In Defense of Doing Nothing: How to Give Yourself a Break and Let Go of Being Chronically Busy
One of my favorite lines from Eat Pray Love is, "Dolce far niente: the sweetness of doing nothing." Liz is in a barber shop with her new friends, and they begin comparing the energy of different cultures. What the people are like... what their hopes and dreams are... how they fill their days. They talk about Americans being obsessed with progress and accomplishment, rushing and success. And then they talk about the Italian phrase... my favorite phrase of all time: the sweetness of doing nothing.
When I heard that line it was as if my entire world shifted. People actually think doing nothing can be sweet? Doing nothing can be positive? I desperately wanted to be one of these people.
The fact that even now, as I'm writing this many, many years after first encountering that line... I feel the need to qualify my last statement by saying that of course, I don't want to do nothing for the sake of doing nothing but for the ability it gives me to recharge... shows just how far I am from actually living by this philosophy.
A girl can dream.
I did not grow up feeling like doing nothing was productive. Instead, I grew up feeling guilty for being sick, feeling like suffering from asthma made me a slacker. I felt like taking a break from anything meant I wasn't dedicated enough. I felt like if I spent a second recharging, I was going to ruin my future.
And by thinking this way, I ended up running myself into the ground. When I ended up too exhausted and out of touch with myself to find my way back to the grind, I had to find a new way to live.
Eventually I returned to my favorite phrase. The one that remained in the back of my mind for years. The sweetness of doing nothing. Maybe I could relax a little. Maybe I could take a minute to actually smell the roses. Maybe I could rest and do something that made me smile, not because I earned it but simply because I exist. Simply because I'm a human being. Maybe I could stop chasing rewards and golden stars, and give myself the only approval I'll ever need.
I'm not perfect at this, but I know how important it is. Sometimes I catch myself rushing through all of the things I should have done by now. And I have to force myself to stop. I literally have to still my body, focus on inhaling and exhaling, and tell myself that it's all okay. That nothing has to happen now. That I'm worthy of my own love and appreciation every second of every day. And then I ask myself one important question... Do you want to take a break?
Not do I NEED to take a break... This is a really important distinction. When I wonder if I NEED a break, there is a part of me that gets fired up - wanting to prove that I can beast mode my way through everything life throws at me. But if I ask myself if I WANT to take a break... all of a sudden I'm talking to myself the way I'd speak to someone I love unconditionally.
I'm practicing honoring the things I want. I will not punish myself. If I want a break, I take one. And during that break, I close my eyes and think about Liz and Italy and the sweetness of doing nothing. I think about how beautiful it really is to simply exist. How exciting it is to breathe air and think about life.
I get it. Doing nothing is scary. You feel like the second you let go of your responsibilities, your whole world will fall apart. You feel like micromanaging your way through the day is the only way to move forward.
But something amazing happens when we let go of our need to control everything - all of a sudden we return to the present moment. We find ourselves completely immersed in the thing that's bringing us peace and joy. We're finally not worried about what's going to happen an hour from now or a year from now. We are less wrapped up in our to-do's and so utterly in love with our existence. So present in life that nothing else matters except the fact that we are alive.
Each day I unwrap a layer of myself that was drenched in the pressure of progress and impressing other people. I release the prisoner in me who was concerned with looking like I deserved good things in life, looking like I was earning the good things that came my way, proving that hard work was worthwhile.
That girl was exhausted. And angry. She was tired of not having any fun. She was sick of always figuring out how to accomplish the next goal. And let me tell you... just because I had made a habit out of denying myself the sweetness of doing nothing didn't mean that I was rewarded for it.
Nothing good waits for us on the other side of self-punishment and restriction.
I've tried it.
But everything is on the other side of honoring yourself. Everything beautiful and fluid and wild and free is on the other side of trusting your gut and knowing when to sit back and relax. Everything beautiful and fluid and wild and free invites us to live life with our intuition in the driver's seat.
So I write this in defense of doing nothing. I write this to beg you to take some time to live life without a schedule. To experience one day on this planet entirely guided by your feelings.
What actually feels good to wear? What feels good to eat? What feels good to look at? When do you naturally want to rest? When do you have an inclination to stretch your body? When do you have a desire to be creative? To cry? To dance? To work? To hug?
Give yourself the gift of living one day without hesitation. One day where you act on your ideas right when you get them. One day where you accept that your impulse might be not to do anything at all.
Go ahead. Do nothing. Love every single moment.
If you know someone who needs permission to slow down in life, I would love it if you shared this post with them!
Schedule your "dolce far niente" day right now! Circle a date on the calendar. Or maybe not. Maybe you just decide that today will be the day. Come back and tell me how it all went. I'd love to hear from you!
P.S. If you want to get to know yourself better, get in touch with your authenticity, and create a self-care ritual that will fill up your soul, check out The Love My Life Journal: 365 days of self-love and mindfulness. It has questions that will help you dig into your true desires. It's designed to help you create time for yourself where you thought there was none. Check it out. Tell your friends. Get it as a gift for a loved on who needs to practice a little self-care. Or get it for yourself and work on your journal pages as you take a break from the chaos of daily life.