Jul 1, 2024
Cover Stories

Lots of something about doing nothing

That’s right, industrious multitaskers. Today’s lifestyle trend is all about the biggest chill of all — doing nothing, nada, niente, rien, niksen.

Oodles of people around the globe are writing, blogging, podcasting, posting, researching, surveying and producing news segments on “the art of doing nothing.”

A taste of something about nothing

• A search on Amazon offered more than 20 books on “The Art of Doing Nothing.”

• The Secret of Soul Facebook group posted about a peculiar train station in south Japan completely isolated in the middle of nowhere, the Seiryu Miharashi station. It has no entrance or exit. This station has one function: to remind people of the importance of stopping and doing nothing, both physically and mentally, and simply admiring the landscape, according to the post.

• A CBS Sunday Morning segment featured award-winning journalist Celeste Headlee and her book “Do Nothing, How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving.” Even MIT/Picower Institute professor of neuroscience Earl Miller got into the “do nothing” show.

• As it turns out, the famously laidback Dutch have a word, “niksen,” that’s loosely defined as “doing nothing.” Intrigued, writer Olga Mecking, a Polish woman living in the Netherlands, looked into it, and wound up writing the book “Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing.” And she told CNN all about it in a lengthy, in-depth interview.

Even Pensacola mental health professionals Catherine Quiring and Cynthia Wells agree it’s a good idea for us to learn the idiom “stop and smell the roses.”

No doubt, this seems totally impossible for many Americans, thanks to our do-something obsessed society.

“Our society is focused on the outcome over the person and the journey, so if there’s not an outcome, we are not included or rewarded,” said Quiring, a licensed mental health counselor and self-trust coach. “We learn to equate our value with our outcomes. Thus, if we do nothing, we also might feel worthless and inadequate.”

In the United States, we are trained from a young age to constantly achieve and do something goal-oriented, causing our nervous systems to become addicted to action and productivity, Quiring said. 

“Questioning the time needed to do nothing can be justified, but doing nothing should be included as personal and necessary self-care for your mental health,” said Wells, a psychotherapist/life coach and creator of Destiny Launchers.

Cynthia Wells, a psychotherapist/life coach and creator of Destiny Launchers, says learning how to “do nothing” provides the opportunity to tune into our bodies and listen to what life is trying to tell us.

“Learning to slow down the fast pace of life and embracing some still moments of doing nothing can be hard to accomplish, but know that you and your society may need it more today than ever before.”

Look into the vast benefits of doing nothing, Wells advised. For starters, experts say it induces a state of relaxation, lowers blood pressure, improves digestion, renews energy, regenerates creativity and much more.

“It can help you justify the needed rest and the focused concentration,” she said. “Chilling out and learning to do nothing as a daily requirement can possibly add additional joy, peace and even years onto your life.”

Wells added inspiring food for thought.

“You may think that it’s a waste of your limited quality time to do nothing, but making time to lay upon the crystal white sand looking up into the sun, or sitting on a park bench at the end of the waterfront gazing at the winds as they move across the water waves or even rising early to meet the magical sunrise can all be a rich resource of renewed strength.”

Quiring stressed the bottom line.

“We’re burned out and exhausted, but we don’t know how to get off the hamster wheel of action and take a break,” she said.

Over the years, Quiring said she learned to listen to her body when it told her it needed a break. Today, she reduces self-expectations, creates much shorter to-do lists, values rest, finds self-worth in times of rest and discovers how to be in the space simply being.

“For me, I call it following my nose,” Quiring said.

A frequent contributor to Psychology Today and a longtime proponent of “doing nothing,” Dr. Colleen Long advises that we learn from the Italian culture.

“The Italians have a concept for piddling around known as ‘la dolce far niente,’ which means ‘the sweetness of doing nothing,’” said Long, a New England-based licensed psychologist.

So, how different would our quality of life be if we made time throughout the day to experience “la dolce far niente”?

“Instead of using your free moments to catch up on what housewife bought what SUV on Hulu, instead of checking your email one last time to see if anyone else is needing you to do something, instead of using your free time to check your bank accounts or pay that cell phone bill — what if you just did nothing?” Long suggested.

Perhaps, experience the biggest chill of all.

Just be

Pensacola mental health counselor Catherine Quiring offers baby steps for “doing nothing.”

• Give yourself permission. Tell yourself you are being human, not lazy. Doing nothing is a vital part of your well-being.

• Explore. What flavors of “doing nothing” feel good to you? It might be with people, or alone. Perhaps it’s reading, enjoying nature or friends.

• Practice. Create new habits and rhythms that support time to do nothing.

• Fall out of love with achievement and productivity. Stop seeing them as your only source of worthiness and pleasure.

• Reduce expectations, tasks, pressures and to-do lists.

• Embrace humanness and needs.

• Return to the natural ebb and flow of life, which involves both action and rest. 

• Notice when your brain and body say they need a moment to do nothing. Do not resist or suppress this.

• Add “do nothing” to your to-do list.

• Create a mantra to remind yourself that you have permission to rest. It is rejuvenating, nourishing, life-giving and necessary for your survival.