Written by Vani Venugopal and published on 12 November 2021.
With the current work-from-home scenario, most of us are running on jam-packed schedules. However, it is important to take a break and 'do nothing' with your family. Read on as we tell you how
When was the last time you did nothing?
Under the current circumstances caused by the pandemic, this idea seems almost laughable. Our schedules are so packed with work meetings, the children's online classes and activities, and household chores that even the mere thought of taking some time off to do nothing seems impossible. Every spare minute is spent finding ways to keep the kids engaged or planning meals or attending to the million other tasks on our to-do lists.
We live in a culture where productivity is valued very highly. We are constantly being told to be "useful" and not "waste time". This mindset is so wired in us that taking some time off to unwind often feels frivolous. We feel guilty about wasting time when we have so much to do. In fact, if we were asked to do nothing, most of us wouldn't even know how to do it!
For instance, when we think of spending time with our families, most of us consider a planned or structured activity. Road trips, games, movie nights, all of this spells fun. However, when we get so busy with planning, we miss out on a very important need - the need to spend time together with no plans or agendas.
What we often forget is that our constant preoccupation with productivity can come at the cost of our mental and physical health. Dr Sue Smalley, co-author of the book, Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness, describes the other side of hyper-productivity when she says,
"It's not surprising that rates of depression, anxiety, and stress are increasing as the doingness of life seems to have little counterbalance."
She describes the need to spend time doing nothing - or just being - as essential to leading well-rounded, fulfilling lives.
In his paper, 'Doing Nothing and Nothing to Do: The Hidden Value of Empty Time and Boredom', Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries also describes how the balance between activity and inactivity in modern life has become out of sync. He explains the importance of doing nothing or having idle time as a way to restore that balance. In fact, he stresses that doing nothing is important for our mental health and can play a big role in nurturing creativity and innovation.
"Seemingly inactive states of mind can be an incubation period for future bursts of creativity," he says.
We need to remind ourselves that our brains are not built to run at such high speeds constantly and be productive all the time. We need rest to re-energize and focus; we need a connection to feel happy and healthy. In fact, running at high speeds without breaks will eventually lead to burnouts and affect the very productivity that we were chasing.
We are here to tell you that taking some time off to unwind and do nothing is just what you need, now more than ever. 'Doing nothing' with your family will do wonders in building connections and ensuring the well-being of everyone. There is a phrase in Italian that goes, "La dolce far niente," which means the sweetness of doing nothing. What all of us need to find is this feeling. That sweet joy that comes with doing nothing other than being in each other's company.
The questions that immediately crop up are, How can I do it? How can I get my kids to do nothing? We understand that 'doing nothing' is easier said than done. In fact, learning how to tune off and find joy in nothing time is an art, which when mastered can help us reap many benefits. We are here to give you a few tips to help you find that joy.
Life can get busy, stressful, and loud. It is important to find some time to shut down and unwind. The first step to doing nothing is to find the time when you can disconnect from the world and be with your family. Schedule a time when everyone is available. This doesn't have to be long. Setting aside many hours to do nothing would be impractical and overwhelming. It can be as short as 5-10 minutes but try to do it a few times a week. As you get used to the practice of doing nothing, you can increase the time periods and create a routine out of it.
You can also use the free time that you find in a day to do nothing. This can be the few minutes between calls or the 15-minute window that opened up because of a canceled appointment. Instead of turning to screens or tending to other tasks, use these short intervals to unwind, relax and do nothing. This will help you feel more energized when you return to work.
Most of us turn to scroll through our phones or watching TV when we think of downtime. However, this is something that takes up our energy and time. While it may seem like we're doing nothing, we are, in fact, consuming content and engaging our minds and senses constantly through these gadgets. It can get exhausting!
"Your brain sees your phone as work," says Celeste Headlee author of the book 'Do Nothing'. She explains that any time that the phone is visible, a part of our brain is expending energy to prepare for a notification. It is impossible to have downtime if you are engaged with your phone.
Moreover, it takes away from the valuable time you can spend with your family being present in each other's company. So, an important step to doing nothing is to put your mobile phones in flight mode and to turn off your laptops and other gadgets. Instead, lie on the grass with your kids and watch clouds float by.
If needed, set an alarm so that you can return to your activities once your 'doing nothing' time is over.
Doing nothing is more than just sitting on the couch and staring at a wall. It is an act of clearing your mind of all schedules, plans, and agendas and making space for what emerges.
When you start out, allocating many hours for doing nothing can seem overwhelming, both for you and the children. The best way is to start small. Set aside about five minutes in a day as your 'do nothing' time. See how comfortable you and everyone else feels and you can increase the time slots as you go ahead. Even a few minutes of nothing time before you head off to work or between meetings can help you feel connected with the family and help your children feel more secure.
It is natural to feel guilty about the time spent doing nothing. However, remind yourself that you're choosing to do nothing because it will contribute to your happiness and well-being. You are not being lazy or wasting time! In fact, these short breaks are crucial for your well-being and to keep up your productivity.
It might feel strange as you sit down to spend time with your family without an agenda. Your instinct might tell you to find a game or an activity. Resist the urge. Be in the moment and in each other's company. Soon, you will find conversations emerging. Your kids might complain that this is boring. Let the conversation take its natural flow. If your children want to play, let them lead. Give them your full attention and you will find that they respond quickly. Children usually have a lot of structure in their day. This short unstructured time can help them unwind and get creative.
The biggest challenge in doing nothing is to turn off your thoughts. Sometimes, you would have cleared your schedule but find yourself unable to relax because your mind is still running at 100 miles per hour. It is difficult to truly connect with your family if you are constantly preoccupied with your board meeting or that report you are working on. For the short duration that you have scheduled your downtime, try to disengage with other thoughts and focus on the present moment. This can seem difficult initially but as you build a practice of connection, it will become easier.
Jenny Odell, the author of the book, 'How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy,' describes reconnecting with one's temporal and spatial environment as an essential step to doing nothing. Simply put, it is engaging with your surroundings. Observe things around you. What color are your walls? Do you hear birds outside the window?
Go for a walk around your house with your kids. Forget fitness goals, take a walk just for the sake of it. Look at the shapes made by clouds in the sky, observe the color of the leaves and flowers, enjoy the touch of wind against your cheek, listen to the crunch of gravel under your shoes. These simple acts of engaging with your surroundings will help you feel more connected and alive.
Doing nothing can mean different things to different people. Some people enjoy spending it in nature, for others, it is playtime with kids, some enjoy listening to music or even taking a nap. What emerges out of the nothing time is a different journey for everyone. The fact that is common is that 'doing nothing' has a lot to offer. When done with intention and care, it is not laziness or a waste of time. It is an act of self-care that can help you break from the anxiety-ridden world of screens and reconnect with yourself. Spending nothing time with your family is an enriching experience that will help you bond and grow closer. By spending free time with each other you are investing in your family and creating space for your relationships to blossom.
So, find some time for yourself and your family, turn off your gadgets, and do nothing!
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