You truly want to do know what the best thing you can do for your health is?
Well, we’ve actually already given you the answer in the title of this article, because doing nothing, yes that’s right, NOTHING is the best thing for your health.
Hold on, we know what you’re thinking, how can it be possible to do absolutely nothing; I mean simply the act of breathing is doing something, nothing is surely impossible? But, as Audrey Hepburn famously said, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible!'”
So, let’s break it down and look into this doing nothing business in a bit more detail by firstly looking at how it is possible to do nothing.
How can I do nothing?
The Collins dictionary definition of the word nothing is:
- no thing; not anything.
- a matter of no importance or significance.
- indicating the absence of anything perceptible; nothingness
- indicating the absence of meaning, value, worth, etc.
Obviously doing absolutely no-thing is impossible, however taking the time to stop what you’re doing, clear the mind of distractions and, as definition number 2 above states, truly focus on matters of absolute no importance and significance is what the art of doing nothing is ultimately about.
Mastering the art of doing nothing is incredibly difficult and takes a lot of time, patience and practice before you can start to see and feel the benefits, which is why you must start off small. Some people automatically assume that doing nothing is just another word for meditation, which it can be, but meditation isn’t for everyone and nothing can be achieved in many other ways too. You just need to find a way that suits you best; here are some good ideas to get you started:
Have a Bath – fill the tub with your favourite oil and light the scented candles, then close your eyes and allow the steam to clear your mind whilst the hot water washes away the stresses of your day. Focus on the intensity of the smell from the candles and bath oil so that it becomes your main concentration; taking over from all other thoughts.
Daydream – We have all forgotten how good it feels to sit and stare out of a window, or even to sit and stare at nothing, allowing your eyes to defocus and stare into the middle distance. As children we would often stare out of the window at school, dreaming about what we’d rather be doing or letting our imaginations run wild with creativity, yet when we reach adulthood and life takes over, daydreaming turns to reality and we lose the ability to lose ourselves. What a shame that is, because daydreaming is one of life’s simple pleasures that we could all benefit from luxuriating in again.
Yoga – The smooth, fluid movements of yoga are beneficial to both the body and the mind. Yoga allows a person to feel in tune with their body and the concentration involved in moving from one position to another results in the mind pushing away other thoughts to focus on just that one thing. Yoga isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but give it a go, because just 10 minutes every day can be enough to clear your mind, strengthen your body and centre your inner self.
Breathe – We all take breathing for granted and as simple as it sounds to sit and just concentrate on breathing, it’s not as easy as all that. There is a scientific connection between breath, body and the mind and if just one of these factors is off balance the other two are affected. Find a comfortable space, where you can be alone and uninterrupted, sit down, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Slow it right down, making each breath as deep and as full of air as possible. Take the breath in through your nose, feeling your whole body expand then slowly release the breath out through your mouth. Once you have done this a few times you will start to feel your body relax and you can then pay more attention to how other areas of your body feel. Let the motion of breathing become a controlled motion, but one that over time reverts back to being automatic without you even noticing. With each breath out, allow your mind to also empty itself and take pleasure in the release of any negative thoughts and stresses and enjoy the feeling of complete and utter nothingness. Doing this for just a few minutes each day will develop your mindfulness and leave you with a clearer vision of your true physical and mental self.
The more you do any of these things you will begin to notice an emptiness forming between your thought processes and this is the ultimate end goal of nothing. To manage just one empty gap in an otherwise cluttered mind is an achievement in itself and will certainly not happen overnight. The benefits are so incredibly positive that it is well worth putting the time and effort into nothing and as you become more learned you will not only notice a richer, more defined sense of the world around you, but you will also experience immense tranquillity and peace within yourself.
Why is doing nothing so good for us?
Other than the obvious reasons that doing nothing allows us to take time out, to de-stress and to allow our bodies and minds to refresh and rejuvenate, their are also many other great benefits to doing nothing.
Doing nothing can:
As we mentioned above, doing nothing allows the mind to empty and it is during this empty state that the brain works at it’s creative best. When we’re not consciously thinking the sub-conscious kicks in and this can be when we have our absolute best ideas. Doing nothing can ignite the part of the brain that has become dormant through lack of use where it has been inundated with day-to-day mundanities. Many of the most celebrated authors, artists and thinkers in history were keen advocates of doing nothing; James Joyce used streams of consciousness writing in many of his books and the Romantic poets, Wordsworth and Keats, certainly knew how to ‘wander lonely as a cloud’ and celebrate that ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness’.
Make you more productive
Many of us go about our everyday lives, juggling tasks left, right and centre believing that we can and must do it all, but more often than not that simply isn’t true. In actual fact attempting to multi -ask often gives half-hearted results and makes us feel exhausted. We assume this exhaustion means we have worked really hard at the job in hand and therefore makes us think with all the effort put in we must have done it well. Taking time out to do nothing, gives us a chance to step back and realise that some things simply aren’t important and are really not worth worrying about. Focusing on the more important tasks, one at a time not only gives better results, but also achieves a lot more in the long term and leads to higher, more quality productivity.
Allow us to function at our best
The brain needs rest time and it gets this mainly when we sleep. However, sleep is a purely physical form of rest and we also need time to declutter and take stock of our thoughts, which can be achieved through doing nothing. Neuroscientists have discovered that giving our brains a chance to actively rest allows it to strengthen the neural pathways that enable it to back up its database of memories and to support new learning.
Improve our attention span
When you have fully mastered the techniques of doing nothing you will start to notice that every big new project you take on at work, every conversation you have and even every daily task you immerse yourself in is done with so much more awareness and with much more attention to detail. Ironically, the act of doing nothing may feel as though it’s the most counter productive thing you could be doing, but it is in fact the complete opposite. At first it may seem as though doing nothing is a bit of an indulgence, but it really, really isn’t. If you were to ask people to do nothing, the majority of them would answer that they are way too busy to do nothing, bit interestingly it is the very same people that spend hours in front of the TV or glued to Facebook. Convincing yourself that you don’t need to be connected to electronic devices 24/7 and allowing yourself to switch off from them will help your attention span no end and this is 100% necessary if you want to do nothing.
How can I stop the negative thoughts?
Sometime when we take the time to sit and do nothing it can be really difficult banishing any negative thoughts or feelings we may have. It can actually have the effect of highlighting them further and we can get caught in a negativity loop only stresses us further. For some people doing nothing can make them feel guilty about the fact they’re not getting other stuff done, but something as important as reconnecting with yourself should never make you feel guilty.
So, how exactly can we rid our mind and bodies of this negativity to go on to reach true nothingness?
The main principle is to try and distract yourself away from negativity and once you have done that, then you can work on doing nothing. There are several ways in which you can distract your mind and here are just a few of them:
Sitting down with sketchpad and pencil, whether it’s outside amongst nature or some still life inside your home, is the perfect way to focus the mind and concentrate on the smaller details. Take, for example, a flower; look in close detail at the delicacy of the petals, what colours can you see, are there any lines, texture or shadows? What about the stem; is it smooth, furry? And the leaves; does it have any, how many points does it have, is it curvy or angular? Stripping an object down to an almost molecular level makes you observe something in ways you may not have done before and this level of concentration will leave no room for other anxieties. Enjoy the simple pleasure of just ‘being’ with this object to the extent that you feel as though you and the object are one being.
Next time you go out for a walk try slowing down your pace and enjoying the act of wandering rather than walking with a purpose. Rather like stream of consciousness writing, why not allow your instincts to determine where you go and give yourself the opportunity to discover new places, see new things and give your active mind a break from thinking and hard work.
Remind yourself just how small you are in the grand meaning of the universe by taking a blanket out at night and lying in your backgarden to look up at the night sky. It really does put everything into perspective when you see those little beacons of hope twinkling down from millions of miles away and suddenly everything doesn’t seem quite as bad.
And in a similar vein, try doing the same during the day, but by observing clouds instead. What shapes can you see? What different types are there? How fast are they moving? There are even books available to help you with your cloudspotting if you really get into it!
To finish, let us leave you with an example of just how difficult doing nothing can be. In a recent experiment conducted by Professor Tim Wilson from the University of Virginia, participants were told to sit in isolation for 15 minutes in a completely empty room and the results were astounding. Out of the group of 18 men, 12 were found to prefer giving themselves mild electric shocks rather than sit there and do nothing at all. From that experiment alone, it was concluded that the human brain struggles to cope with switching off, which is down to our evolution and the bombardment of external distractions that we force our brain through on a daily basis.
Perhaps we should all take a leaf out of the Italians’ book, who even have a phrase in their language for idly doing nothing; “La Dolce Far Niente”, which translates as the sweetness of doing nothing. I think we all deserve a bit of “La Dolce Far Niente” in our lives, don’t you?