Doing Nothing

Why Timeouts Matter



Anatoli Styf/Shutterstock.com

In a harried world where our work is never done, it’s tough to take timeouts to do nothing. Yet, when we pump the brakes on Americans’ obsessive drive, we discover fresh productivity, creativity and contentment.

“We’re socialized to pride ourselves on accomplishment and achievement, yet when you step back, you realize doing nothing produces a valuable currency, especially in enhanced mental health,” says Colleen Long, a Boston psychologist and author of Happiness in B.A.L.A.N.C.E: What We Know Now About Happiness.

Italians call it la dolce far niente, or the sweetness of doing nothing, while the Dutch word niksen translates as “doing something without a purpose”. Here are a few tips to reclaim the art of be-ing over do-ing.

Create a “do nothing” ritual. Set aside a special time and make it known. It can start the morning or wind down an evening. It may be meditating a few minutes or enjoying a bit of aromatherapy, wherever the heart leads.

Relax into the moment. Acknowledge guilty feelings when they arise, but don’t heed them. It takes time to undo mental programming and learn to quiet the voice urging, “Don’t just stand there, do something!”

Mindfully do nothing. It’s not about vegging out with passive activities like watching TV or checking email. It’s a time to come alive to our senses and surroundings, whether listening to music or people-watching, free of distractions from phone calls or anxious thoughts.

Doing something is okay. The aim is to let go of the compulsion to check off every item on our to-do list—but that doesn’t mean blankly staring off into space. These are purposeful moments without a specific purpose. Doodle in a sketchbook, wander around the neighborhood or lie in the grass and look at clouds. Spontaneously go with the flow.

There’s no one way or right way to do nothing. “Just by carving out space, you’ll get a benefit even if it doesn’t feel like you’re doing it right or perfectly,” advises Long. It looks different for different people. “Before I had kids, my ‘nothing time’ might be just being out in nature or simply doing one thing mindfully at a time, like washing dishes. Now I incorporate the principle into family time. One day a week, I shut off the phone, get on the floor with my kids and just let life get messy.”


Connect with April Thompson, in Washington, D.C., at AprilWrites.com.


This article appears in the June 2018 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Eat Right to Sleep Well

Rather than popping a pill, eating certain foods can kick-start hormones that help us get a long, deep night’s sleep.

We Need Clean Waters

Efforts are underway around the country to make polluted waterways clean again and to instill local appreciation for their many helpful roles.

Peter Gros on Preserving Wild Nature

The wildlife expert explains why we should appreciate wolves, snakes and bats and what he finds encouraging about an enlightened focus on wildlife protection.

Running with the Kids

Families with children as young as 5 easily bond when they mindfully run together at a fun pace.

Livable Communities We Love

Across the country, cities from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to Portland are finding fresh new ways to create engaging street life for residents while eco-upgrading their green spaces, services and infrastructure.

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags

See More »This Month

A Feastival of Sustainable Living

Edible Alchemy, a local and sustainably minded food co-operative, presents their annual Summer Feastival.

The Tastiest Festival of Them All

The 11th annual Good Food Festival & Conference from FamilyFarmed will take place from March 19 to 21.

Midwest Yoga Conference

The Midwest Yoga Conference, now in its 12th year, will be held May 19 through May 22. This is a great opportunity to join with other like-minded individuals and explore the many beneficial aspects of yoga.

Natural Awakenings Family of Franchises Continues to Grow

Natural Awakenings Publishing Corp. (NAPC) welcomed two new publishers to a recent training session at the corporate headquarters in Naples, Florida.

Free Screening for Oral Cancer in April

April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and Glenview holistic dentist Alla Aver, DDS, is offering all new patients a free ViziLite oral cancer screening with their cleaning and exam.

Nature’s Night Out Benefits Ecology Center

The Evanston Environmental Association (EEA) is holding its primary annual fundraiser, Nature’s Night Out, from 7 to 10:30 p.m., May 18.