How Introverts Can Master the Art of ‘Doing Nothing’

An introvert “doing nothing”

It sounds simple in theory, but the introvert’s mind is always lively and active, making it hard to truly rest.

As an introvert, I spend plenty of time alone, lost in solo work or activities that I enjoy — reading, writing, working on a creative project, or listening to a podcast while I’m folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher. For me, many of these activities are fun and can even be energizing (laundry and dishes aside). But recently, I’ve realized that few of them are truly restful.

In fact, I have a complicated relationship with rest. Like many in our go-go-go society, I have developed a pervasive need to be productive, to maximize my time by always doing something. Whenever I have a few precious moments of alone time, there is always another task I “should” be doing, whether it’s working on my next article, going to the gym, or cleaning my house.

Recently, certain life events forced me to slow down and spend time doing the unthinkable: absolutely nothing. Suddenly, I didn’t have the energy or the brain power to do anything conventionally productive — and I was shocked at how difficult it felt.

As it turns out, I’m not alone in feeling this way. There’s a reason why “doing nothing” can feel so challenging. But there’s also an argument to be made that it’s time to change that. In fact, doing nothing might be exactly what we introverts need to thrive in our modern, hustle-driven culture.

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What It Really Means to Do Nothing (And How We’re Doing It Wrong)

Doing nothing sounds simple in theory. We’ve all had lazy days spent lying around, scrolling our phones, or watching mindless TV. But truly doing nothing is an art form. It requires actively resisting our culture of hyper-productivity, shutting down our minds, putting down our phones — and actually allowing ourselves to just be.

The Dutch call it niksen. In Italian, it’s la dolce far niente, or “the sweetness of doing nothing.” It’s a concept that requires spending time being truly idle, without guilt or shame. This means allowing yourself to indulge in a few moments of luxurious nothingness without any attempts to fulfill a purpose. 

Doing nothing means taking a true break — not pausing your work to change the laundry around, sitting on the couch scrolling through social media, or (tragically) catching up on the latest episode of 90 Day Fiancé. It also doesn’t mean sitting quietly and thinking about all of the things you’re going to cross off your to-do list as soon as you’re done doing nothing.

At first, it may seem like this idea of doing nothing would come naturally to introverts. After all, we’re not known for always “doing things” out in the world, like flitting from one social event to another.

Instead, we are often busy within our own homes and minds. We often dedicate long periods of intense focus to the things we’re interested in, constantly coming up with creative new ideas, and working our brains overtime to deeply process information and the world around us.

All of this makes our minds particularly lively and active places to be — which can make doing nothing especially difficult… and all the more important.

Why Doing Nothing Feels So Hard

Modern society prizes ambition and hustle. As a result, we have been conditioned to associate our feelings of self-worth with hard work and productivity. But this “hustle culture” is killing us — it has been associated with ever-increasing levels of anxiety, depression, and burnout, all of which introverts may be more prone to, anyway. 

We work until we’re exhausted, and when we crash, we don’t have the energy to do much. As a result, we’ve come to associate relaxing or doing nothing with unhealthy habits, like binging junk food on the couch, letting loose with a drink (or three or four) on the weekends, or staring at mind-numbing screens for hours on end.

If we’re not careful, even the things we may do in an attempt to decompress and recharge our introvert batteries can become a form of hustle, an extension of our need to always be productive. For me, self-care activities, like exercise and journaling, have become additional tasks on my daily to-do list, things I do not purely for enjoyment or relaxation, but to fill time in a way that feels worthwhile and proves I’m not lazy. Even reading — one of my favorite forms of leisure — has become a project, with my Goodreads and StoryGraph apps constantly reminding me of how I’m tracking toward the reading goal I set for myself this year.

All of this feels like the extrovert ideal at work — this image of the gregarious, hustling, outward-facing success story that we are all supposed to strive to be. And that means that, for introverts, we may have to work especially hard to fit into this culture of constant doing.

How to Practice Doing Nothing

It’s not easy to undo all of that social conditioning that tells us we have to constantly work, achieve, succeed, do. 

The first — and most difficult — step is to embrace the idea that doing nothing has value in and of itself, and that it’s well worth making time in our overly busy schedules to allow ourselves to enjoy simply being in the present moment.

At the same time, remember that doing nothing is intentional purposelessness; it’s not the lazy kind of doing nothing that we engage in when we mindlessly scroll on our phones or binge an entire season of a show. This healthier, more beneficial type of doing nothing is about fully appreciating, savoring, and luxuriating in true relaxation.

It’s worth noting here that while doing nothing might immediately bring up the idea of mindfulness (which can also be hugely beneficial for introverts), practicing mindfulness is not necessarily the same thing as doing nothing. In fact, mindfulness has its own purpose or goal: the goal of being fully present in the moment.

As Big Think puts it, the aim of doing nothing should be something closer to mindlessness. They offer some ideas, like: “Staring out the window and watching birds flit around. Enjoying the aroma of your coffee brewing in the morning. Having a pleasant daydream as you listen to music on the couch. Sitting in a café and watching the people pass by.”

Some other ideas for doing nothing:

  • Take a bath
  • Watch your kids (or pets) play
  • Take a nap
  • Watch the sunset
  • Stargaze
  • Zone out while enjoying a cup of tea
  • The Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing

All of those things might sound like doing something, but it’s about your state of mind — when you fully engage in any of these activities, you’re giving your brain a break, allowing your mind to wander wherever it pleases. Doing nothing is about consciously choosing to let go of your typical structure and letting your mind simply explore and be its natural, wild, curious self.

Here are some more tips to get started.

5 Ways to Practice Doing Nothing

1. Choose a semi-automatic activity, something easy.

Pick something easy you can do without setting any specific goal: wander in a city park or along a nature trail without a particular destination in mind; mindlessly doodle in a notebook (without the aim of producing art); find a bench to sit on and watch the birds; put on a record or Spotify playlist and just listen; stare out the window; weed your garden; and the list goes on… (Okay, maybe weeding has a goal — to get rid of the weeds — but since they grow as fast as you can pick them, I still think it counts!)

2. Let go of time limits.

If you put a limit on your time to do nothing, you’re going to have that timeline in the back of your mind. It’s harder to let go of your mental to-do list when you set a timer and are consciously aware that you’re going to return to that list as soon as that timer goes off. (Plus, time anxiety is a real thing!) Start by picking an open afternoon when you don’t have any other obligations to worry about.

3. Look for pockets of time throughout the day. 

Pay attention to those small opportunities you have to practice doing nothing during the course of your regular day. For example, while you’re waiting in line or sitting on the train, try not to reach for your phone or check your email. On your commute, turn off the radio or podcast you’re listening to and just focus on driving.

4. Practice — and start small.

We’ve all been trained to be hyper-productive, so it’s no wonder that doing nothing doesn’t come easy. It can even feel unnatural or uncomfortable to “waste time” in this way. It’s okay to start small. Look out the window for a few minutes every day and work your way up. Consider setting a reminder on your phone to take a few minutes to do nothing. Or try this tool to help you get started.

5. If you start to ruminate, pull back. 

One potential downside of letting your mind wander is the possibility of it venturing into negative or unhelpful territory. (Anxious introverts, especially, are prone to overthinking, worry, and rumination). If you find yourself zeroing in on negative thoughts, take a break from doing nothing and turn your attention to something else. You can’t do nothing all the time, anyway, so balance it with your other responsibilities and activities that uplift you and bring you joy. You can always try again when you’re in a more positive headspace.

Doing Nothing Is a Skill That You Can Master

Doing nothing is a skill. It takes practice, especially for us introverts who are up against modern hustle culture and the extrovert ideal. The payoff is well worth the effort it might take to get comfortable with this practice.

Take this as your sign to stop treating rest as a reward for productivity. Resist the idea that you have to earn the right to do nothing, and give yourself permission to indulge in a little nothingness. Your introverted brain will thank you.

My fellow introverts, what’s your favorite way to “do nothing”? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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