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Why It's So Hard To Do Nothing

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

- Click above to listen to this blog post read out loud -

I want to give you a permission slip. A permission slip to do nothing. Yes, absolutely nothing. Stop working, stop solving things, fixing things, stop efforting, stop taking care of others, let go of feeling responsible, let go of guilt, shame, or feelings of failure, inadequacy, of not being good enough, or that everything will fall apart if you stop turning those bicycle wheels.

Okay, you may want to keep breathing, but other than that I want to tell you that right now, for these next few moments, it’s OK to do NOTHING.

How does that feel? Hard as fuck right? You might even be cursing me and saying “easy for you to do, but some of us don’t have that luxury.”

For many people, the very thought of pausing life for just a moment turns up the volume on the anxiety scale. I definitely used to be one of those people. Nothing drove me crazier than slowness. I mean really, who has time to do nothing? Gotta pay the rent! And God forbid I should be seen as lazy! Now, don’t even get me started on where the hell I’m going to derive my self-worth from if I’m not DOING something!

Some of us even pride ourselves on how busy we are, wearing it like a badge of honor. It’s as though it somehow makes you cool to say things like, “I’m on my 5th coffee of the day, working my ass off through the night!” as if you couldn’t justify success unless it was earned through blood, sweat, and tears. You might even catch yourself judging or resenting others who do less than you, take more vacations, have always had things handed to them, or who are simply enjoying life. Heck, you might even be feeling guilty for taking a few minutes to read this blog.

Now, I don’t mean to lessen your strong work ethic. I come from an immigrant family and if there is one thing that was passed down to me it was discipline and work ethic. Growing up, I was taught that when you don’t have the safety net of whatever your grandparents or great grandparents built for you, you need to work twice as hard as everyone around you just to put food on the table, or for anyone to even take you seriously for that matter. My parents worked around the clock so my brothers and I could enjoy “luxuries” such as getting a used pair of cleats to join the soccer team with our friends. So I fully GET and respect hard work ethic.

HOWEVER. Here is the BUT. Working hard does not have to come packaged with feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy, unworthiness, or powerlessness when you get off that hamster wheel. Doing nothing or doing less isn’t bad, it doesn’t make you a failure, you don’t have to justify it and it doesn’t mean anything about you unless you let it. The fact that you attached this negative meaning to doing nothing, is a testament to the power you have in creating beliefs about your experience. Although you most likely picked it up subconsciously, at an early age, from people in your life and from what society tells us, you can fully reprogram these beliefs and consciously CHOOSE a different meaning.

I’m not saying that making a new belief about something which you’ve been practicing and perpetuating for probably your entire life, is going to be easy. This is why I want to start by giving you permission. Sometimes we need someone else to tell us it's OK, and then we can begin to do the work to clear out those long-held, negative beliefs.

You might take out a pen and paper and begin by writing down some of the emotions that come up when you pause to do nothing. I mentioned a few above such as feelings of failure or inadequacy but yours could be different than what I’ve listed. Next, you might begin to identify what your beliefs are about those emotions, such as what they mean about you and what it would mean if you let that belief go. What kinds of beliefs were passed down to you in your family? What instances in your life stand out to you that reinforced these beliefs?

For example, as I mentioned from my own personal experience and what was instilled in me growing up, not working hard meant that no one would take me seriously. If I go even deeper I could say that not being taken seriously makes me question my value, therefore I must work hard to have value. Letting go of this belief means that I might actually have value simply for existing. Perhaps for you it’s not a matter of working hard but of taking care of everyone around you and feeling responsible for everyone’s happiness, or whatever else comes up for you when you sit still for a moment.

Once you become aware of the beliefs you created, you can begin the work of detachment and reframing. “Working hard equals value” is a belief that I now choose to flush down the toilet. My new belief is “my value does not depend on whether I’m working hard or lying on the beach with a mojito in my hand. I work hard because I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I equally enjoy my rest and relaxation. My value stays the same in both scenarios and both work and rest feel much lighter when they are not tied to any negative emotions. Getting compliments or rewards for being hard-working feels nice, but it’s no longer a motivating factor in why I do the work I do.

None of this means that negative emotions no longer come up for me or that I’ve reached some kind of yogic enlightenment that I can now preach about. I practice this level of awareness on a daily basis and some days it’s easier than others. I allow myself to sit with the fears and anxiety that come up from any given circumstance, and let them teach me about what perspectives or beliefs I am holding on to. I then begin to incorporate new, lighter beliefs into my thought process.

I hope by now you can see that I’m not actually suggesting you do nothing from here on out. I get that bills have to be paid. Hell, if I received a penny for every time the phrase “money doesn’t grow on trees” was said in my household, I’d be so rich that I’d believe by now that money does actually grow on trees! What I’m simply suggesting is that it’s time to remove some of the weight and pressure with which you go about your life and you can do that by becoming aware of negative, disempowering beliefs, and then take the time to rewire your mind. And I say “take the time,” because you’ve had a lot of practice wearing the same, old, negative beliefs, so give yourself an equally adequate time to try on a new thought pattern.

That means first hitting the pause button on your life and asking yourself if your current emotional state is really, truly necessary or if you’ve just been carrying it with you for years and years because “that’s who you are,” and letting it go would mean becoming someone else.

I’ll let you know that in my case, I didn’t even let myself take ONE real, two-week vacation in my adult life until last year. I held on very tightly to the identity that “people like me do not have the luxury of taking vacations.” Sure, I traveled, quite a bit, but for my career and my studies, not for the sake of disconnecting and doing nothing or believing that I too deserve time off.

Did I still bring my computer with me on that vacation? YES. Did I still check my emails and make myself available to clients? Yes. My next level of clearing work is to not even take the laptop with me. Will the world stop and everything turn to dust if I’m unavailable for 2 weeks? NO. Even as I write that I feel my gut turning a bit, which tells me there is definitely some more reframing to do here.

I share my own personal journey with you in hopes that it will empower you to reconcile your identity attachments, heal negative emotions, discover more freedom and lightness in your life and essentially add more yin to your yang. If you feel like sharing anything from your experience in the comments below, I'm always curious to hear your perspective!

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