If there’s one thing you’re not supposed to do in our culture, it’s nothing. Idleness is frowned upon, mistrusted, judged as wasteful and self-indulgent. Yet science shows that it’s essential to our health, happiness, and productivity. Here’s how to reclaim idleness — and reframe it in ways that let you better leverage its considerable (and pleasurable) benefits.

This week on The Living Experiment, we’re talking about “Idleness” — those all-too-rare moments when we allow ourselves to do nothing in particular, and the surprising magic they can bring to our lives.

From the neurological rewards of daydreaming to the value of more extended sabbaticals, we explore the possibilities of doing less, rather than more, as a means of enriching your life experience, and expanding your gifts to the world around you.

And naturally, we offer some experiments designed to help you experience the counterintuitive rewards of idleness for yourself.

“Idleness” Episode Highlights

  • First, a listener question: Lindsay asks about her sense of urgency in sharing newly-acquired information and the stress that entails
  • Next, idleness: Dallas describes the function of the default-mode network, and the important background work your brain is doing while you’re “tuned out”
  • What happens when you don’t find time to let your mind wander and allow your default mode network to activate
  • The importance of self-reflection, how that’s only really possible during idle time, and why we may keep ourselves busy to avoid having to feel our true feelings
  • Pilar on her Morning Minutes practice, and how claiming a few quiet moments on waking can transform your entire day
  • Why social media time can’t be considered “idle” time
  • How to protect your idleness in a culture that doesn’t value it
  • Challenging the assumptions and choices that keep you from leveraging idleness to your advantage

In the next two weeks, schedule 30 minutes to walk or sit and let your mind wander. Don’t read, don’t answer texts, don’t meet with a friend, don’t meditate. Notice what concerns and resistances arise. Also notice any feelings of sadness, regret, or resentment — whether you resent yourself for not doing this more often, or resent others for keeping you from this pleasure.

Challenge yourself to claim idleness in small increments. Two options:

1) After completing a simple task (like washing your coffee cup), take a full 30 seconds to do nothing (just be, breathe, look around, etc.), rather than racing to the next task; or

2) Double the time it normally takes to do something (like folding laundry) by doing it verrrry slowwwly. Notice the emotions or physical sensations this elicits, and the sense of promise or ambivalence you might feel about producing more experiences like this for yourself.

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