The art of doing nothing

Sometimes, to be at our best, we need to step back, give our brains a rest and do nothing at all.

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I overthink. A lot. I find it so easy to get lost in a thought, a process or sequence. What if this? What if that? Have I done enough? Have I done too much? Can dogs look upwards? Did I lock the door?

It can be anything from a conversation that has happened to a conversation that might happen or working out every permutation when trying to come up with a solution to a problem.

It is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it can help me understand a problem or dig into the finer points of an issue. It may mean my solutions appear solid, well thought out or I’m prepared for edge cases or failure. So, what’s the negative?

Animation of character awake on a bed
Very awake - Source

Well, when everyone else is getting ready to fall into a blissful slumber, my brain kicks in. 100 miles an hour, rapid-fire thoughts, every direction, simultaneously.

Yikes. 11 pm. Midnight. 1 am.

Finally asleep.

You’d hope that would be the end of it, but even then, like a newborn baby, my brain is replaying, processing, scrutinising. I’ve lost count of how many times I have woken up with a solution to a problem my unconscious mind has been sleepily hammering away at. Again, it can have its benefits but my goodness, it can be exhausting!

How I cope

Now, these tips may not work for you - your experience may vary.

✋ Stop

Now, I mean this, just stop, whatever you’re working on or thinking about, stop, do nothing. If you’re trying to sleep, sit up. If you’re at your desk/workspace, get up, move away.

📝 Focus

Next, we need to get it all out. Whatever is in your head, big, small or random, write it down. Some thoughts will naturally group or cluster, some may not. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Just let it flow out.

For me, the most effective notes I can make are to-do lists. I use Things and organise thoughts/items into lists, sublists, projects and project groups. You can also add reminders or repeating items. I like to automate as much as possible and keep things organised. But that’s just me, find what works for you.

💆 Reset

Now we have cleaner minds, time to reset.

It can be so easy to rush through life, getting lost in thoughts, especially if you’re an overthinker.

I find mindfulness can help. Mindfulness is about connecting to the present moment. What can you smell? What can you hear?

There are many different ways to be mindful. You don’t need to hum or chant. Just be present. The two techniques I use are walking and breathing, depending on the time of day (or the state of the UK weather).

Walking

A person walking down a long highway
Walking to clear your mind - Source

Get up, get out! Even a 5 minutes walk can do it. As you walk, turn your senses up to max. Detect your surroundings with more than just your sight. Feel and hear the sounds as you step, what are you walking on? Hear the grass crinkle or gravel crunch underfoot. What can you smell? Can you feel the direction of the sun as it hits your skin, can you feel it change as you move. This might seem a little crazy, but the point of the walk is not to get from A to B, it is about being aware and present in that journey.

Breathing

The Apple Watch breathe app is simple but great. It gets you to focus on your breathing, in time, to the expanding and shrinking circles onscreen. There are many other apps you can get that do the same thing. I’ve attempted to recreate it here as well, give it a go below.

Breathe

As the circles expand, breathe in through your nose and as they shrink, breathe out through your mouth.

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This certainly isn’t a one size fits all solution, give it a go and adjust until you find something that works for you.

Just remember, don’t underestimate how effective the art of doing nothing can be.