The Dutch say “niksen”, and the Irish call it “busy doing nothing”, despite being completely different countries, both speak phrases show the importance given to the time spent doing nothing. Research is showing us now that scheduling time to do “nothing” isn’t just beneficial for our mental health, but it also makes us more creative! This is because when we free our minds from things pertaining to executive functioning, it frees up the part of the brain associated with imagination. For example, ever noticed how you start to daydream when you’re not focusing on a boring task, or when you have some free time without doing any sort of activity? This is why that happens.
Unfortunately, when we think about the prospect of just spending five minutes a day practicing niksen, or doing nothing, our response will generally be “oh I can’t do that, I have to do ….” and cue a list of various very valid reasons why someone can’t spend time doing nothing. And it’s true that people are very busy nowadays… to the point where we can say that people have an addiction or habit to being busy. It’s a praise-worthy thing for someone to mention the various things they do to occupy their time, and it’s become a standard to make plans with friends months in advance because our diary is just too full. It’s almost as though we need to prove something to ourselves or other people by ensuring that we’re always on the move.
However, if we really think about it, even just by spending five minutes every day doing nothing, freeing our mind to be imaginative and to start up those creative problem solving neural pathways, we’re actually giving space for the brain to think up amazing things, and to be more productive than it was when it was burdened with all the various busy activities we had before.
But how can we free up this time?
One suggestion would be to take the bus, rather than drive. This frees up plenty of time to just let our mind wander. And you’d be helping the environment too! Another suggestion would be to wake up 10 minutes early, and use that time to use meditation or mindfulness to free up your mind from thoughts. If both of these options seem impossible, I encourage you to check your diaries or calendars, and actually slot in “free time”, and don’t remove this slot for whatever reason, even if this means you meet your friends for drinks at 9.30pm instead of 9pm.
Ehn, B., & Löfgren, O. (2010). The secret world of doing nothing. Univ of California Press.
Mel McElhatton holds a degree in Social Work from the University of Malta. With Willingness, Mel does life coaching and is one of the facilitators in the IRL – In Real Life team. They are also the producer of the radio show Niddiskutu s-Sess. They can be contacted on email@example.com or call us on 79291817.