Doing Nothing…. Is Real Good For You!

North Americans are known for living some of the busiest lives in the world. Few other people (if any) have as many competing demands on their time than we do. A few years ago I became aware of how obsessed everyone was with being busy.
“How are things?” I would inquire.
“Oh, you know, super busy.” came the reply.
The way they would say it was one part complaint, three parts badge of honour. It was as though they wanted to signal that they too, were “busy.” Very, very busy.
After going through a very stressful time in my life, I began a journey to live a radically less stressful existence. This meant many things, including stopping the instinct to be busy. I was shocked at how hard my brain tried to keep pushing me back to my old ways. The ways of my culture. Breathless, constant busyness was portrayed at almost every turn. Whether it is the corporate ladder climbing heroine in a movie, the businessman in a magazine ad or whatever, we have absorbed a view of success that demands 24/7 scheduling of our time.
If we have a unifying religion in the West, it is Busyness. Interestingly, our brains and bodies seem to be suffering. Stress-initiated illnesses such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Anxiety/Depressive Disorders and Chronic Fatigue are sky rocketing. We are officially pushing ourselves beyond what we were designed to endure.
Some times in our lives are unavoidably busy. As the owner and operator of a busy clinic, a serving member of my church and married father of FOUR kids under 14 I am a busy man. We also do quite a bit of traveling throughout the year.
I am no longer “busy.”
How did I pull this off? Allow me to explain. Research has shown that being active is healthy, but being negatively stressed is not. A few years ago, TED speaker and researcher Kelly McGonigal unveiled new research showing how our interpretation of our busyness can make the stress good or bad. Her evidence essentially showed that if we are overloaded by things we despise or dread, our bodies suffer. But exhaustion coming from activities we enjoy have seemingly positive effects on us.
Here is my secret to strategically removing bad busyness from your life:
1. Know Your Have-To’s and Make Them Fun: All of us have to do certain things. Work, cook, commute, etc. If you are lucky enough to do what you love, this won’t be hard. If you work a less than ideal job, well, make it fun. If prisoners in Auschwitz were able to find the good in their lives, you can to. This may take some time, but figure it out. No excuses. Your commutes can be times to plug into a podcast or other enjoyable audio experiences. Be hands-free on the phone with a loved one while cleaning/cooking.
2. Know Your Strengths and Grow Them: All of us have a unique contribution to make to this world and our generation. All of us. As a Christian, I believe very strongly that we bring something to the table of humanity that no one else in history could. If you are not engaged regularly in your passion, you will suffer. Just Do It.
3. Balance Your “3 Passions”: I recently discovered a wonderful piece of advice: “Have 3 passions in your life. One that makes you money. One that keeps you healthy. One that let’s you be creative.” Find those and work them into your life. Take up jiu jitsu or biking. Get into it. Do it. Start drawing. Playing the piano. Blogging. Expand your mind and influence.
4. Embrace Doing Nothing: If you wake up on a Saturday and immediately feel the urge to “do something,” you are caught in the Cult of Busyness. Your body and brain are accustomed to always trying to do something. Make money, clean the house, prepare for some future disaster, etc. The survival instinct is in overdrive in most North American minds. Interestingly, it has been proven that being overly busy destroys productivity. For me, the Art of Nothing comes in 2 forms.
ONE, several times a day, even in busy clinic times, I take a 3 to 5 minute break. Either I close the curtain on a treatment table and nap or I watch a funny video on youtube. Just a smidgeon of “nothingness” to alleviate my body and soul. Just living, breathing, existing, being.
TWO, for at least a full day each week, I do “nothing.” I can’t necessarily lay there all day because I have 4 children and a wife. But, I don’t do anything on impulse of “I have to.” I will lay in bed as long as I can before I get up. I only do the bare minimum of “have to’s.” I will chose the activities that I want to do, none that I don’t. I will not push the kids to be “doing something.” I will fight my brain’s push to get me to “BE PRODUCTIVE.” No. I don’t want to produce. I want to just exist.
I am still an amateur when it comes to this. I am no master. And I am constantly shocked at how hard my mind and body fight “just being.” But I am improving. I am coming closer to going back to those childhood days in which there was zero guilt attached to going with the flow of your imagination and interests without checking to see if I was any good at a task or if it was “productive.”
Good luck!