THE POWER OF DOING NOTHING
“So what’s your plan for the weekend, Nanny?”
“Absolutely nothing, it’s going to be great”
*silence and awkward laughter*
This summer I’ve been listening to the audiobook “Girl, Wash your face” by Rachel Hollis. She said this: “One thing a woman needs to do before she is able to do anything else: taking care of herself” — and it hit me hard.
I’ve never been good at taking care of myself. I mean I do laundry several times a week and I cook for myself and my boyfriend and I know how to solve everyday things, but when it comes to knowing my mind and body’s limits — let’s just say I’m still in school.
But there are a few things I’ve come to learn over the years. I’m a sprinter, not a marathon runner. I run fast as hell but not for a very long time. And I’ve hit the wall like most people. I’ve had too many projects going on at once, too little sleep, not enough food and too much caffeine and nicotine. The attitude of “whatever gets you through the day” was strong in me. And it was all fun and games until I completely crashed and hit the wall in my second year of college.
I was head of the board at my student association, I was launching an incubator for student founders, I worked with a PR & Communications for America’s most active seed investor, I was attending an 8-week leadership program and oh yeah I was a full-time bachelors degree student. I didn’t know it at the time but I was destined to crash. And I did. Hard.
It was one of the weekends we had a gathering with our team in Future Leaders. I was getting ready for two days filled to the brim of personal and professional coaching and deep dives into reflections about ourselves and the impact we have on the world. It was already a rough morning, you know, one of those days where you bring your coffee cup to the bathroom to brush your teeth and do your makeup at the same time and accidentally you put your toothbrush in the coffee and from that point on you just omg alright it’s one of those days.
I came to the venue of the gathering, a little late because I had to gather myself for a few minutes before walking into a group of ambitious, smart and driven people. I sat down, when suddenly everything went dark. I couldn’t breathe and excused myself to go to the bathroom. I stood there focusing on my breathing for about 10 minutes until a girl who was headed to the bathroom saw me standing there looking at myself in the mirror, she kindly asked if everything was alright. I smiled and politely said “ thanks, all good” before I brushed myself off and stepped outside.
I couldn’t gather my breathing properly and felt my tears pushing through. I walked, almost ran, downstairs back to my team, gathered my stuff and said I needed to go but I’ll be back tomorrow. They didn’t know what was going on, but as a respectful group of great humans, they didn’t ask too many questions and just nodded kindly saying “see you tomorrow!”. As soon as I walked out the main doors and felt the fresh cold air hitting my face, I completely fell apart.
I cried and I cried and I couldn’t breathe and I freaked out because I didn’t know what was happening.
I jumped on the first bus I saw and headed home. Still crying, still having trouble breathing and still not sure if this was a case of serious PMS or if this was a full-blown panic attack. This is to this day the only time I’ve ever really cried in public.
I got home, poured myself a glass of water, sat down on the kitchen floor and just stared into the wall for what felt like an eternity.
I didn’t know what was happening but I knew something wasn’t right. After talking to a few good friends I realized that I was in fact broken. Something inside me broke down and I didn’t understand what it was, or how to deal with it.
I had too much going on for way too long and I didn’t stop for a second to take care of myself or take the time to evaluate my actions and state of mind. I was embarrassed, I felt weak and I felt like a complete failure. I had people relying on me and I had deadlines. I didn’t have time for a breakdown.
I didn’t properly take enough time to cope with it either. I ignored it until it went away, only except it didn’t and it took me a long time to realize what had happened.
I wish I knew then what I know now.
IT’S WHEN YOU THINK YOU DON’T HAVE TIME TO DO NOTHING, THAT IT’S IMPORTANT TO DO JUST THAT.
YOU’RE NO GOOD TO ANYBODY IF YOU DON’T MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF TO RECHARGE.
Doing nothing is probably one of the hardest things for any millennial or Gen Z I know out there. We constantly distract ourselves with apps, entertainment, events, or researching our next adventure to make sure we don’t miss out on the next wave of new things.
Most of my life I’ve been heavily driven by FOMO (fear of missing out). I didn’t want to go to sleep when I was a kid, I never missed a party in my teenage years and I was always on the lookout for something better, more interesting things to do. I’ve always escaped to things like music, movies, writing, festivals, rearranging my home, laughing at memes, playing video games or recent years crashing startup events for the inspiring people and free drinks. For a few years, I couldn’t sit still even when I tried to. Safe to say I wasn’t the most attending student in college.
I’ve always searched for things to spark inspiration, give me an adrenaline kick or play into my emotions. I love getting new experiences and being part of things that touches my very soul. Missing out on fun was my biggest nightmare, especially if was stuck at work or occupied with other not-so-fun activities. FOMO is real guys, I know it.
DON’T JUST TAME THE DRAGON
Our emotional state affects our physical state. Depression, anxiety, stress and all the good stuff affects how we treat our physical self and there are countless studies on why it occurs and how to fix it. In many cases, a doctor’s appointment and a prescription is the answer to many. I’ve been enough in the US to see just how massive the options at CVS (their largest drugstore chain) are for helping with this and that. It scares me every time I see a box of aspirin (paracetamol) on the shelf containing 250 pills and sold for the price of 7 dollars (65NOK). 250 pills of aspirin??? If you’re in that much pain I would go see a specialist. Solutions like these are temporary and hurtful in the long run when it doesn’t really fix the real problem which is in fact; You just need a friggin break.
Whenever I decide to do absolutely nothing I do so because my brain is on overload. Knowing when you need a hard reboot in order to not completely crash might be a painful learning experience, and if you are like me you’ll have to fuck up a few times to figure this out. You might need an evening of nothing, a weekend or a full 7 days of doing absolutely nothing.
So whats the learning in all this?
When you make the decision of doing nothing, you subconsciously tell yourself that there is no pressure, nothing to stress over and nothing in your life that just has to be done. And this is where the magic happens.
When you set your mind to do nothing you not only block out the parts of you that are stressed out, you let yourself go into a mindset of rebooting. Some might call this boredom, but in my experience boredom is seldom, and boredom is good. We’re not bored enough these days, we have too many easily accessible ways of simply escaping it whenever we want.
We’re so heavily addicted to and influenced by the rest of the world that we forget that if we don’t put ourselves in the driver’s seat we will completely lose track of what is real, and what is not.
DOES THIS GIVE ME ENERGY, OR TAKE IT AWAY?
It’s either yes or no. This single question has in some ways revolutionized the way I make decisions on whether or not to do something. I’m still learning because I’m a notorious yes-person and always have been, but saying no to the right things is a master of the arts I’m aiming to one day master.
ENERGY ISN’T JUST FOR ELON MUSK OR NEO HIPPIE ASTROLOGISTS
Being unaware of your energy level is so easy in a noisy and easily distracted world. We tell ourselves we’re not tired, we just need some sleep. So you drink some water, take an aspirin, get a few hours of sleep, wake up and feel slightly more like a human. But this doesn’t really matter if you’re already running on fumes.
What is real is you, as a human. Your heart, your stomach, your brain, and your lungs. It’s so easy to forget about the things that are literally keeping us alive when its too much noise pulling us in all kinds of directions.
Previous generations might not see this the same way we do — they didn’t grow up with smartphones and notifications and social media and likes and follows and whatnot. We barely remember a time without the internet. They grew up in a world where if they wanted to experience the world and get influenced by it they had to go outside, go to a bar, a concert, a lecture, a dance class or to a town hall meeting. They had to more actively make a decision to be influenced by the world around them. Today we get neck kinks from staring down at our phones or screens, and that little red dot only adds to our mental to-do list.
Stress and FOMO and intruding notifications will be the death of us if we don’t start listening to our bodies and our energy level.
I believe that many of the challenges in our daily life can be solved with a heavy dose of nothing. Not all the time, just once in a while to balance out all the chaos. Not everything needs to have a fancy fix, but we must dare to take time for ourselves and free our calendars to set aside for just simply being alive, if only for a little while. It might be inconvenient, but absolutely necessary and it will trigger your mind to see things differently. And hopefully, prevent a full-on breakdown because youre doing too many things at once.
I’m currently focusing more on my writing, and I want to get better at it, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send me some feedback on this piece. Also, clap if you like this article and follow if you wanna read more stories like this one! Thanks for reading.