The art of doing nothing

Have you been saying that you need a holiday from your holidays? Dare to do nothing

2 min
Resting in the Ciutadella Park in Barcelona

BARCELONA"There is nothing harder than doing nothing", so begins How to do nothing. Resisting the attention economy by artist and writer Jenny Odell (Ariel, 2021), who presents the book as a field guide to doing nothing as an act of political resistance to the attention economy.

We live in a society that rewards doing, productivity, and being busy. That's why doing nothing may not be as simple as it might seem. This doing nothing implies being open to the experience of the moment, being more about being than doing, a being that connects you to what you need both physically and emotionally. But it seems that we tend to be always busy, even when we have free time we are immersed in a wheel that doesn't stop and we often don't know how to get out of it - or how to stop it when we want to. "The maelstrom takes us away and we lose control", says Mònica Arús, mindfulness instructor.

Holidays, an opportunity

In summer and especially when we have more time and less professional obligations, we have the opportunity to do things without rushing. "It's not so much about doing things little by little, but paying attention to what you are doing", proposes Arús. Summer is a good time to put into practice or train this unhurried doing, "connecting with yourself, listening to yourself and giving space to what you really need, slowing down the pace so that other things come to the surface", she points out.

The art of doing nothing.

David Casacuberta, philosophy professor at the UAB, insists on the importance of detaching ourselves from the need to be productive and generate something beneficial: "Now it seems that producing is intrinsic to human beings, but we have spent thousands of years tending to boredom. In reality there is almost no point in doing and producing, that's why we end up saturated with doing so many things". Along the same lines, Jenny Odell explains that we live in a world where our value is determined by our productivity and maintains that "because of capitalist logic, which feeds on short-sightedness and dissatisfaction, something as terrible as doing nothing could be really dangerous". Casacuberta assures that we have convinced ourselves that all the activities we do have to bring us benefits, hence we choose productive careers, "we have forgotten how important it is to do something that does not bring us anything". "Meditation is useless, that's why it is so important, it is a space of incredible freedom". What the philosopher proposes is not to do nothing or to be still, but to do for the pleasure of doing, without thinking if it is beneficial for our health or if it solves a problem, to recover doing for the sake of doing, to do fewer things and to do them better. "We have to learn to control the need to be productive. It is a problem of modernity, the more work you do the more you generate. The fact that we can do many things does not mean that we have to do them", concludes Casacuberta.

Practice mindfulness

"We live in a society that pushes us to do, whatever, to be worried about always doing something. Often when we want to stop we realise that it is not so easy, maybe we stop doing but our mind is still tangled in thoughts, trapped in the past or projecting the future", states Mònica Arús. That's why she understands that "stopping" implies stopping doing and also stopping our mind. Do you know how to calm the mind so that this doing nothing is really regenerating? The practice of mindfulness helps to pacify our thoughts. Here are the steps to follow to train mindfulness:

Turn off the autopilot. We never stop doing, we seem to be automatons with both ordinary and more complex things. We need to stop in order to deactivate the autopilot and reconnect with our needs. 

Connect with the breath. Pay attention to your breath. Breathing anchors us in the present, it is a way of being in touch with what is happening to you right now, the immediate experience. 

Observe yourself. Practice self-observation: stop, breathe and listen to yourself, observe how you feel and listen to your needs. 

Live in the present. Mindfulness practice leads us to live in the present. When you connect with the present you can live this moment more intensely, with more attention and quality, switch off the autopilot and calm the mind. 

Relaxed brains

What happens to our brains when we do nothing? And what is doing nothing? Doing nothing is often understood as a person not focusing attention on any external stimuli, but despite doing nothing we are likely to continue thinking, imagining, planning, remembering or observing. "Studies in the field of neuroscience show that when a person is at rest, but awake, the brain is still active", explains neuroscientist Marta Portero, PhD. And what does the brain do when we do nothing? It seems that what is known as the default neural network is activated, a coordinated and synchronised network formed by different brain structures such as the frontal, parietal and temporal cortex, which would be active when we are curious and daydreaming", says Portero. It seems that one of the reasons this internal activity exists is to ensure that all brain structures are ready to respond quickly to some stimulus that needs to be processed.

Look at your mobile when you want to and not when your mobile tells you to look at it.
Switch off from your phone

Journalist Mariola Dinàres, author of Felicitatdigital (Editorial Efadós, 2021), gives us the keys to disconnect from mobile phones and social networks.

1. Slim down your mobile phone. Before you start disconnecting, put your photos and videos in order, delete duplications and what you don't need, make backup copies... It is practical and useful.

2. Be minimalist. Keep only the necessary applications, uninstall everything you don't use.

3. Goodbye notifications. Take the opportunity to look at your mobile when you want to and not when the mobile tells you to look at it.

4. Make the most of it. If you create content, recover messages or material created during the year and automate it, with the tools offered by social networks, to publish once or twice a week.

5. Disconnect. Do the exercise of not looking at your mobile when you have nothing to do. If you want to check networks or messages, dedicate only 30 minutes to it first thing in the morning and at the end of the day. If you go away and want to share photos, stories or videos, organise it and post it when you get back from holiday, so you won't be watching for reactions.