Have you ever noticed that the pressure to relax when you have time off is even more than the pressure to perform well when you’re on the clock? I’ll admit I’ve never been particularly good at relaxing — I’m not so much a workaholic as I am a busy bee — but lately I managed to prove to myself that I was especially bad at it.
I spent the better part of the past few weeks camping with my husband and his family up in wine country and while the entire thing was lovely, it was an exercise in letting go and chilling the f out. Before we even arrived I had completed my list of things I wanted to do while we were there (stay up all night, get a picture with a giant flamingo floatie, golf 18 holes, get ice cream at this super famous ice cream place and so on).
The sign that the odds were not in my favor was when my giant flamingo floatie didn’t actually arrive in time for me to take it with us. I had done everything in my power to get it to us — even paid for (heaven help me) expedited shipping — but it was not meant to be. I lamented. It was an ordeal.
But we went, obviously.
My husband is particularly good at relaxing. That is not to say he is lazy, simply that he thinks my itinerarys and personal to-do lists are completely besides the point of holiday-ing. I like to remind him that so is camping, to me, but that was a domestic we put a pin in and will circle back to next summer.
“The point,” Steve would try to tell me as I sat quite literally twiddling my thumbs at our picnic table, “is to just BE.”
Look, I go to yoga . . . sometimes. I meditate for, like, 10 minutes at a time on my living room floor. I feng shui-ed my office area in preparation for launching this new whatever it is. I KNOW HOW TO JUST BE.
But, of course, I don’t have a foggy clue.
“Go and read at the beach!”
“Go sit in the shade!”
“Go wander to the coffee shop!”
“Go for a pedal around town!”
“Have a nap!”
I began to get upset that everything being suggested to me wasn’t my idea of relaxation. As someone who has always been relatively intentional and consistent with self-care in my day-to-day life, I didn’t want to just sit and do nothing. I wanted to do the things I wouldn’t make time for at home. Namely, take cute photographs, prance around burning sage under the moonlight and drive 45 minutes for an ice cream cone. THAT was relaxation. THAT was doing the proverbial nothing.
I spent the last few days of our trip trying to respect that — appreciating that relaxation means something different to everyone and that I was lucky I figured out what it meant to me before we had to head home. I was upset I had wasted time fretting over it though, which is why I started asking myself how we can apply holiday mentality to the few moments we have to ourselves in the real world.
Holiday mentality (relaxation, doing nothing, etc.) isn’t the same thing as self-care. Self-care is maintenance, mandatory, a must-do in this crazy world if we want to stay energetic and passionate about our life. Doing nothing, on the other hand, is a gift we can give ourselves that has the power to restore that energy when it goes awry. You know, the kind of muck a bubble bath can’t fix.
So here are some of the things I came up with:
Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing, and is far more unpleasant
1. ASSUME NO PRESSURE
When it comes to doing nothing, it would make sense that it is counterproductive to feel overwhelmed by it, yet that is exactly what I feel when I all of a sudden have the luxury of doing so. Instead of telling myself I deserve it, I tell myself I need to get rid of it as quickly as possible (funny, my money coach says I treat dollars the same way).
The first thing we can gift ourselves when it comes to gearing down is the permission to do so — our way. We do not need to feel pressured to do anything or nothing. What we define as the epitome of relaxation is exactly that, lists and all. There is no right or wrong way to do it. No one is judging us (and if they are, they’re wasting their own time).
Really, when was the last time you told someone you were doing absolutely nothing and they responded with something other than, “OMG, Lucky!”
Never. No one ever said that. Ever.
Doing nothing is happiness for children and misery for old men – Victor Hugo
2. DO SOMETHING
Believe it or not, I do understand how contradictory this sounds, but it’s not, I promise. Quite literally doing nothing can be stressful. We live in a society that shames us for not being busy and rewards us for spending every moment on the go. Whether we think we believe this is right or not, our brain seems to tell us we suck the moment we sit down to breathe.
Maybe it’s coloring pages or mandalas. Maybe it’s a bike ride along the water or a game of frisbee at the beach (I’ve never played frisbee in my life. I don’t even know how that came to me). Maybe it’s meditation (which we’re all doing everyday, anyway, right?!) Maybe it’s reading a tabloid, painting my nails, dancing wildly to The 1975 in my kitchen while making a flan. Whatever.
Find the thing that doesn’t feel like work — the thing that makes you feel something, the thing that reminds you you’re free to be — and then do it. Do your nothing. And if it really is nothing, power to you & can I take lessons?
Idleness is fatal only to the mediocre – Albert Camus
3. GET A MENTOR
I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired by really phenomenal people: wanderers and wordsmiths, gurus and adventurers, outlaws and musicians. The thing so many of them seem to have in common is their ability to lounge, to be idle, to be slow and taste moments. There are some people who seemingly live amidst chaos and yet themselves appear to be in the eye of the storm.
Find those people — not the bored & rich unemployed, but the people booming in stillness. Follow their example.
Doing nothing is very hard to do . . . you never know when you’re finished – Leslie Nielsen
For those of us who have (unfortunately) been sucked into the vortex of “GOGOGO!” and “HUSTLEHUSTLEHUSTLE!” doing nothing is going to be painful. If it’s not painful, congratulations, you read this post for nothing. It is going to be uncomfortable and we need to do it anyway.
Anyone who has taken an extended holiday before knows that it takes at least a few days to get out of that life mentality and into the sea-breeze, salty-hair-don’t-care stage. It’s even harder to get into it when you only have an hour. Which is why we need to.
& if all else fails, nap. A nap never did anyone any harm (unless you forgot to set your alarm and missed your first night shift at your new dream job. Then you probably did some damage).
As much pains were taken to make me idle as were ever taken to make me studious – William Wilberforce
In conclusion, I still have no idea how to do nothing. But what I do know is that my idea of doing nothing isn’t the same as anyone else’s and your idea of doing nothing is just as wonderful. I do know that it takes consciousness. That it takes patience. & that it takes a certain amount of respect — both for yourself and for the environment around you.
Doing nothing is — of course — not going to solve the world’s problems, but it just might solve our own and that’s a pretty good place to start.
further reading: The Art of Doing Nothing
images in order of appearance: Yoko Honda, Here, & Jiro Bevis