We're conditioned by society to feel guilty for doing nothing. But what if there are important benefits to slowing down and nothing absolutely nothing at all?
We live in an overstimulated world that’s all go, all the time. We’re constantly told we need to be more “productive.” More money, more progress, more knowledge, more fame, more sex, more love, more followers.
And on and on…
But what if slowing things down is underrated? But what if doing nothing is exactly what we need to be doing more of?
Why do we find it so hard to do nothing?
The problem is that we live in a society where our human value is measured by our output. And when we’re valued for what we create, we feel guilty for slowing down and spending our time unproductively.
It begins at school. We’re rewarded for the exams we pass. For how we perform in school sports. We even get rewarded by good grades in our music classes. The focus is on what we produce and measuring our output accordingly.
It continues in the workplace. We’re rewarded for our company’s sales. For the products we create. For getting that big promotion.
Our key institutions in society reward us for the things we produce. We get evaluated by the quality of these outputs. These institutions – schools, universities, corporations – create a set of values by which we’re judged.
So what happens when our society is organized in such a way that we’re all supposed to produce output?
We end up judging ourselves positively or harshly by what we create.
The result is that we unconsciously internalize the same values that the institutions of society are judging us by. We can’t help but internalize the values that are being reinforced by our institutions.
And because we’ve been conditioned that what we produce is more important than how we spend our time, we feel like we need to be continually “switched on”, producing more, being busy and more productive.
We end up feeling like a failure if we don’t produce. And guilty for spending our time doing nothing.
This isn’t a good system in which to live, because, as we’re about to discover, there are benefits to slowing down and doing nothing.
Why it's important to do nothing
“A new and growing body of multidisciplinary research shows that strategic renewal — including daytime workouts, short afternoon naps, longer sleep hours, more time away from the office and longer, more frequent vacations — boosts productivity, job performance and, of course, health.”
The system of incentives in society encourages us to continually strive to do more.
Unfortunately, as a collective, we haven’t done a very good job of embedding incentives in society that encourage us to slow down.
It’s a shame as there are many benefits to doing nothing. It would even result in more productivity for the corporations employing us.
But here’s the key point I want to make.
We can’t wait for society to do a better job of looking after us. The corporations will continue to squeeze us for every ounce of productivity. Social media will continue to show us how much further ahead our peers are in life.
We’ll continue to feel guilty for not doing enough.
Therefore, the only thing left is for each of us to take responsibility for the life we’re living.
Each of us has to design a life that’s much healthier and more fulfilling.
For this purpose, I think we need to embrace doing nothing.
The resting state and creativity
“When you allow yourself time to do nothing, you give your brain a chance to process experiences, consolidate memories, and reinforce learning. Your resting state is a powerful tool for regulating your emotions and maintaining the ability to focus. Rest will also help you make better decisions.”
As one of the founders of Ideapod, I’ve always been fascinated with the process of generating ideas.
I used to believe that coming up with an idea was something that required focus and energy. I would get into brainstorming sessions with close friends, loading up on caffeine and almost aggressively talking things through.
But as I got older (and hopefully a little wiser), I began to see the process of idea generation a little differently.
Focused thought is important. But it comes after the initial conceptualization of an idea.
I believe that ideas are formed within our subconscious. Our brains and bodies are continually forming new ideas in the background, resulting from our experiences.
When we embrace trying new things, or exposing ourselves to new material, we are providing more inputs from which ideas can be generated.
In turn, when we can apply these new inputs to everyday and routine experiences, we begin to imagine how things could be different.
But here’s the key insight I’ve arrived at about the generation of new ideas.
Ideas are formed before we’re consciously aware of them. Our subconscious minds and bodies have “invented” new ways of seeing the world. They’re stored inside us, waiting to be triggered by an experience.
And a very effective way to trigger the emergence of a new idea is by slowing down and doing nothing.
This is why the “aha moment” is such a powerful experience. It feels as though the idea has come out of nowhere.
But it hasn’t, at least in my opinion. The idea was embedded within us. But it needed the resting state for the brain to identify the patterns within and bring them into conscious awareness.
Coming up with new ideas isn’t just about creating new businesses or bringing various innovations into the world.
It’s also about the life we’re living.
All of us are continually going through challenges in life. We all want to experience loving relationships, fulfilling careers and improve our overall levels of prosperity and happiness.
I think it’s part of human nature to continually strive for more in life.
The question is:
What does it mean to strive for more?
Do you want more based on what the system of incentives and expectations is encouraging you to pursue?
Or would you like to reformulate the direction you’re taking in life and pursue more based on what is truly fulfilling for you?
Personally, I want to take the latter approach. I want to trust myself and my body to bring new ideas into my life. Especially when these ideas help me to design a life that’s more conducive to what success means for me.
In my video below, I talk about the relationship between doing nothing and creativity. I also have a free masterclass on moving beyond what society is encouraging you to pursue in life to identify a life purpose that is unique to you.