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The Art of Doing Nothing

The art of doing nothing

This week I want to explore the Dutch concept that embraces the art of doing nothing on purpose …

These days, we're so used to defining our lives by how busy we are, or what's booked into our diaries, that the art of relaxation has been lost. When I first met my husband, he really struggled with activities like spa days because he always felt like he should be doing something.

Who else struggles with the concept of being and not doing?

Even when we have 5 minutes of downtime, like waiting for the kids in the car, we start checking our phones or scrolling through social media. Post pandemic, even I'm finding this a lot harder than I used to. I find myself checking my phone and emails far more frequently!

However, according to Maartje Willems and Lona Aalders, authors of How the dutch unwind with Niksen, the Dutch seem to have the perfect solution. They say, "there's little to it, but Niksen is suddenly having nothing to do, and not finding something new to do.

Or instead of doing an activity, niksen is cancelling it, and replacing it with absolutely nothing at all."

So basically, the lovely thing about niksen is there is no goal. However, there are three conditions.


You can't plan niksen; otherwise you lose the essence of spontaneity, and it becomes a bit mechanical. It's about forgetting to watch the clock and just letting the time pass.

Time is an interesting concept in itself. What exactly is time? Why do we talk about 'wasting' or 'stretching' time, when in fact, time is consistently moving forward, regardless of our thoughts or feelings about it.

Why is it that time seems to speed up when we enjoy ourselves, slow down when we are waiting for something, or have an unpleasant experience? How does our understanding of time shape the way we live?

When it comes to niksen, you have to ask yourself if you have the mental space to take everything you know about time and throw it away. To be successful at niksen you have to 'lose' time or stop watching it. If you can accept this, you're over the first hurdle.

A calm mind

When we are conditioned to be 'doing', it takes practice to accept that doing nothing has its place. A little like meditation, as a beginner, you have to start with a calm mind and the intention of ignoring distractions. When you've just downed your sixth cup of coffee, there's no point in trying to sit still and calm the mind. It will be an almost impossible task, and you'll feel like you've failed before you have even begun. You'll also feel niksen is not for you and probably never try it again.

It would feel as if you started a new diet that was so complex you needed complicated diagrams and a hefty manual to see what foods you were allowed to eat, and then you suddenly realised you've eaten something forbidden!

Moments for trying niksen do present themselves often enough, but we have to learn to recognise them. It's great to have a to-do list, and it feels like an achievement to tick things off, but sometimes, postponing them is not a bad thing either. Does the dishwasher really need emptying, or can you just take the clean dishes out as and when you need them? Can you get the kids to help with some chores like folding laundry or laying the table to free up some time later?

Also, self-care is not about rewarding yourself for all the hard work you have done today. If you need to ask yourself if you deserve or have 'earned' the chance to do nothing - the answer is yes!

A good place

The final condition is your environment. You don't need any unique space, equipment, or complete quiet, as long as those around you are happy for you to just sit in the corner doing nothing. You can shift a chair here and there, but that's as far as it goes.

It's ok if a colleague or a small child nearby asks questions, as long as they are not judging you, or worse, making you feel as if you are 'wasting' time. If this doesn't bother, then great, but sometimes, having people around that aren't entirely on board with what you are doing can make niksen much harder.

We should all be on the same page. If someone close to you doesn't get it, then show them this blog. As soon as these three conditions are met, you're good to go.

Ready to embark on that big wonderful adventure that is niksen?

Try it for yourself

The hardest part is falling victim to distractions. When your head's full, you feel as though you are going insane or on the verge of burnout; it's too easy to succumb to distractions, so here are my top 3 tips.

  • Switch off your smartphone - in an age where multitasking is the norm, smartphones create the ultimate distraction. It's easy to check work emails over dinner, read the latest headlines, or answer that Whatsapp message. Even if you are careful about who you follow, anyone can view negative feedback from their inbox or social media and accidentally look at it before bed or on holiday. Constantly responding to emails creates a busy mind and ultimately ruins your niksen. Try switching your phone into aeroplane mode while you are doing nothing, and relax.

  • Do nothing in a place where you like to be - for the same reason you need to create space in your head to practice nikson, you also need to create a place - like a corner of your house - that you feel proud of. Perhaps you have a plant you have nurtured for years or a bookshelf that you put up yourself, and it hasn't fallen down! These positive things create the conditions for doing absolutely nothing. You can watch them or compliment yourself on your handiwork. If someone else put them up, then you can be grateful. With this foundation in place, you can retreat into a lovely dream world.

  • Save it for a rainy day - Make sure all of your basic needs have been met: you have nice food in for later, you've been to the bathroom, and your clothes are comfortable, And doing nothing is done best in a place that is warm (not too hot or too cold). If you are hopeless at doing nothing, try starting on a rainy day. It won't feel quite so weird that instead of being in the garden mowing the lawn, you're just sitting on the couch watching the rain.

Doing nothing often leads to the best of something - Winnie the Pooh

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