Time for a Life Sabbatical?

the benefits of doing nothing: taking a sabbatical from lifeHow hard is doing nothing?

Harder than doing something, it turns out.

At least for me.

When my coach prescribed three days of doing nothing other than just being with myself, I thought that wouldn’t be too far off from how I already did life.


Until I had to say goodbye to everyone on facebook. And couldn’t read or post at GVU. Or write or respond here. Or check emails.

Holy hannah, that’s unplugged!

I also ignored the phone and doorbell (except when Michele Woodward called – I mean, come on, I’m not Superwoman), and the only appointment I made was for a full body massage, which seemed appropriate for the self-connection intention.

But the other hurdles were managing strong inclinations to clean, organize, read, watch tv, exercise, garden, play with the dogs, brush the cats, … anything but sit quietly with myself.

Apparently I’m more outwardly focused than I realized.

Which I wouldn’t have guessed. I mean, I’m the one who makes fun of my boyfriend for habits of always plugging into to something in order to avoid the “quiet.” He doesn’t drive in the car without music, he prefers a tv on in the background, he doesn’t know how to slow his own brain to get to sleep at night and flat out refuses to try meditating.

In my opinion, my sweetie is a bit of a wreck on that point – but I’m good at this. I can spend hours on end just by myself, doing nothing.

Or so I thought.

Doing nothing isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Doing nothing is not a vacation. It’s not goofing off. It’s not “following your feel good.”  bsscorpio8 says that “although ‘doing nothing’ may sound simple,it actually requires discipline” for activity-obsessed Americans.

But Americans aren’t holding the market on this goal oriented living. Sid at Flow Psychology observes that many cultures consider doing nothing to be lazy and irresponsible.

So why is it worth practicing?

Personally, I wanted to be as good at being with Me as I am at being with others. I wanted to master the art of presence. I wanted to better embrace the truth of myself.

(Plus my coach told me to.)

But the benefits of doing nothing are widespread, including (click the links for great articles):

(Regarding the importance of reflection and creativity, on a recent episode of Project Runway a designer complained that even while she knew she was going down the wrong path with a particular dress she was working on, because of the time constraints of the challenge she never “came up for air” to realize it, and to reassess and redirect. That’s one thing when you’re screwing up your dress on reality tv; it’s another when you’re doing it to your life.)

the benefits of doing nothing: taking a sabbatical from lifeMore arguments for practicing nothing: Dr. Adizes believes doing nothing is the prerequisite for change. Joann Davis writes that “Our souls need time to think, dream, and reflect. We benefit from doing nothing, from going out to play, from giving from the heart and spending time in nature.”

Doing nothing for three days also helped me truly know what I missed (writing, creating) and what I didn’t (obsessive facebook checkins, jumping from one activity to another).

I think doing nothing works best when you do nothing without an agenda – otherwise you’re actually probably doing something after all. But regardless of how or why you play with it, I highly recommend you do, because there’s something very powerful about getting quiet, getting to know yourself, and making some extra room in your mind and your life.

I’ll close with a quote from the very wise Pooh:

“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”

  • August 5, 2011
  • Tonia, maybe Seth can offer more inspiration. Did you see his post today?
    Wasting time is not a waste

    “In fact, wasting time is a key part of our lives.
    “Wasting time poorly is a sin, because not only are you forgoing the productivity, generosity and art that comes from work, but you’re also giving up the downtime, experimentation and joy that comes from wasting time.
    “”If you’re going to waste time (and I hope you will) the least you can do is do it well.” – Seth Godin

  • Tonia says:

    We must be on the same wave right now. Since I’ve been paying attention to the “Slacker” I can’t seem to stop doing. I thought I was so good at slacking, come to find out what I do all day really isn’t slacking at all. It seems like as soon as I gave myself permission to slack, all I wanted to do was get stuff done.
    I am going to try this doing nothing for sure, but it is going to have to wait until I have some time for nothing. LOL! Does camping count? I usually do nothing while I’m camping, except hike, eat and do dishes. Of course, there is a lot of doing to get ready for camping. Hmmmmm? This is not easy at all.

  • That was it, Helen – I was looking to increase well-being via a stronger connection with Self. Learning to better BE with myself than with everything external.
    (I guess for regular meditators this is nothing new or mysterious.)
    Thanks for reading and for commenting. 🙂

  • helen says:

    The whole concept of doing nothing is actually interesting. Even sleeping or sitting still doing nothing but breathe is doing something – well those activities at least. I take it you mean just stop doing what you normally would be doing and also stop doing things that take your focus from yourself as you connect to the universal source of all that is. honestly with some of you I was exhausted by the time I read all the ‘nothing’ things you did boy were you busy LOL.
    this has been a great post Jeannette as most of them usually are, at getting me to look at what I am “doing” in my life and seeing all the ways I am either allowing or dis-allowing my well-being. so thank you once again for the spotlight you so lovingly cast on all aspects of our lives to help us change them for the better. YAY you!!!!

  • Cate, I think that’s a very practical and effective way to embrace “nothing.” Taking three days off could seem overwhelming for some – but just starting to encourage it here and there in normal daily life seems like it would be good, too.
    In fact, that’s probably how I’ll continue this practice.
    Thanks for posting, Cate! 🙂

  • Greg, I TOTALLY know what you mean! (the urge to do “something”!) But it did get easier, huh?
    We should do that again together sometime soon!
    You know what I noticed? On day five, my shoulder pain returned. Seriously – it was disappearing during the three days and I couldn’t attribute it to anything else like sleeping differently, new pillows, or a break from shoulder-stressing workouts. (I gave those up a long time ago.)
    In fact, on the massage table, I had told her when we booked it that my shoulder was calling her name – but by the time I got there on day three, it was gone.
    Day four was fine – but after that, I could feel it creeping back.
    So today I practiced a little more “nothing” this morning, and journaling – since i wasn’t sure which one was responsible – and swear to God it already feels better! Like, GONE.
    Seriously, this mind body connection thing is tripping me out.

  • Cate says:

    Thanks, Jeanette. I am going to start with short amounts of time to do nothing and get some stamina for that! HA.

  • Well said, Stephen. In fact, I’d consider that benefit (enjoying DOING again/more) reason enough to do nothing now and again.
    Surprisingly nice way to reconnect with the joy of doing!

  • Stephen says:

    One of the effects of appreciating “doing nothing” is an enhanced appreciation of doing. I find it easier to be in the moment enjoying whatever I’m doing. I used to do a lot of things sort of on auto-pilot; not really present, my mind somewhere else. Now just the act of doing is a joy.

  • Greg says:

    I want to thank you and Lisa for the inspiration to do this. With the start of some time off, I started my intentional mostly do nothing for three days. For someone accustomed to being action and achievement oriented–it’s harder to do than you think! There were so many times I was tempted to do some de-cluttering, cleaning, research, yard work and had to really stop myself. I did allow some email time, I did allow some phone time with friends, I did allow some time for fun reading, and allowed myself some walks along the water, and of course, made sure I had time to connect at GVU.
    As I near the end, I feel calmer, I feel centered, I feel more connected to myself. I feel an ease to life that I haven’t had much of of late. I feel more deliberate in what to choose to focus on. I feel that I have more focus. I did a lot of thinking, thinking of how I view my world and my relationship to it. I mentally explored ways of changing those perspectives for my highest good.
    Overall, a pretty awesome experience.

  • Oh, yes, Janette, the environment of learning and being inspired – tough time to choose “nothing.” ha
    Three days seemed like a lot at the time (Lisa wanted four, Abigail did five) – but it was worth it.

  • Janette says:

    Wow – I’m so impressed at your nothing skills, Jeannette! I came away to Kim’s patch of the world… gorgeous Byron Bay…. to attend a tiny little Writers Festival and spend a week doing nothing.
    My “do nothing” became a round of catching up with friends also in town for the Festival, writing workshops, walks to the beach, exploring the area, checking out the shops, eating out, reading, studying, (trying to) write a story, (trying to) write a blog post, keeping up with jobseeking tasks…..
    At least now I know what “doing nothing” DOESN’T look like heheheheh.
    I’m about to start on a new supplement specifically to assist with energy (in particular lower chakra energies) and I’ve been warned that for the first month I’ll probably sleep a lot. Like, 10 hours a night. And I can’t WAIT.
    Thanks to your inspiration and example, I now plan to set aside three days to see if I can improve my doing nothing skills. I LOVE the idea of looking forward to doing things, instead of how I currently feel – TIRED!!!
    Thank you for showing us the way, as usual. Mwah!

  • Oh, and I didn’t miss any of my favorite shows, either. So You Think You Can Dance I enjoyed and I watched The Talk one day out of sheer boredom. (I was very easily entertained at that point.)
    But you’re totally right, Laura, about looking forward to getting to “do” things again! Dog hikes, music, yoga, WRITING, even cleaning and pulling weeds. Such a pleasure!!

  • Laura says:

    Wow…thanks for sharing that. I’ve never done nothing for an entire day (let alone 3)…except maybe when I was sick and then of course the tv was always on so that didn’t count. I can see what you mean about the inclination to want to do something when observing (like cleaning the yard, etc.)…
    I would imagine you looked forward to the things you could actually do such as showering, eating, sleeping so as to give some indication of time passing? Or, because it was a set period of time did you just revel in it?
    What a great experience Jeannette! I have spent perhaps hours doing nothing and just love it being so completely present. Again..thanks for sharing this with us!

  • Yeah, I sat in a variety of chairs. (Thought about how Abigail talked about alternating between laying on the couch and then the floor on her five days of nothing. You do have to switch it up.)
    Sometimes sat on the ground outside. Sometimes laid on the couch. Sometimes laid on the bed looking at the ceiling. Took a nap or two, but not many because I’d already slept in each day. Sometimes wandered through the yard. But I could tell from my initial inclinations to clean and read and organize that I better be careful I didn’t turn to food or exercise to resist just being with myself.
    No music, no yoga, a little stretching, a dog walk once a day, luxurious showers, talked out loud to myself a bit, let my mind wander. Appreciation was flowing more rampant than usual, once I stopped to look at everything in my life. Also did some journaling, to facilitate dialogue with Self.
    (I did check emails each morning, peeking at a couple online discussions, lifted a few weights and a few lunges, listened in on two GVU calls, and did a client session. So it wasn’t ALL nothing.)
    I noticed today there was some “nothingness” I wasn’t excited to leave behind. Some of it, yes, but some of it, I want to carry into future days. Regularly. Hmm.

  • Laura says:

    Doing nothing has never been a problem for me. I do it all the time. As a matter of fact, I’ve mastered it. LOL…Am curious though what you actually did while doing nothing? I mean, did you sit on the couch? Spend time outside? Sleep? Care to share more details about what you actually did when you weren’t doing anything?

  • Thank you, Lisa.
    And Stephen, listening to the wind is a great nothingness enhancer. Great quote, too, on the reminder to rest after nothing. ha

  • Stephen Taylor says:

    I like the quote from Pooh.
    When I feel the need to do nothing, I go fishing (I’m going tomorrow morning, actually). When I fish, actually hooking a fish is secondary to more important activities like breathing, admiring the lovely view, laughing at the antics of the chipmunks, listening to the wind. If a fish is foolish enough to take my baited hook, I respond accordingly (I do like to eat trout), but that is not the primary purpose of fishing.
    Congratulations on a job well done, and remember: “There are few things sweeter in life than doing nothing, and then resting afterwards.”

  • Lisa says:

    Congratulations Jeannette! I hope doing nothing also allowed you to tune into your absolute greatness which we appreciate each and every day!

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