The Importance of Doing Nothing


Once in the air in route to a three-day weekend getaway my bride asked the all too familiar question, “What are we going to do this weekend?” to which I replied, “Nothing.” With a gleeful tone in her voice she replied, “Awesome, what are doing first?”

Putting down the book I was reading I responded with a bit of curiosity, “What did you have in mind?” Then it happened, the do-nothing list was presented creating an overpowering sensation in my currently overworked mind.

It was at that moment, I had an epiphany 35,000 feet above the ground, doing nothing is downright hard. Have you ever tried to do nothing and realized the number of choices to do nothing are overwhelming? It might be more difficult at times to do nothing then to do something.

As is often the case I was reading a book on a related topic. The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin is a fascinating read on how our brain works or doesn’t work. For me this book is not a one-time read but an ongoing resource into the deep understanding of the inner workings of how our mind functions. Here is my first key learning, our brain has unlimited potential to process information but it comes with a high cost.

In the over stimulated world we currently live we have managed to wander into the unforgiving realm of multi-tasking. The non-stop onslaught of information coming at us each moment of the day is robbing us of the vital fuel our mind requires to be creative, innovative, and happy. The fuel needed…is nothing.

Levitin’s research has revealed two basic modes in our brain, the “stay-on-task mode” or as some researcher refer to it, the “Central Executive Mode” and the “default mode” better known as “daydreaming or mind wandering”, or as I like to refer to it, the do-nothing mode.

When we force our brain to stay in high attention mode (stay-on-task) for extended periods of time we starve our mind of the much need downtime to process and do…nothing.

If you find yourself mentally exhausted at the end of the day you may be spending too much time in the Central Executive mode. Consider these three simple ideas to find some balance.

Small Bites

Don’t try to plan a week’s worth of doing nothing. Start with small bites. Allow yourself a small amount of daydreaming time throughout your day. Do nothing tip, spend time alone (people and electronic free) drinking one of your favorite beverages thinking about who or what you are most grateful for in your day.

Resolute Rest

Arianna Huffington is on a quest to increase our sleep. In her new book, The Sleep Revolution, she makes her case that we are in a “sleep deprivation crisis”. Our brain finds its default mode best when properly rested. Do nothing tip, eliminate electronics 30 mins before bed and no working in bed. (for a complete list of 12 from Huffington go here)

Moments Matters

For me music moments create an escape for my brain. The right playlist can transport me to a place of absolute nothingness. With the discovery of noise-cancelling headphones it is now possible to do nothing anywhere. Do nothing tip, make note of the moments in you day when your mind naturally wonders. For me it can be with music, for others it could be while exercising. You will discover these wondering moments often happen when distractions are minimized.

You could say doing nothing is doing something you would not normally do. So, do your brain a favor and in the process unlock your inner creative potential by embracing the importance of doing nothing. Be on purpose and in the end, you will have something refreshing to show for all the nothing you did.

tony bridwell