Laying out new year resolutions brings that extra dose of stress caused by declaring how this will finally be the year that thing will actually happen. However, in the midst of the “shoulding,” self discipline, and ever popular vision boarding, our already frazzled brains, still screaming from all the holiday madness and overload of sugar and/or alcohol, sputter to a halt like a cranky old car. By March, the resolutions have become resignations and being back in the daily grind has crushed our well-laid plans. We might still bully our way to the gym but we ain’t enjoying it and pretty soon that sore back or head cold or work overload will take over. Again.
Here’s the best tip I can give you for entering this New Year:
Learn to Do Nothing. That’s right. Nothing. No thing. Nothing.
Set aside those resolutions, toss discipline out the window and put your self help books in the garage sale. Take most of the time you planned to spend reading, strategizing, and analyzing, and instead, learn to silence your mind. Hit the reset and float a while in the moment – experiencing your surroundings and your body. Only listening, feeling and noticing.
Do this one thing and I promise you, that the benefits and rewards will far outweigh the fear and angst that the very thought of ‘doing nothing’ may trigger. An idle mind, far from being the ‘devil’s workshop’ is a haven away from the over-stimulation and endless ruminating that we have mistaken for normal life. There’s nothing normal or healthy about being dragged through life by your thoughts, especially if they are persistently assessing, comparing, judging and striving to reach the next goal rather than feeling, noticing, reflecting and acting on the signs, signals and sensations provided for free by the greatest teacher we have available – our own deep intelligence.
Under the busy and obsessive noise box in your mind, there is a deep awareness that provides a rich field of information. That information is constantly flowing, providing us with clues and directions, reminders and nudges that offer us a thousand of ways to be happier, healthier, calmer, and richer in relationships as well as more comfortable around money. Forget the goals. Forget trying to bully and command yourself to do things that you think are good for you. Learn to listen, and find the flow of that guidance system. The rest will work itself out.
How doing nothing can help you
First of all, doing nothing is unhooking from the mental demands, rules, obligations, and illusions of control that we tend to live by. So when you think you’re doing nothing, something useful and profound is happening. You are learning to allow your body and your subconscious mind to inform your choices.
Instead of “shoulding” yourself into next week, the nothing allows space to feel sensations, be present in the moment, and notice things we usually ignore. In other words, learning to do nothing interrupts multiple ways that we tend to shoot ourselves in the foot. That’s a good thing. We can avoid falling into physical and emotional potholes because we can see ‘em coming. Eyes on the road instead of distracted by our usual daily litany of bullshit.
We can notice reality rather than get rolled by our expectations and deceived by our beliefs. We can avoid many of the pitfalls, potholes and bad reruns that come from doing the same things over and over while expecting different results.
Doing nothing is being in the flow. It’s exactly like gliding down the road, navigating around obstacles, rather than distractedly texting and running your car into the ditch. Doing nothing means checking in with yourself, and only doing what you feel like doing, what your preference calls you to do. Maybe you’ll sit under a tree or browse a bookstore and have a latte. Maybe you’ll think of an old friend and just then the phone will ring and that’s who will be calling! Yes, the flow is expansive and contains information that the busy little tip of your pea-brain iceberg ignores, dismisses and screens out. Get a good dose of nothing on a regular basis and you’ll be calmer, less reactive and more responsive. Less cynical and also less gullible. You’ll make fewer mistakes.
And best of all, you will not only enjoy yourself more, you’ll also discover fun, creative ways to get stuff to happen that you really want. You’ll be better able to sort out what you think you ‘should’ do, from what really makes you happy.
But how do you start?
Start small. Take 90 minutes a few times a week and put it in your schedule. Oh, stop pretending that you don’t have the time. We both know that’s not true. You may not know how to do nothing and that’s OK. It’s like riding a bike, it’ll come back with a little practice. You did a LOT of nothing as a kid. You can do this. In your 90 minutes of nothing – that means no plans, no lists, no rules, no goals. Just you, doing what you actually feel like doing. Yes. What you FEEL like doing. What gives you pleasure, makes you happy, feels satisfying. Do that.
At first, if your mind is busy and demanding, you may find that you actually need to do, well, literally nothing. You may discover you are desperate for a nap. Or you may just sit and stare. While napping or staring out the window, or at the wall, you will notice an occasional urge. Maybe you’ll remember a call from a friend you never returned. Maybe you have to go to the bathroom. You may think of mail you haven’t opened. A desire for a long hot shower. A thought about how pleasant it would be to have your desk cleared. When that urge rises, follow it. Take that drive, watch those birds, go someplace you’ve never been…whatever floats your boat. No rules. No “shoulds.” No lists.
Doing Nothing is about restoring balance between your intellect, that ego maniacal rule maker, and your instinctive, intuitive deeply aware intelligence that connects you to others, to nature, and to the many pleasures that your busy mind is too distracted to notice.
Let’s practice together
Do this. Take a few breaths with me. Yes, I mean right now. Ya gotta breathe anyway, just give it your attention, relax your belly, and allow your breath to slow down and deepen. This helps your mind relax so the flow of information and sensation is more available. Whenever your mind starts to run away with you, breathe. After a new breaths, just notice the way your body floats on your breath…rising with the inhale and drifting down with the exhale. Now just notice what sensation, desire, urge, or hunger is these in the silence. Thirsty? Tense? Have to pee? Honor whatever is there. Get some water, relax, and do whatever you gotta do.
Being in the silence informs you of the things that are fundamentally more important to your well-being and satisfaction than all the planning, list making, and goal setting your mind can come up with.
You may be surprised by the sudden ideas you have that pay off in unexpected ways. I know people who have found partners, changed jobs, drastically improved their health, bought homes, got financing for ideas, and sold artwork all by flowing with the nudges and urges that came when doing nothing. Be in the flow of life and let it carry you. You don’t have to struggle trying to figure everything out. In fact, it’s not possible. Rest in that silence and notice and respond.
Once you get the hang of doing 90 minutes of nothing on a regular basis, then give yourself an entire day of doing nothing. Lean into this practice and you will discover layer after layer of treasures waiting for you in the silence. Creative sparks, forgotten pleasures, playfulness, passion, wonder, and best of all doing – nothing reignites our trust in ourselves, not in our minds alone, but in the larger being that we are.
In the nothing, we again hear the language of magic we knew so well in childhood, and we remember how to trust that awareness that leads us towards our deepest desires.