When was the last time you did nothing? Absolutely nothing. When did you last sit centre stage in the moment, without anything waiting for its cue to stride on from the wings?
Waiting to meet someone with your phone in your hand is not “doing nothing”. Neither is eating. And, as much as I would love it to be a zero-energy game, sitting on the train is very rarely nothing (unless you actively choose to put your phone away on airplane mode, and don’t have an unread copy of the Metro in your hand).
If you can’t call a time to mind, I dare you to try it today. Waiting in a long line at the coffee shop? Choose to do nothing. Sitting on the train? Choose to do nothing. Five minutes before your friend is due to call? Choose to do nothing.
Since starting this blog, I’ve been trying small life hacks and posting my experiences on twitter with the hashtag #weeklynudge. Many of them are tied to my permanent inability to do nothing.
I am rubbish at doing nothing. To be honest, I’m even rubbish at only doing one thing at a time. It takes strops and it takes bribery and I hate it.
This week, my #weeklynudge was to get eight hours’ sleep a night. I didn’t manage it completely, but I did go to bed earlier and sleep in more than I would have done had I not made a public statement committing to be more horizontal. #winning? Sort of.
Putting sleep first means choosing not to do other things. It’s trending towards the less active end of the scale of zip/nothing/nada to headless chicken. When you feel tired and it’s your first night in for ages, heading up to bed a bit early feels great. It’s novel, and it feels like a treat. But when it’s an average evening and you have to stop doing the little jobs that you think are important (like clarty bits of tidying that actually aren’t important at all), you break a cycle.
What happened to me this week? I got seriously tired. I created space and my body said: “Thanks for asking, Claire, I am bloody tired. More sleep and less faff, please.”
When you choose to do nothing you’re doing the same thing: creating space.
You create some space, and out of nowhere a still, small voice says: how about this?
I didn’t think you could be interrupted by a still, small voice. I thought epiphanies had to be pronounced by loud voices, with a pumping bass line, flashing lights and dry ice. Turns out I’d spent most of my time not letting that voice get a word in edgeways.
There’s a great everyday application of this feeling that doesn’t involve a box of Kleenex and a dramatic mountain top moment:
When you choose to schedule an hour’s “meeting” with yourself on a different floor of the office to get something done, you create space. When you choose to get off the bus a stop early and walk the last ten minutes to the office with your headphones firmly in your pocket, you create space. When you greet someone with a “how’s it going?” and plant your feet on the ground and listen to the answer, you create space.
Yes, you might hear some things you didn’t want to be said. But you will also experience new things, different things, and things which show you a clearer path through the noise.
Be brave. Hold the space.
Claire Eadington geeks out on workflow management, performance and wellbeing. Claire’s TEDx talk about barriers to performance for exceptional women kicked off the 2017 TEDxWhitehallWomen event in London.
Claire writes a weekly blog, Self Curious, on NPW’s website.
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