How To Do Nothing – A Simple Guide

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One day in the jungle, while the resident lion impatiently patrolled his territory, he spotted a big, black spider relaxing in a web.

The lion asked the spider, “Why are you so lazy? You should be out hunting for your food, like me.”

The spider rolled his eyes and ignored the lion.

“I don’t have time for this. I’m off to hunt,” the lion barked.

Later that day, the lion marched back through the jungle with blood dripping from his mouth. He proudly boasted to the spider, “I just ate a lovely deer for lunch today. It looks like you’ve got nothing in that pathetic web of yours.”

The spider looked over with the same stoic gaze, and continued to relax in his web.

Almost a week passed without a fresh kill, and the next time the lion approached the web he saw the spider munching on a big, fat fruit fly. The lion couldn’t believe his eyes.

He asked the spider, “How were you able to catch a meal without moving?”

The spider replied, “I spin my web, and then wait. A fly will always get trapped. It just takes time.”

Busy Chasing The Carrot On The Stick

When I first ventured into the online marketing world, struggling to make my first few pounds, I tried to do everything: Facebook, Twitter, email, cold-calling, copywriting, and the list goes on. I thought hustling and working as many hours as possible was the way to succeed.

Society seems to value quantity over quality which, I believe, is a recipe for disaster. Burnout and stress are commonplace––detrimental to your health, and the ability to create and perform at your peak.

The numbers don’t lie. High performers all around the world are suffering from burnout. A recent study showed as many as 28% of C-level executives in the U.S. have experienced the debilitating state of burnout.

You are not a lion. Lions have evolved specifically to chase down wild animals for hours on end, often with nothing to show for their effort. If we continue to take this approach in our lives, we will suffer greatly.

This is where the power of doing nothing plays a pivotal role.

What if we consciously decided to carve out time from our busy days to simply do nothing? How would that affect our ability to focus and produce?

There’s a growing body of evidence in the professional world that doing nothing can have a bigger impact on your life than you could possibly imagine, with peer-reviewed science to back up these results.

So, What Happens When You Just Do Nothing?

While it might seem logical that working on a project, attending a meeting, or hitting the gym are all activities that stimulate your brain, science tells us that the opposite is true.

Andrew Smart, author of Autopilot: The Art & Science of Doing Nothing, said, “Neurologist Marcus Raichle found that when subjects performed specific tasks, activity in certain brain regions, like the hippocampus, medial prefrontal cortex, and the precuneus, was suppressed. This was an odd conclusion, so Raichle decided to test further subjects but didn’t give them a specific task to complete.”

The result was that the same regions that deactivated during concentration became active when not focused on a specific task. This means increased blood flow in your brain; this means a healthier, happier, and more creative brain.

It’s Time To Take a New Perspective

Just like the spider, I now have more balance in my life. I focus intensely when it’s time to spin my web, but when I choose to do nothing, that’s exactly what I do.

You must invest your time on high-value tasks in your business or profession to create your own highly engineered web that will land big, fat, juicy fruit flies.

Scattering your attention and working until you drop puts you at a massive disadvantage. The time, effort, and energy you put into switching from email to social media to meetings could be put to better use.

The following quote found on Medium sums it up perfectly:

“I’ve never heard anyone say ‘I spent all day checking email and screwing around on Facebook and it was one of the best days of my life.’”

Why Doing Nothing Matters

In today’s world of instant gratification––like same-day delivery from Amazon, and the addictive, dopamine inducing notifications we get bombarded with every day from Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram––our attention is being systematically destroyed and fragmented.

Top performers and leaders in their fields recognise the pitfalls of technology and consciously weave time into their daily, monthly, and yearly schedules for solitude––without an internet connection. People like Bill Gates, Tim Ferriss, and Steve Jobs retreat into what is now commonly known as a “think week.” It’s their way of doing nothing. Several times every year they galavant off an unknown location, free from technology, friends, family, and co-workers––to simply do nothing and think.

Neuroscience tells us that our brains are more active and use the most energy when we are idle. Therefore, it’s no surprise that many of these leaders credit their big breakthroughs to think weeks.

When you relinquish control and let your brain switch into auto-pilot mode, you’re taking advantage of highly engaged brain activity that could lead to brilliance.

How To Do Nothing

The goal here is to get away from technology and the usual day-to-day distractions to simply be with yourself and your thoughts. You don’t necessarily need to head off on a week-long retreat, but typically the longer you spend doing nothing, the deeper you can go, and the more peaceful you’ll feel.

Every year or two, I head off to a 10-day silent meditation retreat. No phone, laptop, books, pen, paper. Nothing. My days are filled with meditation, thinking, eating, and sleeping. This is a pretty extreme example, and I certainly don’t recommend it for everyone, but it has a dramatic and noticeable effect on my ability to pay attention, focus, and come up with creative ideas.

An easy way to get started is to find some time every week to cut yourself off from the world for most of the day. This could be a long walk in the park, a hike in the mountains, or just lying on the sofa.

The key is to turn off all distractions and remove them from reach. I guarantee that if you’ve never done this before, you’ll be itching to check your phone sooner than you might think.

I suggest scheduling time to do nothing on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. Then take note of how you feel after. Are you more peaceful, refreshed, and creative? You will probably realize how addicted you are to your devices. But as you spend more and more time in this space of doing nothing, you’ll really appreciate and value this time and it will become an essential part of your day.

You’ll develop a stronger ability to focus, generate more creativity, and you will feel happier and more relaxed with life.

Try it out and let me know in the comments below.