In Praise of Doing Nothing

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Tips for getting more of the special somethings that come when the mind is allowed to idle.

In our always-busy culture, doing nothing carries a stigma — one that some people will do anything to avoid.

All that busyness can exhaust the nervous system. And neuroscientists are discovering it can kill our ability to be productive and creative, hobbling us at work and in our personal lives.

Idleness also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which brings a host of healthful outcomes, including a reduced heart rate, good digestion, and better moods.

On an emotional level, empty time is good medicine, too. If you’re always doing something, says Andrew Deutscher, vice president of business development at The Energy Project, it’s easy to ignore important areas of your life that may be asking for attention, such as troubled relationships or unclear goals and priorities.

“Doing nothing gives your brain a chance to work out things that are not urgent,” says Deutscher. “Otherwise, we’re just skimming the surface of our lives.”

There is a difference between truly quieting the mind and enjoying leisure time, Deutscher notes. If you take a weekend day trip with friends or watch an hour of TV (leisure time), your brain is still busy. It’s a totally different effect than sitting quietly and allowing your mind to wander.

The key is being aware of your intention going into the empty time, Deutscher says: When you are conscious about your choice to let your mind and body rest, you are far more likely to reap the benefits.

When you take real downtime, he explains, you replenish your glucose and oxygen levels. You give your brain a chance to do some filing. You’re likely to feel more rested, clearheaded, and self-confident as a result.

Ready to create more idleness in your days? Here’s a collection of articles with tips and strategies that we hope will inspire you to allow yourself to do nothing more often.

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The Upside of Downtime
The scientific case for doing nothing more often — and its surprising rewards.

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Give Yourself a Break
Smart, super-practical reasons to build more idleness, downtime, and moments of enjoyment into your busy life.

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Take a Break
Random moments of “unproductive” time don’t just make you healthier, happier, and more resilient. They help you work smarter, too.

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Time Off for Good Behavior
Are you measuring your worth by what you get done? Here’s why it’s time to give your productivity-seeking a rest, and go in search of some fun instead.

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The Ultimate Day Off
Turn off your phone, ignore your inbox, forget the chores, and enjoy a day of real rest and rejuvenation.

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Do Less, Accomplish More
Daily practices for a calmer, more productive life — and relief from chronic busyness.

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Energy Plan
All the time in the world won’t help you achieve your goals if you’re too run down to pursue them. Here’s how to manage your energy — and your sanity.

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Give It a Rest
You’re willing to push yourself, even when it hurts. You know how to tough it out, even when you’re tired. But do you know when to back off — and why? Here’s what all fitness buffs need to know about giving their bodies a break.

TELL US: What’s your favorite way to do nothing? 

 

Heidi Wachter is Experience Life's staff writer.