Learning to Relax

In Essays, Self Improvement

Ricard Semler of Semco makes a fantastic point when he discusses what is the opposite of work.

Many people might answer that it’s leisure, going on holiday, going out with friends, catching a movie, and so on.

Well…No.

The opposite of work is doing nothing, which in turn also raises the question of what the opposite of leisure is? Perhaps it’s also doing nothing.

Can one thing be the opposite of two things? Perhaps. It’s a case of action vs inaction.

The reason why leisure is not the opposite of work is that leisure is work. You need to spend time planning and organising it, perhaps pay for it, and feel guilty if you don’t make the most of it, and feel disappointed if it didn’t live up to your expectations.

Doing nothing, on the other hand, is very, very simple to do.

However, we shouldn’t make the assumption that because something is simple it must also be easy.

Hitting the bullseye in darts is simple, you stand in front of the board, aim, and throw the dart. However, it’s far from easy to do on a consistent basis.

As you are probably aware, I’m a big advocate of continuous education, and I’ve come to the conclusion that learning how to relax is not something that is as stupid as it sounds.

In the developed world, we’re terrible at relaxing. We’ve got some of the highest rated of depression, as well as stress-related disorders. This is mostly down to the fact that as life as sped up, our attention spans have shorted (thanks, Twitter.) and now we get bored far too easily to accept the simple solution to many of our problems:

Just do nothing.

It’s an incredibly therapeutic experience, and I’ve found that I get many of the same benefits of meditation, such as immediate reduction in negative thoughts, and a general sense of calmness.

So how does one go about doing nothing? It’s a little bit like if I tell you not to think about a dancing pink elephant.

Well, one little secret I’ve learnt is that you don’t quite have to nothing, to do nothing.

Let me explain. The issue we are trying to solve is not physical stress or overuse, but it is our minds that need the break. This means we can do something with our bodies while our minds take a break. For instance, I find slow laps of a swimming pool a fantastic way to do nothing. My arms and legs get into a rhythm, and then I’m free to zone out at will.

Obviously, how this can be taken varies from person to person. A concert pianist may well be able to play any of the Beethoven sonatas and feel like he or she is doing nothing while it would be challenging for us mere mortals.

You can also have a day that you dedicate to nothing, and you just take a walk, do some light recreational exercise, read, go out for a coffee, but you don’t do anything, in particular, especially if that something has a goal attached to it. The idea is to completely remove any thoughts that you have to do something on this day, and that you have to reach some level of performance.

While the above is a good approach, you should also consider trying out the pure version of doing nothing, which simply means staying still, and just thinking. This is more akin to meditation, but it’s not quite there. You don’t have to empty your mind, in fact, it might be a great time to practice some Stoic Exercises.

So there you go, give it a go, try doing nothing for a few minutes, an hour, a day, or even a week, you’ll come back far more mentally refreshed to your daily life.