Why is it important to do nothing?
It seems that no matter how hard you try, there is never enough time in the day to do all the things that you have to do, let alone the things you want to do for fun. Why is the case? Have we really become that busy that downtime is a thing of the past? We know that downtime is an essential element to our wellbeing. So, how do you find time to have some?
According to the dictionary, downtime is quite simply a time of reduced activity or a period of inactivity. Unfortunately, we have identified it as something much more ominous. We associate the idea of doing nothing with being wasteful, lazy, lacking ambition and boredom. This is why downtime isn’t viewed as being acceptable. Due to this viewpoint, many of us feel guilty if we aren’t doing “something.” The glorification of being busy comes from our culture. We see being busy as a sign of being successful and important; therefore, when we take time away from work, it is viewed as be harmful to our lives because we think it places us at a disadvantage. A significant indication of this is that many people base our personal identity off of our work. So much so that most Americans put in more hours at work than people in any other Western society and we are working more hours now than any other time in our country’s history. While people who are always working may seem to be rewarded for their efforts, it comes at a cost. This cost has long-term detriments to companies, like low morale, workplace harassment and above average absenteeism, and individuals, such as depression, substance abuse and relationship breakdowns. Since we feel that our freedom of time is bought with the financial independence that success can provide, we have come to believe being idle is in direct opposition.
Besides our thoughts on downtime, the other big component is technology. The main thing that it is focused on is increasing the speed of which we accomplish things. Thanks to technology, we are always available, which means we are constantly being bombarded with messages and information causing a continuous state of information overload. Unfortunately, this has several negative impacts. One is we are using vital resources faster than they can be replenished and creating waste faster than it can be dealt with. Another is that we feel the pressure to accomplish tasks in less time, perform several tasks at once and take less time away from work between tasks. All of this leads to increase levels of stress that adversely affect our bodies. It makes our ability to focus and critically evaluate scenarios decrease. We get burned out and feel depressed more quickly than people did in previous generations. The process creates a brutal cycle of people having more stress than they are able to manage, which just makes their stress worse. People used to be able to combat this stress by using downtime to disconnect, recharge and return to work refreshed. This is no longer commonplace because of the constant connectedness of our society provided by modern technology.
The major thing that we have failed to realize is what we perceive as busyness with all of our activities on the internet are a delusion and trick us into thinking that we are being productive. In actuality, it is the exact opposite. Often, we find ourselves in the situation where there is always more to do and feel that if we do one more thing then we will finally be able to relax. This type of thinking is faulty because there will always be more things that you “need” to do. What we need to understand is that all of the things we claim to make us too busy to allow for downtime are actually distractions. These distractions prevent us from focusing on what really matters in life, like connecting with others, and leads us to perpetually feeling exhausted and unhappy.
Many people are coming to recognize that when we let go of daily concerns to spend time reflecting and contemplating instead, our health, sanity and personal growth increase dramatically. When we have downtime, our creativity and innovation increase considerably. Researchers have found that our brains need downtime to process all the data we take in, consolidate memories, reinforce what we’ve learned and strengthen neural pathways. Also, one of the many things that we are afraid of when we are alone is our thoughts and feelings. So, we have true downtime it makes us uncomfortable because we have to face them. The good news is that when we do, we feel better. So, doing nothing is just as essential to our health as doing something. In order to be truly be able to do your best work by being able to completely focus, you need to have downtime to refuel and refresh your body and mind. This is why if you take a break from work or something challenging, you come back and see the situation differently, which leads you to finding solution that you probably wouldn’t have thought of without taking the break. Many of us are so focused on just trying to get through things that we truly don’t get to experience them.
The best way to get the benefit of downtime is to plan for it. In order to stick with your plan of doing nothing, it can helpful to mark it in your calendar as if it were any other type of appointment. Another tip, and this is the big one, turn off your devices for a while. It will be challenging at first, but seeing how your body responds will be worth it. Most likely, you’ll be bored at first, but this can trigger amazing outcomes because when we are bored, our imagination and creativity kick in to help eliminate it. Boredom drives us to do something new because what we are currently doing isn’t what we want to be doing and this helps to motivate us to do something else. An important element in downtime is to maintain meaningful relationships by interacting with people in real life, not via social media. So, call up an old friend and get together for lunch or hang out at park and catch up. Additionally, we need to learn how to say no. We can’t say yes to everyone all of the time. When we do say yes to most requests, because we don’t want to let people down, it contributes to us feeling like we don’t have enough time and feeling stressed. It is not selfish to need time for yourself. So, when someone tells us that they aren’t available, we need to be more understanding and take less offense. This type of thought is going to require a huge shift our attitude on busyness and work. We should be encouraging individuals to incorporate a more positive mental health approach in their life. Self-care is essential to everyone’s wellbeing. Whatever a person deems to be self-care is up to them, but we need to change the environment to allow them the time to step back from work and other obligations to do what they need to avoid feeling stressed and overwhelmed. This means working smarter not more hours or trying to cram more things into less time.
While we may say that it is ok to have downtime and do nothing, most of us don’t believe it. This results in us choosing to do things in our downtime that actually make us become more worn out. Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the mental multitasking that can take place. While you’re reading a book or playing a musical instrument that you haven’t played in years, don’t get caught up in trying to respond to text messages and catch up on the latest news information. The key is to be in the moment. When we are taking the time to do nothing, this really means focus on something that you enjoy doing without being distracted. For those who view downtime as not being useful, look at as if you are doing something because technically you are, even if it is just being idle.
Everyone needs downtime for their own mental wellbeing, which significantly impacts our physical wellbeing. Given the advances in technology and our society’s current mindset, it will be challenging at first to let go, but it is essential to living a higher quality, more productive life. It doesn’t matter what we choose to do when we are “doing nothing,” as long as we aren’t distracted when we do it. So, put down the electronics and scheduled some downtime!