Are you capable of it? Truly doing nothing for a day? I recently found out that I’m actually pretty bad at it. My boyfriend and I went on a five-day, poolside vacation. I thought I would love it. Doing nothing but reading books and drinking pina coladas by a pool, with a view of the desert mountains and a golf course in the background? What’s not to love, right? Nothing. No—nothing—that’s the thing I didn’t love. The nothingness of it all. I didn’t realize how much my mental stability (or at least what I perceived as mental stability) relied on my remaining super busy, all of the time.
I am a very busy person, and for that reason, I thought that taking a total break from everything would feel like dessert for my brain. But, at first, it really didn’t. It was terrifying. I did one day by the pool, and then I got anxious. I tried to find things to do in the small, sleepy town. I almost had a panic attack. I opened my laptop and worked for a couple of hours…until my partner found me and shut that down. “We are on vacation,” he reminded me. “The whole point is to shut your brain off,” he insisted.
He was right. But it was weird. We did have a few more days there, though, so I leaned into it, and once I got past the panic part of it—our brains really don’t want to let go of control—I discovered a few interesting things happened. Since then, I’ve tried to make a point to do nothing once a month, for a whole day. It may seem unproductive—I mean, it is literally the opposite of productive—but it actually helps me be more productive the rest of the month. Here are amazing things that happen when you do nothing for a day.
You notice your neighbors
We all run around, really just treating your neighborhoods and homes like mere shelter that we take during breaks from our “Real lives.” We don’t meet our neighbors much anymore, do we? Even though we should. If anything, we see them as…the house that plays their music too loud, the neighbors who park badly, or the neighbors whose dog barks too much. We turn them into these limited characters in our heads. But if you take a day to do nothing, you’ll notice more about your neighbors. For example, I discovered my neighbor who parks badly actually does so because she has a daughter in a wheelchair who needs extra space in the driveway to get out.
And everyone in your life
We can get so caught up in thinking about our immediate experiences and the little boxes we live in, that we forget to think about the people in our lives. I mean really think about them. For example, I know that my mom is taking care of my grandpa daily, but I didn’t really think about what that meant for her—how much she worries, or how hard it is for her and my stepdad to take a vacation. There are these facts we know about our friends and family, but we rarely take the time to empathize and truly consider their personal experiences.
You remember things
There’s a lot of clutter in your brain, am I right? You feel like there are things you want to focus on and think about, but all of these other immediately urgent tasks come up every day. When you do nothing for a day, you clear out your mind, and you remember…all sorts of things. Experiences from your past. That song you “wrote” but never wrote down. Where you stored those shoes you love. You have a lot of forgotten things, hiding beneath the chaos of everyday life.
Your creativity flows
Creativity needs time and freedom to flow. It’s very hard to be creative on a time crunch. I’ve personally never written something I loved when I had exactly one hour between meetings or 35 minutes until the laundry needed to be turned over. You have to tell your brain, “Take all the time you need” for it to really divulge those great creative gems it’s been hiding.
You appreciate what you have
Right now, you rush around, use your home and your things, and don’t think about it. Hot running water and great water pressure in the shower. Your cozy couches and the way the sun hits them. Your lovely garden. You have a lot of nice things that many people would do anything to have. When you do nothing, you can stop and appreciate your belongings and your home.
You appreciate your health
You probably take your health for granted. You get to do all of the things you do every day because you are healthy. But do you ever stop and appreciate your body? The fact that it doesn’t ache all of the time. The fact that you can just go for a walk because you feel like it. If these things are true for you, taking a day to do nothing will allow you to focus on how good it actually feels to be in your body. And how lucky you are that it’s healthy.
Some problems may surface
You probably have some issues in your life that need working out. Are you in the right relationship? The right job? Do you need to address that tension with your friend? The business of life has a way of putting these things on the backburner, but it’s important to confront them, and they’ll come up when you do nothing for a day.
You’ll get clarity on those problems
You probably weren’t addressing those hidden problems because you didn’t have the time to decide what you’d do about them. Do nothing for a day, and you’ll get some clarity on things. You will get a better understanding of where this person or relationship fits into your life and how it serves you (or doesn’t serve you).
You get all new energy
Doing nothing is actually incredibly productive because it gives you all of this new energy to dive back into life tomorrow. If you never take a day to do nothing, you’re running on fumes most of the time. But taking this day to do nothing helps you actually refill your tank with some quality fuel.
Being busy has a way of making us irritable. You can reach your final straw, and feel like you just can’t handle it if your partner needs your help figuring out how to use the rice maker or how to put on the dog’s harness. You snap. But when you do nothing for a day, you regain all of this patience and compassion.
You get off the wheel and look at the path
Life can feel like you’re just a cog in a wheel, right? Working away, busy as can be, but not quite sure what it’s all for. You don’t have time to think about what it’s all for. But you will, if you take a day to do nothing. You will get the chance to zoom out on your life, look at the bigger picture, and figure out which of your tasks are pushing you towards the things you really want, and which…aren’t.
It prepares you for the unexpected
Being really busy can also make us feel totally unprepared for the unexpected. We have not one more ounce of energy to give when things don’t go as planned. But life will throw some surprises at us, so we need to take a day to do nothing, and gain the energy and confidence to handle those surprises.
It helps you feel independent
Taking a day to do nothing also means not making plans with anybody. It means being with yourself for the day—taking yourself on a date, perhaps. We all have some degree of codependent tendencies, and taking a day to be all alone will remind you that you do just fine on your own, which has a way of making you feel stronger when you return to society.
You reassess your friends
Taking a day to be alone also does this important thing: it helps you reassess your friends. You realize that you are very low on free time, so how you spend it and whom you spend it with is important. You may realize just how precious this free time is, and that you’d like to be pickier about who you share it with.
You reassess your priorities
When life doesn’t force you to focus on this task or that problem, your brain gets to wander, and you discover what you naturally think about/ponder/worry about when you get to think about whatever you want. You find out what matters to you, because that’s where your brain goes when you take a free day.