Mastering the Art of Doing Nothing

Mastering the Art of Doing Nothing | Positively Smitten

There’s no time to waste.

That’s basically my life’s motto, getting me from A to B, task to task, day to day. And that’s what they’ll put on my tombstone if I try to keep up with this standard for as long as I’m here on Earth.

Eew. Of all the awesome quotes to put on a tombstone, that is not the one I want mine to say.

For my entire life, I’ve been great at staying on task/multi-tasking/juggling multiple balls in the air. I’m proud of this. I believe it’s a huge part of my career success, and I’m flattered when someone points out my drive and persistence. I’m sure it’s my go-getter attitude that has allowed me to say that I’ve accomplished some of my life’s dreams in 25 years.

But with each passing year, my life – as I’m sure yours does – becomes more and more full. You know what they say, if you’re doing everything you’re doing nothing? This is starting to feel a little too true. The result? A mind that’s stuck on autopilot.

At one point this year, I hit rock bottom. I was on autopilot morning, noon, and night, Monday through Sunday. My mind was crowded with too many passengers with all these different stops. Rather than let some people off, rather than pull over and take a break, and rather than slow down for fuel efficiency, I cried. No, I bawled. While thinking of what to make for dinner, while vacuuming, while catching up on emails, while mapping out a perfectly good Sunday, I bawled. For as long as I’ve been confident in my ability to get a lot done, and get it done good, apparently the pressure of “What can I cross off now?” had finally caught up with me.

The other day, on my coffee table under 15 magazines, I came across a book on simple ways to love life. Dog-eared was a page I love:

If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live. – Lin Yutang

You know, I believe this to be true. The people I look up to most really are not the ones who have lists of accomplishments two miles long; they’re the people who walk through life a little slower and more deliberately.

So I’m cracking down for good, starting this year off right by taking one of my New Year’s resolutions very seriously: Master the art of doing nothing when a mental or physical break is in order.

I’m going to try an experiment to learn how to successfully, meaningfully, purposefully, deliberately do nothing. Some who know me will assume I’ll fail miserably. Doing nothing is just not in my nature. Never has been. Ever. I say this with such confidence because “there’s no time to waste” has been part of me my whole life. Others may wonder if it’s just a sneaky way of procrastinating. No. Unless it comes to writing articles, I don’t think I’ve ever procrastinated. So there. I’m going to do this, and I’m worried it may change my life in how much I (don’t) get done day-to-day. Will I suddenly not accomplish anything, like my dream of finishing writing my novel or traveling to Tuscany? Will normal pieces of my routine – cooking dinner and working out – just not happen? Yikes!

I need a strategy.

Here it is, and it’s a simple one. I’ll take some time each day to do nothing – I’ll commit to 20 minutes. By this I mean I won’t have a plan, I won’t overthink how I should be spending these 20 minutes, and I won’t decide in advance when it happens, I’ll just let it happen. I won’t look at my to-do list, attempt to multi-task and get just one more thing done. I’ll just sit around, think, roll on the floor with the dogs, and lose track of time. I’m going to make myself get comfortable with the idea of doing nothing and accepting it, being OK with it.

Sounds sort of simple in theory, but I know the urge to do, do, do will be a challenge. (I don’t even watch T.V. because I’m usually too busy doing something…I swear!) My biggest fear of all is that I’ll be diminishing myself in some way, like as in being less of a person. I know. This is nonsense. So I’m going to learn to accept that doing nothing for a period of time every day does not make me lazy or untalented or a person with no drive. It’s a healthy choice one chooses to make for her sanity!

Yes, I enjoy life and every day there’s things I want to do and something new I want to try. But it doesn’t have to come at the expense of happiness. No more autopilot, no more going through the motions. I’m going to master the art of doing nothing.


9 responses to “Mastering the Art of Doing Nothing

  1. Doing nothing is so important, and so uinderrated in our frantic rush – even when I’m not doing anything I can’t help checking my phone…
    Have you tried mindfulness? It is a way of stoppping and simply observing what is happening in that moment, how you feel, what you;re thinking, how you;re feeling. Not trying to change it, just noticing it. I love it, if you’re interested try It comes with a cd, it might help you settle into it as suddently stopping could be quite tricky! Let me know if you like it…


  2. I don’t know if this counts, but I just spent the last half hour sitting still and listening to my favorite love songs on XM radio from 25 to 35 years ago, thinking about how they made me feel in my younger years – not necessarily any particular memory – just enjoying the familiar feeling in the present. Amazing how that’s possible.


  3. Good for you, Steph! And may I suggest…don’t focus on “mastering” or “perfecting” this; just make a small step towards change and applaud yourself for moving in the right direction. The rest will fall into place 🙂


  4. Pingback: I’m So Focused on Constant Success that I Feel Guilty When I Relax | Positively Smitten Magazine·

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