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The Fine Art of Doing Nothing

Sometimes it’s hard to be alone, especially alone with our own thoughts

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“…people never are alone now. We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it’s almost impossible for them ever to have it.” ~ Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

In this era, it’s becoming harder to be alone, especially alone with our own thoughts. Dr. Timothy Wilson, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, along with other researchers conducted an experiment with student volunteers. The students were given two options: For 15 uninterrupted minutes they could do nothing.

Or, they could give themselves a small, electric shock. Roughly 67% of the men and 25% of the women in the experiment chose to give themselves small shocks, even though earlier, many had proclaimed that they would pay money not to endure such a shock.

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Anxious for Anything To Do

Why did they opt for the shock? They became increasingly anxious for anything to do over the course of the 15 minutes. Aha, you say! These were probably millennials for whom a 15-minute stretch of doing nothing is virtually impossible.

As it turns out, the participants consisted of adults recruited from a farmer’s market and from a church. They acted in much the same way that you might expect of millennials. They felt anxious and antsy when left alone for a 15-minute stretch with nothing else to do but be with themselves.

The question  for each of us is why is it becoming so hard to take a few moments throughout the day to simply do nothing? Have we become such a driven populace that we cannot even spare a few minutes for ourselves? Do we not recognize the peace of mind that we can experience when we’re not fully occupied every minute of the day?

Weaning Yourself

If you feel that you are constantly seeking to optimize every minute of the day, and perhaps are oversubscribed, over-informed, and overwhelmed, here are interlaced ideas that you can put into practice:

Start small. Rather than attempt a long stretch of doing simply nothing, see if you can last for 60 seconds or maybe 120 if you’re feeling brave. It’s best to attempt this after you finish a task, and feel good about your accomplishment. Marinade in your positive feelings.

Perhaps before you go to lunch or return from lunch, or before or after taking a break, why not allow yourself a little time to pause and, well, simply do nothing.

If you have a 15 minute break, where is it written that you can’t spend 60 seconds at your desk doing nothing, take a 13 minute break, then spend the last 60 seconds at your desk, again doing nothing.

Expand Your Ability

As you build more and more confidence in your ability to take some time out with no thoughts or activities in mind, strive for three to five minutes. If you arrive at work early, you could spend such time in your car with the radio off, not checking your cell phone, and not doing anything, other than simply sitting there.

At your workplace, maybe you can spend three minutes undetected in a conference room, corporate library, rooftop terrace, or elsewhere.

At home, where you have more flexibility, could you attempt a short weekend session? This should be no problem. During the weekday, it’s understandable that you seek to efficiently commute to and from work, although even on weeknights it might be possible for you to carve out a few minutes. Think of all the times you’ve been online, or you flick through the TV channels, and how aimless that can be.

Reinforce What Works

As time passes, giving yourself some stretches here and there where you don’t have to do anything can become reinforcing. You have the opportunity to take a deep breath. You get a chance to reflect, or to clear your mind. You have time to visualize.

Even if none of these things happen, you still get a chance to slow down. Any way you look at it, it’s a good proposition.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



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Family

Spend Less, Owe Less, Live More

If you spend less than you take in, inexorably your debt will decrease

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Society conditions us to consume more than we need and to spend more than we make. However, this kind of lifestyle is a recipe for disaster. Taking back control of your finances can help you free up time and make you feel more in control of your life more of the time.

Think back to your high school and college history classes: can you recall a nation in the history of the earth that accumulated huge deficits over a prolonged period of time, lacked a concerted effort towards reducing these deficits, yet was able to sustain economic prosperity for its citizens?

Can a nation, in debt for trillions annually, or a person – namely you – consistently run up huge deficits and expect no consequences?  For decades, tens of millions of Americans have accumulated personal debt via credit cards, loans, and other forms of financing. It’s likely that you have some financial debts.

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Subtle Servitude

Sustained deficit spending eventually erodes your ability to prepare for the future, and worse, to capitalize on current opportunities. The more you owe, the more enslaved you are! In Consumerism, Dr. Judith Schor notes that you’ve likely been taught to consume more than you need.

Right now, how would it feel if all your credit cards were paid off? How would it feel if you paid your monthly rent or mortgage several months in advance? How would it feel if your car loan was paid off? How would it feel if you were actually able to pay some of your utility bills for months in advance? For most people it would feel great. You’d feel in control of your time.

We all know the arguments about losing the (minuscule) amount of interest you could have earned if you let your money sit in the bank instead of paying the electric bill three months in advance. Ah, but wait. A month after you’ve paid your electric bill three months in advance, you receive the next month’s bill. Guess what? It shows that you have a huge credit and that nothing is due – you’ll smile when you see these kinds of bills!

A Moratorium on Spending

To reduce your personal debts, place a moratorium on optional spending, regardless of what items entice you, until your credit cards have zero balances.

Paying for material things which you don’t need, and certainly don’t save your time, might be satisfying, but ultimately can be draining.

Here are some strategies and tactics for controlling your checkbook, and hence reclaiming your life:

1. Write out checks to pay bills in advance of their due dates. Then, keep an advance file with a folder for each day of the month. Place the check in a sealed, addressed, and stamped envelope. Then put the envelope in the folder of the day it’s to be mailed. This way the money is allocated in advance in your checkbook, and your bills are paid on time. If your checking account pays interest, you don’t lose interest.

2. Occasionally, overpay the balance on your continuing accounts, or pay early. This gives you the aforementioned psychological boost when you see a credit on your next statement, and gives you a good reputation with your creditors, which is handy!

3. Keep a stick-on note in your checkbook for an immediate reference that lists what’s coming in this month and what needs to be paid. This provides you with a running mini-cash flow list to which you can refer at will. Update it weekly, or daily, if needed.

4. Review old checkbooks and see what you paid to whom for what. Do the same thing with your monthly credit card statements. Put a red mark next to all those expenditures that you didn’t need to make, or that you could have done without after further consideration.

5. Now, considering expenditures on the horizon, which ones can you do without?

Spend Less, Save More

As author Roger Dawson says, “It doesn’t matter how much money you’re making; if you’re spending more than you take in each month, you’re headed for trouble.” If you spend less than you take in, your debt will decrease, even if only a little at a time, and one day perhaps  disappear.

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Life

Ignore Much of What Pundits Have to Say

Can we be confident in advice we receive from people who have not mastered what they teach?

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When the opportunity arose, I attended a lecture by one of the most well-known authors and speakers in America. I had previewed his CD and read two of his books prior to his lecture; in person, he lived up to my expectations. So, I was intrigued when a friend, involved with bringing this speaker to our area relayed a personal incident to me. 

Directly following the speaker’s presentation, my friend was responsible for driving him to the airport, and accompanying him until his flight departed. That summer afternoon, it was rainy and the skies were dark.

As it turned out, the author was a nervous flyer and took several drinks in the airport lounge prior to boarding the plane.  I found this incident to be amazing because I had so often heard him say things such as, “Everything in this universe is perfect.” It struck me that, in many ways, the speaker wasn’t practicing his philosophy. Nevertheless, all human beings have their faults and foibles and, as time passed, I forgot about the incident.

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High-Priced Gurus

One morning, I had the occasion to pick up USA Today. In the lifestyle section, there was a feature on a relationship guru and author of international best-sellers on relationships. She had won the “Oscar” of infomercials, earning $24 million in a single year.  

In this published interview, the reporter asked her why we should listen to a relationship guru who had been married five times. Five times? I couldn’t believe it! She had wedded her fifth husband, some 11 years her junior, only a short time before producing her award-winning infomercial on having a successful relationship. 

In the infomercial, she is featured as having a loving relationship with her husband. Okay, but in no way does the infomercial tell us that he is her fifth husband and that she had married him three weeks ago.

Not Walking their Talk

I had a flash from the past: I recalled the story about the nervous flyer author. Yet, nothing prepared me for the revelations about the relationship guru, a self-proclaimed expert, using the slickest 21st-century marketing available to sell her information and products.  

She was well-versed in her subject matter. Upon hearing her advice, I recognized that it did seem sound. However, the larger issue is, “Can we be confident in the advice we receive from those who have not mastered what they teach, or who do not even remotely walk their talk?”

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