The Art of Doing Nothing – Meaningful vs Mundane
Why do we have to be at deaths door, or have something significant happen before we look at our lives from a different perspective. Why do we find it so hard to chill, is there an art to doing nothing?
After a recent illness which knocked me for six I was forced to make some changes and slow down. I looked for ways to simplify and quieten my life. I started to look at what I was actually spending my time on. I was always busy, always rushing, totally stressed and I often didn’t feel I was achieving much. How many of us feel this way?
So in today’s blog I wanted to talk about The Art If Doing Nothing. I recently read a really interesting book I by Susan Peace and Marinta Sheeham called Do Less Be More. It kind of summed up the way I was feeling. “Because the brain does not make a distinction between a goal that is meaningful and the completion of a mundane task and we can mistake progress for comfort or habit.” That was me!
As I was filtering through the chapters I found myself reading, with disbelief a study undertaken by researchers at both Harvard University and the University of Virginia. In this study subjects were asked to spend 15 minutes alone with no distractions, no devices, no music, no paper or pen, no items to touch and no windows to look out of. They were in a bare neutral room except for one button. They were told that pressing this button would deliver a light electric shock which they all experienced before going into the room and had all agreed that it was unpleasant.
Two thirds of men and one quarter of women chose to give themselves electric shocks rather than sit without distraction. What the……! One high achiever shocked himself 190 times in just 15 minutes! “The compulsion to fill every moment with some activity is a dangerous trap.”
Yet we know from psychology that cramming more in will ultimately lead you to be less productive less creative, less inspired and less satisfied with life. Clearly some people genuinely fear what may arise if they are left with their own thoughts and I see the fall out of this on a daily basis in my clinic.
Sherman and Peace suggest that rather than a to-do list you consider a not-to-do list. I will admit that I can have 4/5 to-do lists spread around my house at any one time so this concept appeals to me greatly. Now we all know that its important to have some way to remind ourselves of what needs to be done but when it gets to the state where it starts to dictate your entire day and defines your self worth, you eventually can feel like a mouse on a treadmill, working hard but getting no where.
Ask The Right Questions
So asking the right questions may actually help you to create a to-do list that could actually work.
- Does the activity need to be done now?
- Can I identify a real need for this activity?
- Is this activity ready to be actioned or does something more need to unfold first?
- Is this activity truly a stepping stone to the outcome I am seeking, or could it be a waste of time or irrelevant? (great question)
- Does the activity deliver the right amount of value for the effort that will be required?
- Is this an activity that is mine to do, or am I taking on something that belongs to someone else?
- Will this activity make a difference to something meaningful or will I just get a fleeting reward from ticking it off?
- Is this activity something I’m taking on by choice, will it bring me closer to something I genuinely care about?
Give it a go and see if that to-do list can become more manageable so you have more time to do nothing!