happiness in doing nothing. photo by francesca zama.

Niksen: Why Doing Nothing Is So Beneficial

“Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.”  ~Winnie the Pooh

In today’s fast paced world, productivity and efficiency are in high demand. The need to always “do more” forces us into consecutive meetings, multi-tasking, and stacking tasks & projects back-to-back-to back. And it doesn’t stop at work. Tending to children, pets, side-jobs, shopping, chores, meal prep, social obligations and more has got us running ragged. Unfortunately, this constant activity and pressure also leads to high levels of stress and burnout. Consequently, it seems that we are all looking for ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Luckily, the Dutch have an answer. 

Netherlands has regularly been a world leader in productivity rate per worker. This means they work hard and they also get a lot of good results out of all that effort. One might tend to think Dutch workers must be under a lot of pressure to maintain their output, and so must be highly stressed. However, it turns out that Netherlands is also right near the top of world rankings in worker happiness and satisfaction. The key may lie in their harnessing of the power of doing nothing.

What is Niksen?

The Dutch have a special word for the practice of “doing nothing”: Niksen. Per Carolien Hamming, managing director at CSR Centrum, a coaching center that helps clients manage stress and recover from burnout: 

Niksen “literally means to do nothing, to be idle or doing something without any use.”

It can include “activities” such as just hanging out, observing your surroundings, looking out a window, or listening to music. This can be closely related to mindfulness; however, there is a keen difference. Where mindfulness is all about being present in the moment, niksen is more about simply being. It allows (and encourages) for your mind to wander rather than trying to focus on the details of “the now”.  Similarly, niksen can be connected to mediation.  But instead of clearing the mind completely or focussing on one thing, niksen lets one enjoy the wandering mind.

relax, reduce stress. photo by mateusz dach.

Take time to Daydream!

The one trick, though, is to make sure your mental wandering doesn’t take you back to old habits. You aren’t “doing nothing” if you’re revising your to-do list, planning dinner, or worrying about your next presentation! The idea is to escape from all the standard responsibilities that automatically fill our daily lives. Even a few moments of unstructured rest can ease the mind and prepare for it for the next big task.

Context is Everything

It is important to clarify that niksen is not about being lazy. Of course nothing would ever get accomplished if all we did was “nothing”. Rather, this lifestyle concept is all about taking breaks from work, and letting the brain rest and recharge. 

Weary muscles and minds may know what needs to be done, but will never perform as well as those that are rested.

When we are working physically, we must take breaks to allow our muscles to recuperate.  If we don’t, we won’t be strong enough or won’t have the energy necessary to complete the required action. In the same way, if we never let our mind rest, it will not have the strength or energy necessary to execute the desired task.  So let your mind rest between those work reps!

But don’t overdo it. If we are physically lazy all the time, we’ll never be able to efficiently complete any tasks, much less a triathlon. You must train for the trial, AND rest so your body can perform when called upon. Similarly, we must keep our brains fit by staying stimulated. But we must allow some rest so that we are ready to work when needed. 

The Benefits

Interestingly, niksen had previously been categorized in Netherlands as mere laziness or lack of attention. However, global stress rates are going through the roof, along with many associated health risks. Therefore, medical researchers are now hailing “doing nothing” as a positive tactic for fighting stress.

Relieving stress brings many various health benefits. Emotionally, it can make one less anxious, “edgy” and irritable. And in turn, this can help bring more peace and happiness internally. Further, this makes one more approachable, which aids in communication and connection. Simply put, less stress uplifts you as well as everyone around you.

Having less stress also carries physical health benefits. Studies have shown that stress can cause undue aging. Therefore, being less anxious can curb some aging processes. Persons with reduced stress are also better able to lose/control their body weight. Additionally, stress ravages the immune system; therefore less stress helps prevent sickness. And if sickness does occur, having less stress can help reduce the duration and severity.

Reduce Stress and Enjoy Today!

get creative

In addition to the important personal health benefits listed above, niksen can also be more effective at work. Obviously, less-stressed and happier workers tend to be more productive. Not only is teamwork improved, but so is creativity and problem-solving. When one is letting their mind wander, they may get “struck by lightning”. It turns out that while we “daydream”, our brains continue to work in the background. And when we aren’t grinding our gears with too many thoughts, the mind is able to utilize the now-available processing power to help solve pending problems. We’ve all had those moments when something brilliant just pops into our head, seemingly from nowhere. So make a little space to encourage these “spontaneous” ideas. Even if the ideas don’t come from thin air, letting one’s mind wander may still help one gain inspiration to achieve their goals.

Bringing Niksen Home

Doing nothing sounds so simple. However, it can be very difficult for many. The hustle and bustle of modern life makes us feel like we are always supposed to be doing something. So, like many new things, niksen should be eased into. Take a few minutes (or maybe just one) to start.  Turn off all screens and set aside all electronics and notification… Maybe stare out a window… Or just enjoy your sofa… But most importantly: let go of whatever you’re thinking about.  Let your mind start a clean slate, and just wander in the moment. As this practice becomes more natural and comfortable, increase the time if possible. And maybe even set aside a whole evening per week to allow your brain to decompress in this way.

There are just a few things to look out for while practicing niksen. Certainly, if you find yourself back in the habit of actively thinking, try to reset. And also important to remember is: niksen does not bring happiness by itself. Just doing nothing will never bring satisfaction. Rather, niksen helps bring balance to an otherwise busy life. The moments of rest allow us to be healthier, more creative, more productive, and more connected… These are the things that actually bring happiness.  

So take a moment to do something good for yourself: do nothing.

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David Hughes

Contributing Editor and Author at Kaldzar

Certified Biologist and Data Scientist
Constantly curious. Curiously compassionate.

Main photo by Francesca Zama.

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