I was addicted to progress.
My life was becoming an Excel spreadsheet.
My reading regimen was insane. My exercise routines were ridiculous. My projects were impossible.
But then I started doing nothing.
Three hikers saw a lone monk standing atop a small mountain. After hours of climbing, they finally met him.
The first hiker asked, “are you waiting for a friend?”
The second hiker asked, “you’re just out here observing nature, right?”
The third exclaimed, “so you’re just standing here, enjoying the fresh air?”
“No, I’m just standing here.”
0. What is “Nothing”?
For me, sometimes “doing nothing” is literally doing nothing: neither napping nor thinking. Other times, “nothing” means surfing Reddit and making music.
It’s all about intent. Abandon plans! Stop scheming! Without expectations, everything and nothing are equally unexpected.
Imagine a beach ball on the water. It’s incapable of doing anything, and yet it responds to every force with an appropriate reaction. Dive in the pool, and it rolls with the waves. Pull it underwater, and it shoots back to the surface!
It’s fun to live like a beach ball. By doing “nothing”, I find myself bouncing from adventure to adventure.
When I stop doing things, it gives the universe a chance to play with me; I become like a kite in the sky.
1. “Productivity” is Unproductive
Productivity is a difficult illusion to dispel; it appears to be the only path to achieve our aspirations.
Doing nothing is scary, because it feels like a waste of time.
Calendars, to-do lists, and emails often become the focus of employment. Playing with tools is not work. Let go of “being busy” and you’ll find that you’re doing actual work.
Successful people produce, but not for the sake of “productivity”. They just do it.
But just a warning: don’t throw out productivity to be more productive! Because it’s the desire to be more productive that causes us to do less.
The quickest way to get everything off your to-do list is to throw it out!
2. “Fun” is Not Fun
Doing nothing sounds boring! Most people would prefer to do anything than nothing.
But “fun” can be a lot of work!
A “fun” night-on-the-town is waiting in line to stand in a sweltering room with deafening music to spend paychecks on drinks to erase your “fun” memories!
A “fun” vacation involves fighting [other] tourists to look at historically-significant-but-not-very-interesting monuments through your smartphone’s outdated camera between bouts of overindulgent meals and expensive souvenirs.
These scenarios aren’t actually fun because there’s too much attachment to “fun”. When drinking is your “fun”, you’ll constantly be hungover. When vacations are your “fun”, you’ll forever be stressed.
When you’re having quality time with friends, you won’t drink excessively. When your vacation is genuinely entertaining, you’ll feel adventurous, yet relaxed.
And here’s the paradoxical secret: the easiest way to have fun is to stop trying to have fun. Because trying to have fun is no fun at all!
3. “Doing Nothing” is Doing Something
For the first few months, I set a 10-minute “nothingness timer” every morning and evening.
How ridiculous! I actually tried to time my nothingness. The moment I set the alarm, it became something!
Remember the cool kids in school? They were cool because they didn’t try to be. When you start worrying about labels, you lose your cool!
Therefore doing nothing is not an additive process, it’s a subtractive one. There is nothing you can do to do nothing. You can only achieve nothing by not doing.
How do you make muddy water clear? You leave it alone. In the same way, muddy minds clear themselves. Any attempts to do nothing are futile, because attempts are something!
You can’t do nothing. But if you make peace with the void, then maybe one day you’ll get lucky, and find yourself doing nothing.