Do Nothing


“Be yourself” is what my tea bag fortune said this morning.

Be yourself.

Two simple words and yet such a difficult task at times. A little more than a week ago I came to terms with the fact that I had drifted from myself as we neared the solstice. I experienced that pervasive, lonely feeling and realized I missed ME. As my life sped up, I was having trouble figuring out what to prioritize and why.

A friend told me she would be pursuing “joy” over the winter break. That reminded me of a book, The Joy Diet by Martha Beck, that I’d read a few years ago–the last time I’d become untethered from myself.

Martha Beck created this five-point check-in. If you relate to three or more descriptions, keep reading.

1. Irritability, feeling โ€œfrayedโ€
2. Boredom (oddly enough)
3. Feeling disconnected even when in the company of others
4. Being unable to unwind at night or on vacation
5. A sense of not being, having, or doing enough

Does it resonate? Martha has some big-time advice for us: Do Nothing. She writes, “Do nothing for fifteen minutes a day. Stop mindlessly chasing goals and figure out which goals are worth going after.”

So I started last Sunday doing nothing for 15 minutes before the household roused in the morning. I sat in front of our fireplace and stared at the candles I’d lit. My brain immediately began planning my day. I took a deep breath. “Nothing,” I reminded my mind and pictured a blank blackboard. Within seconds my mind skipped back to a past memory. I was patient with my mind, “Nothing,” I reminded. And so it went for 15 minutes as I reminded myself to come back to nothing. No future, no past, just right here–right now. Martha said we busy humans do nothing imperfectly and that’s what I did.

I continued each day until I found myself in a Wednesday meeting led by my friend and colleague, Amanda. She’d just been sharing an example with other coaches and principals around the table and it was my turn. I sat up straight. I’d actually zoned out and was thinking absolutely…nothing. I would’ve been more excited about my progress if I wasn’t on the spot in front of my peers. While it was disconcerting, it was also very freeing.

Martha writes about how powerful it is to do nothing, but until I took up the self-centering practice again, I couldn’t know what a difference it would make immediately. “Don’t just stand there, do something!” we are taught from a young age, but now I realize the opposite is also true: “Don’t just do something, stand there!” Monday I had more energy. Tuesday I got very clear on why I was angry. Wednesday I spaced out in a meeting. Thursday I laughed at myself joyfully. Friday I felt very connected to the people around me. Little by little, doing nothing was bringing me closer to something. That “something” was a closer connection to self.

Here’s a summary of the Joy Diet exercises if you are interested:

The Joy Diet by Martha Beck

Happy Winter Break to many of you out there. May you do something for yourself by doing nothing.

5 thoughts on “Do Nothing

  1. Ooh, I love this! Taking time to do nothing – this is the third time in about a month that I’ve heard or read someone speak on this, so there must be a need for me to hear the message. One of the times was in a neurobiology course that I just completed and the other time, my Grandmaster (Taekwondo), suggested that I start my day with just sitting for ten minutes. I struggled to complete both assignments because I’d spend my time planning lessons for the next day, trying to determine what paper needed to be written next/when I’d squeeze it in, or deciding what I could quickly make for dinner once I got home. I was glad to hear that 1) something similar happened for you, as well, 2) that with discipline you were able to make it happen, and 3) that there was a payoff for you at the end of it. I’ll try again. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Have a happy holiday, Heather!!

  2. Heather, this post has been resonating in my mind since I read it last week. I needed these words and I’m paying attention to them. I mentioned it in my Saturday Celebration post that I wrote today. Thank you for sharing them. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thank you for making me aware of your blog post. I appreciated your lines, “It’s very hard to do, but it’s so worth it. I feel calmer and happier and more centered than I’ve felt in a long time.” Me too!

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