The Metahabit of Doing Nothing (A Prerequisite For Success)

I want to be really honest with you.

I must confess something.

I don’t wake up every day feeling great.

Some days, I just want to sit around the house and do nothing. I don’t want to read any books. I don’t want to watch TV. I don’t want to listen to any music. I don’t feel like doing much of anything. Of course, usually by the end of the day, I end up thinking about all the perfectly good time I wasted.

Over the past few days, I have been thinking, rather obsessively, about how much time we waste doing “nothing.” After contemplating over the definition of nothing, I realized how jaded my definition was. I noticed that we are rarely doing “nothing.” In a sense, when we “do” we negate nothingness. Therefore, we are always doing something: thinking about the future and how we will spend our fortune, going somewhere to do something with someone, taking a shower eating our food too quickly negating the importance of really enjoying the flavor, or forever contemplating about the meaning of life. However you want to look at it, every minute of our day is consumed with doing something.

People are always telling us to be proactive, set goals, and achieve them. They say we must work vigorously to become successful in what we do. I have listened to this kind of advice for the last eight years of my life and I am beginning to see things differently. It is careless and dangerous for our health to work all the hours of the day trying to reach some type of competitive advantage over our competitors. Achieving any type of success in the long-term requires us to take time off from our projects and enjoy the journey. When we don’t expect the fruits from our labor to sprout immediately, we must take time to reward ourselves.

One way to do this is to create a framework of doing nothing.

Over the past couple of days, I had a peaceful realization about the power that doing absolutely nothing can have in our lives.

Modern amenities like air conditioning, refrigerators, grocery stores, television and our overall system of highly developed concrete jungles of convenience have made it easy to sit around the house all day and do nothing. Everything we could ever need is in a 5 mile radius of our houses in the city.

Past civilizations did not have this type of luxury. You could not survive sitting around all day and slacking off. Food had to be gathered, water had to be fetched, and shelter had to be repaired and fortified. The dangers of everyday life were prevalent enough to keep our ancestors tense on their toes.

Today, we have become tense, but it is difficult for us to explain why. We tend to forget how good we have it nowadays. We are able to sit around, relax, and watch a newly-released movie on our laptops. We order almost any need we can imagine from our cell phones. We can control the temperature of our houses from a thermostat (or from our cell phones). Our hunger is cured with a short walk to the fridge. Access to drinkable water is at the turn of a lever on our sinks. Our bathrooms are clean and smell great; the waste is discarded without our slightest inconvenience. Our shelters protect us from the dangers of natural elements like severe winds, torrential downpours, or wild animal attacks.

Alas, we tend to forget how amazing our lives really are. We are so caught up in wanting more and more things shown to us in advertisements and we dream of bigger and better things than what we bought last week, last month, or last year.  We are living in our ancestor’s dream right now, but we do realize it. It’s sad to see how many people are unhappy with their lives of luxury and convenience. We fail to appreciate the variety of our western lives. Cultures around the world envy our lifestyles while we bitch and moan about the line at Starbucks.

To the common man or woman, a day’s time spent sitting around and wallowing about doing absolutely nothing can seem like a depressing concept to the modern intellect, but I would argue this is perhaps one of the more powerful habits we can develop.

Why should we develop the habit of doing nothing?

We have lost our ability to maintain our attention spans. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements telling us how we should live our life. We have turned into information addicts. Our attention is consumed every minute of the day. Most of our time is actually wasted doing meaningless somethings. We look at pictures of our friends on Facebook and imagine their lives are so much happier than ours. We watch “reality” television thinking how great it would be to fist pump and get drunk every night of the week. We think we need the latest edition of the iPhone when little has changed in the past two years.  

Our time is better spent doing nothing.

Taking a break from “doing” is critical for our physical and mental well-being. For most of us, the only time our minds get a break is hitting the pillow at the end of a long day. Sleeping is a natural type of rest. Looking at a computer screen, TV, or cell phone, all day is not natural and our brains need breaks to process other functions. I believe we should make time for a type of conscious rest. We need to take a break for our routines of reading, watching, tweeting, and Instagramming.

We need to give ourselves plenty of rest and recovery time. During this time, our minds can release built up stresses and process excess cortisol effectively.

I, like you, am guilty of information addiction. I feel an immense pressure from time to time trying to keep up with new research, technology’s latest creations, medicinal breakthroughs, online journals, and finding time to read my favorite bloggers. Trying to maintain a social life on top of all this work can be an added stress. I love doing it, but I know that the most important thing I can do is give myself a break when it needs it.

Culminating the habit of doing nothing can be a powerful stress relief technique for the 21st century.

I highly recommend you try it out.

Here’s how to start:

  1. Take one day off per week from using multimedia and electronics. I will be starting this new habit over the next month and I plan to continue it for the rest of the year. The idea is to take one day off per week from using cell phones, laptops, PC’s, tablets, televisions, and anything related to digital media. I plan on freeing up one entire day per week and devoting my time spent in the digital world to the physical world. This will give me more time to concentrate on more important issues in my life like strengthening my relationship with my girlfriend Sarah, spending time outdoors enjoying nature and being active, exploring the city where I live, and being social with real people in real life.
  2. Get off the Internet– I know it can be challenging to put the Internet down some days. Try and clear a section of time everyday where you are not browsing on the Internet, reading a forum, learning a language, or reading a blog post. The Internet is slowly working its way into all of our devices and its expansion isn’t stopping anytime soon. We need to remember that there was a time before 4G, free WIFI, Internet cafes, and dial-up modems when people were equally as happy creating projects in a world without the Internet.
  3. Physical Exercise– Give your mind a break from absorbing information and start exercising. I highly recommend doing a simple cardio workout like walking, jogging, or running a few times a week to release some of the built of stress in the body from constantly thinking. Leave the MP3 player at home and focus only on your cardio workout. Exercise for 10 to 20 minutes and concentrate on breathing while you run. By only focusing on the physical task, you will do nothing in the mental department giving yourself lots of time to relax.
  4. Total Rest– Actually try and do nothing: sleep in late, lounge all day, sit around the house. Don’t do anything. Don’t watch TV. Don’t read magazines. Don’t call your friends. Just focus on resting for an entire day. See what it feels like to not produce anything for once. Allowing yourself the freedom to rest completely will help you become more productive and make you happier.
  5. Relaxation– Do something fun that isn’t related to work. Our culture has become obsessed with working. We are surrounded by workaholics slaving away at careers they hate. Even if you love your job, take a break, do something relaxing like get a massage or treat yourself to a spa day, lay out on the beach and listen to the calming waves, or go to a local park and have a picnic.
  6. Meditation– Give yourself some physical rest and mental release. Find a comfortable pillow and sit with your back against a wall. Sit down in a cross-legged position. Breathe in and out. Don’t do anything, but breathe and let your thoughts settle. Just relax and breathe and listen as your thoughts subside. Do nothing physically, except try and enjoy sitting still for five to ten minutes. If five minutes is too much, try and sit still for one minute with all your electronics turned off.
  7. Spend time with good friends– Take some time out of your busy schedule to spend with people who brighten up your day. Hang out with some friends in a relaxing atmosphere and enjoy life. Do anything, do nothing, it’s your choice. Try and enjoy sitting around and being with people who love you as much as you love them. This type of doing nothing can bring great peace to your life.

Please don’t take this post the wrong way. I am not recommending that you don’t have a purpose in life and I am certainly not condoning laziness as a solution. Instead, I would ask you to imagine what your day would be like if you gave yourself a break from your routine of  buzy-ness (business). Are you capable of doing nothing for an entire day? When was the last time you relaxed and had a day to call your own? Can you be still enough to understand what it means to do nothing?

About Stephan Stansfield

Stephan is the owner, creator, and editor of Peregrine Poise.
He is currently traveling and teaching around the world. When he is not helping others discover their true potential, he finds time to surf, read, and reflect on the important issues of living a good life.


  1. Howard Neely says

    I’m glad I found this website, I have made a conscious decision in life to slow down and when I can ,do nothing.With modern employers pushing for more productivity this can be a challenge but I never change my stance.Their are so many wonderful things you can do for free too depending where you live,surf,grow vegetables, be at one with nature, cook for your loved ones,.The simple life is best, believe me,in such a throwaway society you can work less by sourcing items from charity shops or just doing it yourself, the money I save allows me to travel within Asia twice a year , from this I’ve learnt about Buddhism from The Thai people.Some of them are masters at sitting around all day leading a quiet existence, eating communally and they seem very happy.You only have one life, slow down and enjoy it as much as possible.


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