When I fly back to the UK having been away for a few months, I often find myself being more observant than usual of the things around me.
On my last visit, I found myself on the London underground during rush hour where most people were heading off to work.
In the carriage, I could see 27 people around me. 22 of those were either staring into or listening to music on their mobile phones, 2 of them were reading newspapers, one was reading a book, one was sleeping and there was one other person, like me, just doing nothing.
Doing nothing is a lost art these days. People simply do not know how to switch off, yet these moments of switching off are very important to the brain.
Because it is in these moments of “doing nothing” that our brains manage to reflect on life and give us greater clarity of thought.
When we are busying ourselves, we are just taking in information but have no time to reflect on it. This also actually means that most of what we are reading is not being absorbed into the brain but just giving us temporary relief from boredom.
When I recommend books to people, I tell them not to just read the book, but to study and reflect on the teachings. This way, your mind can really understand the information rather than just experiencing momentary pleasure from it.
Only by reflecting on knowledge and putting into practice can we experience true wisdom.
But if we spend our lives with our heads in our mobile phones only reading about knowledge, we are not really assimilating that knowledge into our daily living.
‘Doing nothing’ is often recognized by many people as being a waste of time, but in fact, just like exercise, our bodies need this down-time to recover from ‘information overload’. This information overload means our brain has little or no recovery time which in the long term can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety.
In addition, when you take on knowledge without reflecting on it, you are merely following the opinions of other people. But taking the information and reflecting upon it will give you a greater personal understanding of the problem and what action you need to take.
Inner reflection also allows time for personal growth too. It is very important that we have some self-awareness and this can only come through periods of ‘downtime’ when we spend some time just ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’.
When we have more self-awareness, we also have a greater understanding of other people too. As a result, our empathy increases towards other humans as we begin to realise that they experience life in the same way that we do. This, in turn, improves our communication skills on both a personal and professional level.
Another thing about learning to do nothing is that it helps reduce anxiety especially if we can combine it with a walk in the park or sitting outside on a sunny day. Just observing the world around us or even taking our focus of awareness into our bodies will help us to reflect on our lives internally.
This, by the way, is different from conscious thinking. Conscious thinking can do the opposite, for example, sitting in silence but spending that time churning a problem over and over again in your head. This can exasperate the problem.
What I mean by doing nothing is just relaxing the body and noticing what is going on around you, now, in the present moment.
When we enter the sea on a windy day, it is often difficult to see more than a few feet in front of us as all the sand gets churned up with the water.
However, after a day or two, when the sea has settled, all the sand sinks down to the bottom of the ocean and it is possible for us to see clearly for 20 or 30 metres.
The mind works in the same way. When we allow it to settle by doing nothing, the thoughts of the past and future start to settle and we can see things much more clearly because our ideas are not clouded by our previous experiences from the past or worries about what might happen in the future.
Even Albert Einstein said that many of his greatest ideas came not whilst focusing on a problem, but after he had stopped thinking and was going about his day to day tasks.
And I am sure you have experienced a time when you are trying to remember someone’s name and the harder you think, the more it alludes you. But go about your daily tasks and all of a sudden the name pops straight into your head!
So take some time out now and again from your mobile phone, TV, iPod, book or whatever you use to distract your mind and spend some time, each day, allowing your mind to do nothing.
You will find greater peace of mind, clarity of thought and new ideas revealing themselves faster than ever before.