I don’t know if I can relax. Relax, I can’t do. My brain, on idle, is a bad thing. I just get weird. I mean, not weird. I get, I get antsy.
Johnny Depp.

It seems to me that these days, most of us have an aversion to being idle for even a few minutes. Perhaps it is because we are taught at a very young age that it is bad to be lazy. Or the belief we have developed over time is that, in order to be happy, we must be successful. And to ‘succeed’, we need to work long hours to get what we want. For many of us, technology has enabled an encroachment of our working life into our home life, so we can continue ‘doing something’ (such as checking Facebook/emails) every minute of the day. Or maybe it is caused by the idea that in order to live a good life, or a ‘full’ life, we must remain busy.

From this perspective, a good life involves being a human ‘doing’, rather than simply a human ‘being’. But do we actually enjoy and drive this busyness, this drama? Or could there be a part of us which seeks a bit of serenity, peace, simplicity and stillness?

No matter what the reason, the ‘problem’ as I see it, is widespread. Because if you ask anyone these days how they are, a very large percentage of them will say ‘busy’. Busy at work, busy at home, flat out, strung out…and boy, do I need a holiday. The part of us that wants some stillness is losing the battle.

Unfortunately, there are consequences for us if we keep living like this. The effects are becoming increasingly well understood. The pressure for us to keep busy is resulting in a society with increased stress. Stress contributes to a range of mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. Stress also causes physical problems, such as heart disease. In truth, excessive stress makes our lives less enjoyable, reduces our effectiveness at work, damages relationships, and ends our lives sooner.

So how do we overcome this need to be busy all the time, and our aversion to doing very little on occasion? Well the list of solutions is probably endless, but here are a few things you can do right now, to learn to be (and actually enjoy) being idle occasionally:

1. Give up the idea that success relies on working and working and working

There is little doubt that in order to succeed in life, we need to do some work. It is highly unlikely that we are ever going to achieve our goals sitting on the couch. But equally, if we push too hard, and don’t allow ourselves the time to rest and recover, we will burn out, think less creatively, and become less (rather than more) effective. Our brains work best when they have periods of being on, and periods to recover. So work smarter, not harder.

2. Focus on happiness rather than success

Related to the first point, while having success in life will bring us some happiness for a short time, we humans have a habit of simply replacing one goal or desire with another. The result is that if we chase success in order to make us happy, we will probably end up disappointed. Research actually shows that the reverse is true – being happy increases our chances of being successful. So do the things that make you happy, which may include things that appear ‘unproductive’. Then when you need your brain for your work, you will think clearer and more creatively, relate better to others, and improve your chances of achieving your goals.

3. Make it ok to do nothing sometimes

With all the problems in the world and people to help, being idle all the time probably isn’t a great way to spend a life. However, for our health and happiness, and those around us, we need to give ourselves permission sometimes, to do nothing. To stare into space, vague out, chilllax, sit on the porch and watch the world go by. We need time to recharge and refresh, and we need to realise that we are not bad people when we do this. We are simply living life the way our bodies and minds were created. To be on sometimes, and off other times.

We also might want to consider at the end of our lives, what will we regret? Personally, I don’t want to regret missing out on the stuff that really matters in life, like my family and friends, the beauty of nature, the people I could have listened to and helped, and the laughs I had. I don’t want to have missed out because I was in a blurry haze of doing, doing, and more doing, rather than taking it in, savouring it, feeling some gratitude. So be idle with your friends. Be idle in nature. Be idle by yourself because…it is ok.

4. Turn off the devices

I went to Sydney a little while ago, and did a little experiment while watching the world go by near the Sydney Opera House. During my people watching experiment, I calculated over about three minutes, that one in 4 people had a mobile phone in their hand, and 50% of people were actually using it. Groups of three or four people were even walking along together on a beautiful sunny day, and all of them were texting on their phones.

Now I don’t want to criticise, but I am merely making the point that when we are constantly connected to technology, we are either doing something, or waiting for something to happen. We are ‘on’. So give yourself a break, and turn it off for a while, get away from it, or give it away. Call me a dinosaur, but I think it’s important to live life for a while where it is to be lived, where it goes slower, and where real beauty can be observed and enjoyed.

5. Learn to be mindful

Mindfulness is the open, active attention on the present moment. It is becoming more popular in the West, and there are good reasons for it, including stress reduction, better achievement of tasks, and increased safety. Mindfulness can involve mindfulness practices i.e sitting down and focussing on an ‘anchor’, like our breathing or our bodies, or by building it into our daily life i.e. being present whilst washing the dishes. Either way it is a great way to feed that part of ourselves which wants to be still, and is the best way to be idle. We can learn about our thoughts, our feelings, and what is going on around us. We can experience some stillness, and the benefits can be long lasting. So do yourself a favour, and learn to build mindfulness into your life through formal practices, or by learning to live in the here and now.

I hope this has helped you to consider why being idle occasionally is important, and how to do it. So give yourself a break – it is good for your health, your happiness, your work, and everyone you interact with.

Have a great day,