“Achieving goals,” “setting goals,” “reaching objectives,” and “self motivation” are phrases which burst from the covers of thousands of books. Whether you’re looking for a way to maximize your potential and your time, or to discover a sense of purpose in a seemingly purposeless life, you can find countless books, many of which feature shiny-faced executives exuding purpose, power and focus.
Now, picture this: it’s 10 a.m. on a weekday morning and a woman, an executive, is lying in her bed when she’s supposed to be at her desk. The peculiar thing is that she’s read these go-getter books, has maximized, motivated and achieved. Strangely enough, these titles have not, in fact, stimulated her to action, but only served to bury her, flatten her, glue her, paralyzed, to her bed.
Now, let’s jump back to 19th century New England. The lauded poet Walt Whitman, whose famous poem “Leaves of Grass” is still read in high schools, colleges and universities, smilingly wields a blade of grass between his teeth, proclaiming the power of such seemingly slothful activities as swimming, singing and lounging, as seen in a stanza from his famous poem which reads “I lean and loaf at my ease.”
Now one could certainly not accuse Walt, whose poems have been translated into every language imaginable, and whose work is considered some of the greatest ever produced, of being inactive or unmotivated. In fact, Walt saw success in his lifetime, something not terribly common for poets, and in addition to his literary successes he worked as a nurse, helping the most debilitated of cases. It’s also worth mentioning that both in his poetry and in his public persona he exuded an attitude of blissfulness, contentment and an inexhaustible joy for living.
So, then, could it be that old Walt’s idea of leaning, lounging and loafing is more likely to increase productivity, not to mention happiness, then all of the goal-setting and self-motivation techniques imaginable?
Many psychologists, spiritual practitioners, Zen Buddhists and even mainstream groups seem to think so. In fact, both CNN and WikiHow feature articles not only praising the power of “doing nothing,” but giving step-by-step instructions for learning how to do nothing, with the paradoxical outcome of actually making a person more productive than your run-of-the-mill one-armed paper-hanger!
Some of the steps recommended by these sites include “banishing the guilt,” the pressure constantly propelling us to do something, “taking a walk in nature,” and “sitting and breathing.”
However, according to the website zenhabits.com, one should “start small,” because, after all, feeling pressure to excel at doing nothing is sort of counterproductive, right?
Beginning with 5-10 minutes a day of a simple breathing exercise or a peaceful walk in nature, inhaling and tasting the aromas and feeling the air cooling or warming your skin, is just the right amount of nothing to not only get you to do a lot of something, but to do so in a healthier, happier way.