Reduce your stress by doing nothing

It seems these days we’re all always busy doing something. And showing others what we’re doing via social media is pretty much the norm for most people although there’s a correlation there with age of course. And if you’re into your social media, or even if you’re into your social, you’re probably going to be hit most days with feelings of envy (for where your friends or some random celebrities are on holiday right now) or guilt (because of the value-add activities that everyone else seems to be engaged in) or an overwhelming desire to take action (to make sure you’re keeping up with the Joneses, or the bots, or whatever it is that’s putting up these social media posts that are making you feel like this).

So is this where we’ve arrived? Everything quantified, measured, assessed in terms of likes, followers, shares, retweets, relative value of this activity over that, size of cake baked, complexity of dish cooked, number of steps taken, distance run, side hustles started, exoticism of holiday destinations booked? Exhausting, right? Happy with that? No? Ok, then read on.

So back to where we’ve got to with everything becoming commoditised, gamified and quite frankly de-funned because for many of us, the management of our online and offline personas means that we’re not living in the now and appreciating what’s around us in the moment. In our defence, there are good social psychological reasons, both for the development of the apps and platforms where we now spend so much time and also for our social attitudes and behaviour, which even before social media, were being driven in largely similar ways. We are after all social animals and being social animals, we routinely judge ourselves by comparison with others.

So we end up weighing up our own self-worth and value in the world by comparing with relevant reference points in our social network or in the wider social world. This can lead to a positive striving towards self-improvement, where we weigh up the worthy deeds of others and decide that we want to do something positive in the world too. But given the omnipresence of social media today (if you let it be omnipresent that is), this can all too easily lead to feelings of lowered self-esteem as you realise that you can never be that worthy, that tall, that thin, that rich or that famous.

I’ve podcasted before on the topic of going slow – that was at Season 1, Episode 10. Also, there’s a load about social comparison at Season 3 Episode 2 when I podcasted on ‘comparison being the thief of happiness’. There’s some more ideas in both of those casts, but today I want to focus more on us valuing ‘doing nothing’ as a thing in itself. Not something that would be significant enough to social post or even tell anyone about, but something rewarding just because it reminds you of being you, or reminds you of being a child, free of responsibilities or worries, or just because it’s fun.

My story on this, my epiphany really, came on a Boxing Day a few years back. It had been a crap year, my Mum had died and that had been a real emotional rollercoaster for everyone in my family, including me. And we’d had our first Christmas without Mum, which was so tough – everyone who’s lost someone close to them talks about the importance of that first year and just making it through all the ‘events’ of the year…birthdays, special days, holidays, Christmas as well…those times that you would have spent with that person who’s now gone. And the advice is just to go through the motions almost because you need to redefine your life without that person in it and experience that for the first time, because once you’ve toughed through it once, you’ll never have to do it for the first time again. Course, you don’t fully appreciate all of that at the time and there I was, having lost Mum in the summer and having just had Christmas day with everyone else in the family.

On Boxing Day, that oh so in between day of the year, I was with my family at home – just me and my family. And I decided to have a go at the Christmas present that I’d asked for, which was architectural Lego of the Fallingwater house by Frank Lloyd Wright, my favourite house in the world. Google it if you don’t know it, it’s amazing. So I sat and I built my Lego Fallingwater for about 3 hours straight, really focused on each brick coming together, visualising the actual building but mainly just enjoying the very very tactile, immediate process of putting together a Lego construction.

Those guys have really nailed in terms of physical experiences. And I could feel emotional weight leaving me. And I just felt connected with kid me. And adult me actually. And just enjoying that time, mainly on my own, from time to time someone would come in and see how I was getting on, but mainly it was just me, in the quiet, focused on what I was doing. Time flew by and stood still and in the end I was finished. Which was actually quite a sad moment, because I’d come to the end of that wonderful, elevating, lightening process. But I remember the experience overall so vividly and also as such a dreamlike state because I was in flow and totally connected to what I was doing. And that thing I was doing had no purpose, no real reason, it was just for pleasure, for enjoyment.

The Lego model is still sat on one of my bookshelves in the living room, along with a few other architectural Lego buildings that I made in the years after but nothing came close to that first Fallingwater experience. Those Lego buildings remind me to sometimes just go out and play basketball with my son. Or go for a run without my phone or my Fitbit. Or have a bath and fall asleep in it. Or climb a tree and shout. Or sing loudly as if no one can hear. Or go and sit in the sun and do nothing. And not photograph any of it to ‘capture the moment’ or to put it up on social media later.

So I don’t really have any tips or hints for you today, other than to remember sometimes to just have fun, be a kid from time to time, be free from competition and commoditisation of experience and measuring the value of everything that you do and the feelings of pressure that can bring and just do nothing, be free.

Find a fun thing to do, a nothing thing to do, every day, or at least once this week, and see what that simple pleasure brings you.

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