“What fools call “wasting time” is most often the best investment.”
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Have you ever tried to do nothing? I mean absolutely nothing?
It's a lot harder than it sounds for most people.
Many of us live in societies where being busy is a prized trait; if we're not busy then we're not living, or so they say. You're seen as high status if your schedule is packed with work. Not only work but other to-dos too: keeping up with the news, checking email, scrolling through social media, or binging the latest Netflix show.
Things weren't always this way. A long time ago (and somewhat still today) it was common in many Mediterranean countries to spend a little time just doing nothing.
The Italian's have a phrase for it, dolce far niente, which means "pleasant relaxation in careless idleness." In the morning, you might have a seat in your living room slowly sipping your coffee. Not checking email, not thinking about work, just sitting and sipping. After work, or perhaps on your lunch break, you'd take a stroll through the city. If there was a cafe you saw that intrigued you, you'd grab a drink, have a seat, and relax. If not, you'd just continue your stroll with no particular idea of a destination.
Sounds pointless? To a lot of us in the west, it does. We've gotten so used to the style of go go go and work work work that the idea of sitting, walking, or doing anything aimlessly seems foolish, a waste of time.
But it shouldn't be considered a waste because doing nothing has many benefits. It helps you naturally recharge your batteries, in both mind and body. It helps take the pressure of commitments and responsibilities off your shoulders. You don't need to have an objective all the time. Sometimes the best thing to do is just nothing, to let your intuition decide what to do based on what your mind and body need; that's what it's there for after all.
The exciting part is that there's no telling where your intuition will take you. On some days, you'll just relax and regain your energy. On other days, you'll come up with a grand new idea while you're sitting and sipping your coffee. Then there are those days where you'll wander down a new road and discover the most wonderful park, restaurant, or scenic view to share with your partner. All in all, doing nothing gives you the chance to experience the freedom of life.
Many of us get to experience such freedom for the first time when we travel to a new country. "Get lost" people will say as an encouragement to wander the streets of the new place you're in. What they are essentially referring to (though they may not realize it) is doing nothing, letting your intuition guide you. Through that doing nothing you get to fully enjoy the place, bask in the culture and environment, and let yourself sink into life.
I experienced this first hand when I travelled to Italy for the first time in 2019. I would walk without any particular idea of destination or objective. "Pick a direction and go," I told myself. If I saw a place that I liked, I stopped by to check it out. If I happened to make friendly eye contact with a local, I'd chat them up. It was relaxing and blissful.
Travel is a great opportunity to do nothing in a fresh environment, but you don't have to go far or spend thousands of dollars to get that experience. You can get it at home too.
- Drink your coffee, tea, or preferred beverage while sitting on the sofa doing nothing. No looking at your phone or watching TV. Just sit and sip
- Go to a park or place near your home, pick a direction at random, and walk. No need to think about anything or be aiming to go anywhere by a certain time, just walk. Feel out where you want to go on the fly
- Do some stretches. You don't have to follow a routine or go past your limits. Just feel it out and stretch what feels good to stretch. Listen to your body
- Eat very slowly, especially dessert. Slide the spoon or fork out of your mouth leisurely, without a rush. You don't have to get anywhere or finish the meal by a certain time, it's not a race. Savour each food and flavour
- Take a warm, slow, relaxing bath. No need to jump in quickly, or have a time limit, or think about anything; just go with the flow. Enjoy that warm water
All of these are acts of doing nothing. They bring you back to the most natural way of life with intuition as your guide. Doing nothing enables you to fully bask in and appreciate the simple things in life. Your idea of "success" changes. It's no longer about busyness or status; now your success is based on how much you've enjoyed your experiences, and that's a whole lot better.
The art of doing nothing is one that must be mastered over time. Indeed, it will take you some effort at first if you're used to being busy all the time. But rest assured, there is no achievement more blissful, no act so enjoyable, as doing nothing. You will love it.
“You will be civilized on the day you can spend a long period doing nothing, learning nothing, and improving nothing, without feeling the slightest amount of guilt.”
– Nassim Nicholas Taleb