As kids, we grew up asking and getting a very familiar question: “What’d you do over the weekend?” And from other kids, we would get a horde of diverse and interesting answers: “I played catch with my dad!” “I made a snow fort in the backyard!” “I lost all 32 of my teeth!” Yikes. Kids have that chaotic energy. Meanwhile, adults have the same response “Same old, same old,” “Nothing much,” “I don’t remember honestly.” Though there’s certainly different ways to say it, the substance remains the same. These adults did absolutely nothing over the weekend. And they were proud of it. In fact, the idea of doing nothing has only ever become more and more appealing as we’ve grown up.
At the same time, the idea that we should always be improving our efficiency, our output, our productivity has grown. With apps and technology that cut wait times down to virtually zero, impatience – or rather, a short attention span – is the consequence. It has created the need to feel constantly entertained. Balance is important between doing nothing and doing too much, and both extremes are dangerous to your mental health. Remember that it’s okay to do nothing at all sometimes. Though research shows that naps during the middle of the day can actually make us more tired, know that you don’t need to have your phone out during your meal if you’re eating alone. Know that your mind doesn’t always have to be thinking about the next thing or the last thing or the new thing. Taking a minute to just be is one of the most overlooked opportunities that we have today.
Here are some self-care apps I recommend to help you do nothing:
Finch – take care of your pet bird who asks you stimulating questions and prompts you to engage in “just being”
Headspace – to my fellow Northeastern students, we have a free membership to this service. Taking 1-5 minutes throughout the day to just do nothing and clear your mind will make you surprisingly aware and centered for the rest of the day. (Disclaimer: No, this will not make you more alert if you slept for 2 hours the night before).
Unplug: This isn’t an app, I apologize if anyone actually went to the app store before reading this. Just keeping your phone aside and sitting down for a minute – not to think, but to be present – will relieve you of some anxiety and make you much more efficient at completing tasks for the rest of day (not to mention boosting your mental health).
Bottomline: Doing nothing boosts your mental health. Can you believe it? I’ve carved out 16 hours tomorrow just to do nothing already. My mental health is about to shoot through the roof! My grades? Not so much. Just remember to have that balance.
Although doing things you love and not doing anything are important, it’s also important to explore new things. This is what’s called Doing Something (named by yours truly). A lot of people don’t even know that this is an option. And it’s not for everyone. For those who have discovered what they love they may want to spend the majority of their time doing that one thing they love. For instance a professional football player will not have time in their calendar to “Do Something” since they’ll be doing what they love most of the time. On the other hand, younger, more adventurous people will have the capacity and the drive to explore more things. Of course, that’s not to say that more mature planners shouldn’t be adventurous.
How it works: You plan your calendar as usual. Got the morning routine (brush up, get outside for some activity, take a shower, get ready). Got the day (job, family, friends, independent projects). Then you got what’s left. And it’s about 1-3 hours of free time for most people. If you have more than 1-3 free hours a day (accounting for studying, extra work, etc.). Most people fill these hours with TikTok, video games, YouTube, social media, etc. More productive people also fill it with more activities.
Instead, I suggest having 90-150 minute periods of time just for exploration. I call these “Exploration Blocks”. If there was an award for naming things, I would clearly have it. Go to a comedy club, a restaurant, a club, or a park. Go do something new, or something old. Just don’t do something regular. When you experience new things, you’re bound to learn something new, either about yourself or about the world, or likely both! What’s the worst that could happen! Even if you make a fool of yourself, your real friends will stick by you. Even the science shows that lifelong learning is key to a healthy mind. So get out there and be creative.
You know the drill for this one. Stick to the calendar and repeat. It’s also okay to have busy days. Having a mix of both is the best option. Stay disciplined, but know that it’s okay to take breaks when you’re done. There’s a difference between being lazy and being burnt out. One comes from a lack of motivation and the other comes from an overload of stress. If you ever get pressed for time, know that it’s okay to ask for help. Just remember that worrying about what is not in your control is never beneficial.
Focus on what you can control and you’ll realize you have more power than you think.