I am someone who is deeply motivated by productivity. I quickly become anxious and despondent if I’m not constantly occupied, and often find myself “multitasking” during times of relaxation (e.g. doing a crossword while watching T.V.). This is not at all uncommon, especially in a society where our worth is largely equated to our productivity. The onset of the pandemic only revealed how much I rely on this mindset; the absence of routine left me completely unsure of myself and my goals. After revealing this insight, a friend suggested I carve out time to “do nothing.” I thought she was kidding—how could not working make me feel better about not working? But after a few months of incorporating this time into my mornings, it’s something I have actually come to look forward to.
The time to “do nothing” is exactly what it sounds like. You take a few minutes out of your day to sit and quite literally do nothing but observe your thoughts and sensations. This practice is also called “mindfulness,” and essentially allows you space to distance yourself from your emotions. Difficult emotions are often wrapped up in our own stories; narratives we make up in order to explain how or why we feel something. Mindfulness gives us time to notice the stories we tell ourselves without judgement, but to acknowledge that’s all they are: stories. It can seem much less scary to just fill all of our time with tasks and projects so we never have to face these things, but it’s not the most effective solution long term. Eventually there will be a time where your productivity is limited, and you’ll find yourself facing everything you’ve been hiding from behind deadlines and to-do lists.
After a few months of taking fifteen minutes every morning to sit outside and do nothing, I found that I was a little less scared to be alone with myself and my thoughts. It’s not a quick-fix or a substitute for therapy, but it’s definitely a skill worth a bit of “nothing.”