The type of downtime I am referring to is one in which we quiet our minds and do not work to achieve any particular goals, execute any task on our to do lists, or engage in external stimuli. It is not one and the same with leisurely downtime such as vacationing with friends, watching TV, or reading a book. That indulging in downtime – the kind in which we enter a state of idleness, quieting our mind – is unproductive and lazy is not merely an idea, but more of a belief a large portion of society has adopted as an absolute truth. However, concrete evidence proving it to be true is grotesquely lacking, leaving statements implying that always being on the go and doing something equates with a successful and meaningful life as nothing more than that: statements. semantics. words with no depth to penetrate.
As it turns out, neuroscientists are now finding the exact opposite to be true, and a new stance on how we expend our time is gaining momentum: always busying ourselves with something diminishes the quality of our lives. When we do not carve time out of our lives to be idle and create empty space in our heads for new ideas to arise, the areas most essential to living a productive, creative, and vibrant life are negatively impacted – or, in the least, brought to either an outright standstill in progress or complete and utter chaos. The reality is, when we “empty” our minds we are not wasting time. On the contrary, we are actually greatly reducing the odds that the time we spend engaging in external activities – whether work related, personal, or social – is wasted or of little substance.
Continuously busying ourselves and filling every waking minute with something to check off our to do lists allots little to no room in our minds for fresh ideas and renewal to arise. You don’t have to become a monk or go on a retreat where you sit in isolation in a room and meditate for months in order to reap the benefits of doing nothing in the manner I am referring to. You only need to silence your mind, to devote yourself to idleness, for five to ten minutes a day, preferably a few times throughout the day. If you are thinking you do not have so much as one increment of five to ten minutes to dedicate to doing nothing every day, much less various ones, all hope is not lost. You can still enter a state of idleness in which you are not focused on doing anything and your interior world is not swayed by stimuli of any kind while performing mundane, habitual tasks such as household chores like laundry or the dishes, since “doing nothing” in this case essentially means to make space in your head – to quiet the mind, to do nothing mentally, to be conscious, to enter a state of heightened present moment awareness. There are simple strategies to do so even with a schedule full of activities, and adopting them can result in significant health benefits.
The Health Benefits Of Doing Nothing
When we are constantly doing something, we are simultaneously constantly stimulating our nervous systems to the point of exhaustion – and an overexerted, depleted nervous system can most certainly give birth to an array of health problems, as well as make it all but impossible to overcome them. For optimal health and healing, we need our nervous systems on board and rooted in our bodies with expendable energy to place towards any problematic areas that may arise which need excess nourishment to be replenished. Otherwise, achieving a state of homeostasis and living a balanced, healthy life is highly unlikely.
Regularly carving out time to devote to doing nothing, to sitting in idleness and dropping into a conscious state of being, produces many health benefits including, but not limited to, reduced heart rate, better digestion, improvements in mood, and a boost in overall emotional well-being – which, of course, affects everything on a biochemical and physiological level, thereby serving as a major deciding factor on whether or not we fall ill, and/or remain ill. Mental downtime also replenishes glucose and oxygen levels in the brain, and allows our brains to process and file things, which leaves us feeling more rested and clear headed, promotes a stronger sense of self-confidence, and instills within us a deep trust in life. When we trust in the unfolding of life, we trust change. We do not resist it, or any experience for that matter. It is then that we are able to transmute even the worst types of pain – physical, mental, or spiritual – into meaningful experiences that change us on deep, fundamental levels for the better. It may seem as though such changes only impact us or those directly associated with us in some way; but collectively, they impact the world, both shaping and embodying the form that defines the nature of humanity.
Strategies For Creating Downtime To Do Nothing
In the morning: Immediately upon opening our eyes every morning, many of us do the same thing, as there is a relatively limited selection of actions to choose from. Options range from hitting snooze on our alarms, getting up to brush our teeth, yelling at anyone who is brave enough to talk way too loud for 6 AM (or to talk, period), eating breakfast, or making coffee. There really aren’t many other options than that, at least not ones not deemed significant enough to make the list of the most common things people do when they first wake up. Except, there is one undoubtedly more significant thing that should be added to the list, as it is more essential to life than anything else we can do to start the day: the most powerful thing we can do upon waking is nothing. To remain idle and quiet our minds, and enter the present fully into a state of conscious being.
Choosing to start the day consciously, to clear our heads before new stimulus bombards it, profoundly changes everything that happens throughout the day ahead of us. While it may not so much change what happens on an external physical, aesthetic level, delving into the day consciously changes what happens on an internal level. This indirectly changes the feeling sense of all that happens around us, giving greater depth, meaning, and a sense of aliveness to every moment of the day not only for us, but for everyone connected to our daily activities both directly and indirectly.
If you find it hard to take five to ten minutes to do nothing but sit or lay still, for five to ten minutes while quieting your mind (falling back sleep doesn’t count), then the following practice may help: Starting at your feet and working your way up, scan your body for any areas that feel tense or uneasy. When you run into one, focus your attention, which is to say your energy, on it and imagine you are breathing into it, with each rise and fall of your chest relaxing it more and more. Doing so not only quiets the mind, it balances the mind-body connection, making way for a more grounded state of being throughout the day.
At work: Although sitting at your desk – or whatever your workplace environment entails – and staring out the window is infamously hailed as lazy, unproductive, and a general indicator that someone is either unmotivated or incompetent to work, research conducted by The Energy Project paints a different picture. The Energy Project, a consulting firm specialising in engagement and productivity among workers, vehemently begs to differ. According to their Vice President of business development, Andrew Deutscher, the longer people work without taking breaks to rest and replenish their minds, “the worse they feel and the less engaged they become.” 
The Energy Project’s research results on workplace productivity and idleness found that individuals who took five to ten minute breaks from work to do nothing a few times a day displayed an approximately 50% increase in their ability to think clearly and creatively, thus rendering their work far more productive. Results like these are what prompt the firm to advocate for the allowance of employee breaks and short, restorative naps while on the clock. This, of course, benefits everyone involved -employees, employers, and the people using their services.
When Tackling Daily Chores: When we execute daily household chores like dishes or laundry, we feel like we are doing nothing – in the sense that we are not doing anything significant, which is actually quite perfect. Rather than turning on the TV, radio, or calling someone to escape the uncomfortable feeling of doing nothing important, we can instead free fall into that feeling. Rather than resist the feeling of doing nothing significant when performing repetitive tasks and chores, we can instead make the conscious choice to fully enter it, and in doing so give it great significance.
Daily chores like washing the dishes and folding laundry become so habitual due to their repetitive nature that our physical actions are basically on cruise control when executing them. This can either be a really boring or really rewarding reality – we get to choose which. Since we do these tasks automatically without much thought, our minds are already quieted to a significant degree, making them great tools rather than burdens. Since our minds are already quieted more than usual, we have an advantage – the only effort we have to place towards doing nothing is to simply be aware that our mind is quieted more than usual and choose to tune into it without implementing any external stimuli to busy our mind.
In the space that external stimuli would have otherwise filled, there is consciousness. And where there is consciousness, there is deep peace, even when external factors are unsatisfactory. And where there is deep peace, there is a love whose existence could never be threatened by any external source or event. And where there is love such as this, there is the richest source of what we call life.
1. Experience Life Magazine, May 2015 Issue