There are benefits to doing absolutely nothing

It's midday on a sunny Tuesday and I'm sitting on my couch, doing nothing. And when I say nothing, I mean nothing. I'm not scrolling through my phone, flicking through TV channels or listening to a podcast. I'm doing absolutely nada.

I'm not trying to achieve anything, either. I'm not using this time to practise mindfulness, gratitude or to focus on my breathing. I'm just sitting here, letting my thoughts roam.

Choose the same time each day to practise, so your body begins to anticipate that
time, but says it doesn’t matter how long.Credit:Stocksy

Psychologist Brooklyn Storme, from All Psyched Up! psychology practice, loves the idea of doing nothing. She says that in our "super busy" lives, where we're accessible 24/7, we often don't take the time we need to recharge our batteries. And when we do get downtime, she says we tend to immerse ourselves in another distraction, like scrolling through social media. We never really switch off, which puts us at risk of burnout. Dr Storme says doing nothing is the perfect antidote because it allows space for your subconscious to expand, boosting creativity.

The idea of doing nothing sounds tempting. After long days wrangling the kids or bashing away at my computer, it's all I dream of. But each time I attempt it, I put it off. I have every intention of giving it a whirl. But then I fill that time with other activities: the dishes beckon, or I remember a text I want to send.

Before I consciously tried to do nothing, I didn't think of myself as someone who can't be still with my thoughts, but clearly I'm having a problem doing just that.

Storme says women in particular struggle with the notion that it's okay not to be productive. In my case she recommends reframing my mindset. "See at it as an investment in yourself and your wellbeing," she says. But she adds that there are "no hard and fast rules" about how to go about it.

Storme recommends choosing the same time each day to practise, so your body begins to anticipate that time, but says it doesn't matter how long – whether it's five minutes or an hour – you spend doing nothing. "It's just got to feel right for you."

bite the bullet and plonk myself down on the couch. I scroll through my mental to-do list, grow fidgety and look at my watch. My thoughts are haphazard, my breathing ragged.

These reactions are all normal, says Storme, explaining that it feels "weird" at first to be alone with your thoughts. "You think, 'I should be doing something. I've got lunches to prepare for tomorrow. Why am I doing this?' "

She reassures me that this practice gets easier the more you do it, saying that once you push past the initial struggle, it becomes something you look forward to.

It helps me to know that I'm not the only one who struggles with this. In a 2014 study, researchers asked people to either sit alone and do nothing for up to 15 minutes, or give themselves a painful electric shock. Two-thirds of men and a quarter of women pressed the shock button.

"Simply being alone with their thoughts was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock," the scientists wrote in the journal Science.

It takes about a week before I begin to relax during my "nothing" sessions. And then, as predicted, I actually start looking forward to these pockets of nothingness. They give me a chance to pause.

I relish the freedom of letting my mind wander, no topic off-limits. When I sit down on the couch nowadays, my thoughts often start in a flurry but soon slow down.

My breathing follows suit, and a sense of calm arrives. After a rocky start, I now feel I'm on my way to mastering the art of doing nothing.

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale January 20.

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