Do you ever have one of those days when you feel ridiculously scattered, when you can barely complete a thought before jumping to something else? I thought so. I had one of those days recently (ok, I confess. It’s today). It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t getting anything productive done, so I figured I would take a break. But doing what? At first I thought I should run some errands, but I eventually realized that checking something off my to-do list was not the same thing as taking a break. Then I remembered that I recently gave a client the homework of spending 15 minutes a day silently doing nothing. I decided I might as well take my own advice, so I settled down in my favorite Papasan chair looking out the window, and began.
“Doing nothing” is both as simple as it sounds and far more difficult than you might guess. You can not start cleaning the living room, editing your to-do list, or planning your schedule for the rest of the day. It’s not meditation, so you aren’t expected to completely clear your mind of thought, but you have to disengage from them. Rather than leaping on every thought that drifts through your head and clinging to it like a life raft, you let them pass you by, acknowledged but not embraced. It’s a hard thing to explain; you really have to sit down and do it by feeling. For me, it is a little bit easier if I stay tuned into my heart beat, as it keeps bringing me back to my body and back to the present, but you will have to experiment and see what works best for you.
After five minutes of doing nothing, I had a brilliant idea for something to do later in the day. Normally, I would jump up at this point and follow the idea. That is because I usually use “doing nothing” as a technique for getting unstuck around an issue or project (see Incubating Inspiration), so once I have an idea then it has done its job. But this time I did something different. This time I staid right where I was. It was hard. What if I forgot my brilliant idea? But I stuck with it. I stuck with doing nothing for the full fifteen minutes, and you know what? I was sorry when it ended. I felt clearer and more collected, though no more energetic.
Those of you who are worried about wasting time may be interested to learn that, after I spent 15 minutes doing nothing, I got through everything on my to-do list with plenty of time this afternoon. I sincerely doubt that the same would be true if I had tried to power through!
Next time you are having a scattered day like I was, try doing nothing for a little while. It might just be exactly what you need!