are many other forms, like deep breathing, being in nature, or journaling with the intention of nourishing our souls.
Why the Art of Doing Nothing is Good for You
I’ve said it before, and I’ll undoubtedly say it again: our hustle culture is not good for us. We embrace those more “masculine” energies and traits like rationality, planning, unrelenting work, and earning money for the sake of progress. We push our bodies and minds to the limit.
In fact, adults have, on average about 4 hours and 26 minutes of leisure time per week, which has declined over the years. In The Context of Things, the author claims that a 40 hour work week in the 1950s was as productive as an 11 hour work week today. This means that you’re doing almost 4 times the work your grandparents were doing… that is, if you’re lucky enough to only work a 40 hour week.
All of those hours you’re working and effort you’re putting in are a huge drain on our system. Anxiety and depression have been increasing for almost every age group since the 1930s. We spend significantly less time outdoors: in fact, Americans spend 90% of their time inside. And we also spend over 5 hours per day staring at our phones.
What’s worse, is that when we “relax”, we have a tendency to participate in mindless, unhealthy activities, like binge-eating, excessive alcohol intake, sitting on the couch, or having ice cream or a Starbucks frappuccino, all while rationalizing that WE DESERVE IT. But we berate ourselves for these things, giving in to feelings of guilt and shame, which then refuel our overworking, which results in another crash and more guilt.
There is a BETTER WAY to Rest
Yes, there is a way to break the cycle of overworking and guilt-induced over-indulging. And it starts with active relaxation.
While the unhealthy activities listed above are mindless, when we’re mindful and conscious about choosing healthy ways to do nothing, we’re able to restore some balance. We can break out of that unhealthy cycle.
The Art of Doing Nothing is all about those conscious, mindful activities that allow us to truly relax and refill our cups so that we may be nourished for longer. People who practice these techniques below have a greater sense of fulfillment, more awareness, and they even may have healthier boundaries surrounding their work routines.
5 Ways to Practice the Art of Doing Nothing
Deep breathing is one way to do nothing in a manner that will help to nourish you. Diaphragmatic breathing is when you purposefully and slowly bring air into your whole lungs, resulting in a belly that goes out and in. This is similar to the style of breathing that trained singers use.
This kind of breathing is said to have many benefits, from boost your immune system, decrease your anxiety, and even give you more energy. Alternate nostril breathing, also called Nadi Shodhan Pranayama in yoga, is another form of breath control that has many benefits.
You don’t even have to do this for a very long time to experience benefits. As few as 5-9 rounds of controlled breathing a day can be intensely restorative to us.
READ MORE: How to Nourish Your Soul
2. Sit in nature
Immersion in nature is another excellent way to do nothing in a way that can revive your body and spirit. We’ve known for a long time that there are numerous benefits to being in nature, but it turns out that nature is essential to our health and happiness.
Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function.Yale Environment 360
However, the threshold is 2 hours. If you want to see benefits like lowering blood pressure, balancing hormones, enhance your immune system, and boost your confidence, you need to spend a minimum of 120 minutes a week outdoors. You can sit and be still, you can hike or do other activities, you can read, but please, put your phone away!
3. Enjoy your sense of smell and taste
If you have anxiety, you may be aware of the 54321 technique. This technique is a coping technique for someone experiencing panic, but the concepts in it are just as effective for stress relief and practicing the art of doing nothing.
In the technique, you choose 5 things to see, 4 things to touch, 3 things to hear, 2 things to smell, and 1 thing to taste. Bringing ourselves back to our senses is incredibly grounding and helps to anchor us into our bodies and the present moment.
For those of us experiencing mild, persistent stress, we often don’t have time to stop and smell the roses, or enjoy a piece of chocolate. But that’s the point. We need to stop and “do nothing”. Find 2 things to smell, maybe your favorite shampoo or perfume, or maybe some awesome essential oil blends. Find 1 more thing to taste, something not overly sweet or salty. Pick something with a bold flavor profile, like chocolate or wine.
READ MORE: How to Nourish Your Body
4. Feel hot and cold on your skin
Ever wonder why it feels so good to dip in the cool pool after sitting in the hot sun? There’s a long tradition of ice-swimming in Finland that is often used in conjunction with hot saunas.
Feeling hot and cold on your body is a great way to rest and reset your system. The Art of Manliness has an excellent article on the benefits of cold showers and how to alternate between hot and cold. And even though it’s written for men, if you’re a womxn, most of these benefits still apply to you!
Utilizing hot and especially cold on our skin is another way to do nothing in an active way. Some benefits include improving circulation, relieving depression, and boosting your immune system. It can even help your skin and hair. So when you hop into the shower, practice some deep breathing and turn your water cold!
5. Listen to classical music
Here’s another sense technique that can benefit your stress and help you feel present and grounded while essentially doing nothing.
The Mozart Effect was popular in the 1990s, but the concepts still hold true. It said, in essence, that students were more likely to do better on tests when they had listened to classical music beforehand. But just like the other items on this list, listening to relaxing classical music can have some pretty awesome benefits, including:
- decreases blood pressure
- boosts memory
- sparks creativity
- reduces stress
- fights depression
So while you’re “doing nothing”, add some classical music to reap the benefits.
As you can see, the art of doing nothing is actually quite an active activity. Spacing out does not nourish us in the same way that active relaxation does. So whenever you find yourself in need of some nourishment and want to space out and do nothing, add some of these techniques to help yourself break out of that stress cycle.
Just don’t try too hard!
What’s your favorite way to do nothing?