When it comes to wellness trends, we’re so used to having to do something, consume something or be something that it's refreshing to find one that implores you to do nothing at all. That’s right, absolutely nothing at all. In fact, that’s the whole point.
We’ve been gifted a lot of almost too good to be true lifestyle trends in the last few years - case in point: what’s not to live about the Danes’ hygge which is essentially about getting cosy or the Swedes’ fika which entails taking time out for a “coffee and a cake break” - but without a doubt my fave has to be the Dutch concept of niksen. If you’ve not yet come across it, niksen is framed around being idle and still and doing something without purpose such as sitting around looking at your surroundings or parking yourself on the sofa and listening to music. It’s basically a permission slip to embrace your inner sloth, without guilt, and it’s pure genius because the benefits of doing it are said to include everything from reducing stress to avoiding burnout.
It’s basically a permission slip to embrace your inner sloth, without guilt, and it’s pure genius because the benefits of doing it are said to include everything from reducing stress to avoiding burnout.
Given my available time and commitment to adopting wellness trends is rather abysmal these days, I thought I could give niksen a proper go, because hey, doing nothing seems kinda easy and is preferable to doing burpees and downing a green smoothie with exotic ingredients I can’t pronounce. Being constantly on the go both physically and mentally as a busy mum-of-two, I just assumed I would fall into a niksen session without issue because I fantasise about doing bouts of nothing all the time.
But I failed hard. Yes, I failed at doing nothing. Whenever I did find myself having pockets of time to be still, I found myself feeling guilty that I wasn’t doing something. I’d go sit down on the couch and would immediately feel compelled to get up and go sort out the laundry or reply to emails simply because being still and giving myself permission to just do nothing seemed like an enormous luxury I couldn’t afford. Aren’t I supposed to be squeezing out every last second of productivity from every single day?
Upon reflection, prior to having kids, I was quite good at niksen (though I didn’t realise that’s what it was at the time). I remember enjoying afternoons where I would just sit, relax and daydream. It’s actually after doing this when I would come up with my best story ideas and afterwards would find myself feeling energised. But, I think having less and less free time over the years, doing nothing these days seems like I’m just prolonging the inevitable, as my to-do list looms over my head.
Upon reflection, prior to having kids, I was quite good at niksen (though I didn’t realise that’s what it was at the time).
It was after chatting to a psychologist for an article I was writing that I had a light bulb moment and I realised that I needed to — here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write —give doing nothing a proper chance. She said to me that being less productive actually makes us more productive because it provides us time for reflection, rather than just simply falling into a never-ending cycle of blindly just doing. It’s the antithesis to our constantly on the go, hustle filled lifestyles, and is probably what a lot of us need right now.
So I decided to be still for a bit. I sat and just sat. I didn’t pick up my phone, I didn’t turn on Netflix, I didn’t even bring snacks to keep me company. I just let my mind wander without trying to tame it and bring it back to something else and I tried to enjoy that blissful moment of stopping and doing nothing. It could have gone for a bit longer than it did or I would have liked (my kids are only happily occupied for so long) but it was still a nice moment of pause.
So I decided to be still for a bit. I sat and just sat. I didn’t pick up my phone, I didn’t turn on Netflix, I didn’t even bring snacks to keep me company.
One of the reasons science says daydreaming, and niksen and just doing nothing is so beneficial is not just because of the stress-relieving properties, but it gives our brain a chance to stop the busyness and just focus. It allows for better clarity and is said to really open us up to being more creative, help us to better solve problems, come up with new ideas and even afford us the opportunity to better hone in on our goals and how to achieve them. All things that I’m sure a lot of us, myself included, would happily welcome into our lives.
While I’m yet to fully let go of the notion that I have to be productive all the time, I have tried to incorporate a few more moments of stillness into my week. If only to look out the window for a few minutes or lay down on my bed and hit pause on the day. And the more I do it, the less I feel guilty. Working on my mental health, helping to foster creativity and coming up with great ideas (on which my livelihood is largely based) is probably worth a few loads of forgotten laundry in the long run.
Tania Gomez is a freelance writer.