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How to Do Nothing
06 · 04 · 2020

How to Do Nothing

Written by Gavin Humphreys

There’s nothing to do.

The world is self-isolating. Sports events are canceled. Social events and bars out the window. Theater and cinema are no-nos. School is on pause. Visiting friends is not allowed!

How difficult can it be to do nothing?

My mind goes back to my highschool physics teacher, Monkey.

He once asked an unruly class - “Ok, you don’t want to learn physics. What do you want to do?”

A cocky student shouted out, “Nothing, Sir.” So the teacher challenged the class to do nothing for ten minutes.

They were ready to burst after five. It’s not as easy as you think.

Doing nothing is not skimming through social media. It’s not chatting with your friends. It’s not doodling. It’s not fiddling with your fingers. In fact, it’s not doing anything. It’s doing nothing.

We should all have, and perfect, this skill. We can reap many benefits from doing zilch, nada, diddly-squat.

This blog looks at some tips about how to enjoy doing nothing.

Why to do nothing

There’s an irony that so many people get stressed when they’re doing nothing. We want to be advancing, completing tasks, occupying our mind and body with something!

In our busy, always-connected, technology-driven lives, it’s a forgotten skill with many benefits:

  • It increases your attention span.
  • It makes you more compassionate.
  • It helps you notice more, and better absorb details.
  • It decreases stress.
  • It increases creativity.

I’ll make a promise - being at peace and feeling happy when you are doing nothing will change your world.

How to do nothing

After several days of lockdown, you might feel you already have a hundred ways to do nothing! However, to unlock the potential of doing nothing, here are a few tips:

Control the Monkey Mind

The best-known way to ‘do nothing’ is sit-down, crossed-legged, meditation. This can be difficult for the ‘beginner’ (and for the pro too!) but is worth perseverance.

If you are religious, daily prayer can be a form of meditation.

The important thing is staying focused.

I love the analogy of the monkey in our heads.

As you sit and try to do nothing, your mind wanders. You think about work, about relationships, about things that are annoying you, about plans you have. That’s the monkey, jumping around the room in your head, looking out of all the windows.

The monkey makes us antsy.

The challenge is to appreciate that that monkey is part of you, but as you continue, you will find that the rascal will start to sit more quietly.

Sometimes, when you do nothing, letting that monkey run wild is exactly what you need. But to effectively meditate (and in turn have more control over your emotions and your life in general) there are several techniques to slow down that simian.

Get into a comfortable position, and with good posture, and try:


Breathe in, slowly, through the nose. Notice the sensation and your lungs filling up. Take a beat, then breathe out through the mouth.

There are lots of breathing techniques, you can google them. But simply focusing on the breath is a great start.


Count from one to a hundred and imagine each one is a different color. Then count backwards one-by-one. Or in threes. Or vary it as you’d like.

Story time

You can lead your mind on a journey to your favorite place, or maybe leave your body and float off into the sky.

This technique is often used in guided meditation, and self-hypnosis - and is a proven way to overcome stress, pain, low self-esteem, or just to go into deep relaxation.

Relax every muscle in your body

Start with your face, work your way from your eyes, to the cheek, the jaw, and let all the muscles relax. Work your way down your body, until you are completely relaxed.

Correct your posture constantly. Make sure you aren’t slouching, or out of kilter.


Repeat a mantra to yourself again and again. This can be a simple, mystical, Om, or it could be a cool phrase in English which you want to be part of your life, like Expect nothing, appreciate everything.


Post-exercise stillness is a great opportunity to tune into your surroundings. Yoga teachers, after a class, will often take ten minutes to stay still and relax the body. They might guide you on a journey. You will reap the benefits from this downtime.

Zhan Zhuang (also called ‘Standing Like a Tree’) is a type of Chi Kung which involves holding positions for as long as possible. It was my entry into ‘doing nothing.’ In some sessions, I felt my body so light that I could have sworn it was levitating! There are legends that experienced practitioners have minds so developed they can read minds and move objects with a thought. I never reached that level…

Sit and observe

One of the greatest benefits of Zhan Zhuang is that it encourages you to do it close to trees (usually, for me, that meant through a window - but occasionally in parks or forests). Being still amongst nature, you start to notice more things, and life takes on a new pace.

Sit and watch the trees, the birds, or the waves.

Notice the small things, and use all your senses.

Before you realize, time has flown by. An hour spent looking out the window, or on a bench, will make you more peaceful and happier.

How wonderful the recommended social distancing can be!

Mindful walking

Ok, mindful walking is doing something, but if you really get into it, you will find that suddenly, BOOM, you are doing nothing.

The idea is to walk around, being fully aware of what is around you. The ground beneath your feet, your breath, the breeze…

The thing is, as you walk in mindfulness, sometimes you feel the urge just to stop, wherever you are, and just to be.

If you are walking the dog, going to the shop, or on some other errand, don’t feel guilty if you have the urge to stop still. Life is too short not to enjoy just being.

Be in silence with others

Sitting in silence... anxiety rises, tension increases. Sometimes we say anything, just to fill the space.

These days, when you might be locked down with the same people, take the opportunity to enjoy silence together.

A good time is before you eat. Take a minute (or more) to sit quietly. Do nothing. You may find that your enjoyment of the food and the conversation is heightened when you “press play” on your mealtime.


Central to improving your ability of doing nothing is to do a lot of nothing!

Try to dedicate at least ten minutes to doing nothing each day. Over time you will find that it becomes easier and easier, and start to reap benefits in your daily life.


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