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The benefits of doing a whole lot of nothing

Human beings do a whole lot of nothing.

Depending on how you define inactivity, the majority of the average person’s life will be spent doing more nothing than something.

Statistically it’s well known that, on average, human beings sleep for 1/3rd of our life. That’s time spent not really doing much of anything.

Then there’s the mindless activity of consumer entertainment. A 2017 study showed that Americans watch nearly four hours of television every day. There isn’t much brain or physical activity going on when we sit in front of a screen only to consume the likes of Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black for four straight hours.

Consider now eating, commuting, using the restroom, and the plethora of other passive activities we participate in every day that can be conducted mostly mindlessly and which produce little in terms of material return.

If so much of our lives are spent doing “nothing” it’s easy to see the benefits. It’s actually much more challenging to debate the value of doing nothing over doing something.

Doing nothing rejuvenates the body. Nothing relaxes our muscles and the physical strain and stress that are put on them while we’re in motion throughout the day.

Doing nothing empowers our minds. When we’re engaged in a non-passive activity—such as most jobs, playing video games, or reading a complex book—our minds have to work in order to make connections and fuel thinking associated with the activity. Breaks enable our minds to wander and make connections between our experiences and ideas. That’s brain activity you can’t get if you’re constantly putting stress to solve problems or think deeply.

Doing nothing creates opportunities. By removing daunting tasks, pressures, and other distractions from our thinking we’re freed-up to pay closer attention to things we otherwise might overlook. When we’re bored, for example, our brains are free to generate new and interesting ways of keeping ourselves entertained.

Consider what often happens for the vast majority of people just before they fall asleep: suddenly freed from the constant bombardment of information a typical day will bring, our brains begin to explore problems and ideas.

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But can doing nothing be harmful for us? If we already spend so much time doing “nothing” in life, what’s the harm in trying to capitalize on that?

The problem is nothing leads to more nothing.

Nobody ever started a business, invented something wonderful, or connected with a friend or life partner by doing nothing.

Instead we have to invest in doing a whole lot of nothing in order to do something with it. All those ideas our brains have just before sleep aren’t going to matter if we don’t wake up the next day and do something with them. All the rest and relaxation we might get isn’t going to mean anything if we’re not exerting ourselves regularly, through exercise or solving difficult problems at work or in other parts of our lives. All the television we watch won’t make it any easier to face the challenges of tomorrow.

But doing nothing can give us much needed energy, mental space, and clarity to do something. And that’s why doing nothing such a crucial part of every life.

Tanner Christensen