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Sitting Idle in a Busy Word

If there’s one thing you’re not supposed to do in our culture, it’s nothing. Idleness is socially discouraged, frowned upon, mistrusted, seen as wasteful and self-indulgent. Yet research has shown that it’s essential to our health, happiness, and productivity.

I am part of a book club my colleague and I started a few weeks ago. Secretly, I’m a book club wannabe but never felt I had the time to dedicate to reading a novel and then sit around and discuss it. Ironically, the book we’ve been reading is called To Hell with the Hustle by Jefferson Bethke. And it’s about just that – ditching the hustle and being idle but with intentionality. This book questions the possibilities of doing less, rather than more, as a means of enriching your life in a multitude of ways and elevating your contributions to the world around you. This was a great book and a recommended reading as it was very thought provoking and offered a different perspective on the true meaning of rest and sabbath. Here are a few simple points I learned from the book:

Be OK With Nothing

When it looks like you’re doing nothing you are probably accomplishing far more than you realize. The moment you pull your attention away from overtly productive, focused tasks and allow your attention to drift, your brain’s default mode network kicks into high gear giving yourself the space for creativity. This is when the big insights and “ahas” happen.

When you don’t give your brain time to do background sorting and filing, your mental “inbox” starts to overflow leading to stress, fatigue, irritability, or a noticeable decline in memory, focus, and cognitive capacity.

Stop Inflammation

This one is from personal experience. Constant productivity doesn’t just harm your brain and rob you of your daily pleasure in living: It also releases a cascade of pro-inflammatory, stress-associated hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.

When you pull your foot off the gas, you give your body a chance to process metabolic waste and rebalance. Once your body is at rest, it begins releasing biochemicals that encourage digestion, calm, and repair. If you plug into your electronic devices and media or do busywork every time you have a free minute, you are robbing your body and mind of this important repair opportunity.

Rescue Idle Moments

Make a conscious decision to live as a human being rather than a “human doing.” Reject the idea that you must always be producing. Be willing to challenge your own perceptions and stories about what you “have to do.”

Build a pause into your workdays. A 20-minute break every hour and a half to two hours can produce dramatic results.

Don’t transfer your time off to vacations and weekends. Reclaim some moments daily: first thing in the morning, midday and before bed. As you build more idle time into your days, you will likely find that you’re enjoying your life more! — be intentional with more of what makes your life feel worth­while.

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