Finding balance and being happier by doing nothing

do nothingIf you’re a time management junky, like me, you know exactly what “put the big rocks in first” means.

If you have not spent ridiculous amounts of money on planners and seminars designed to help you do more in less time, let me catch you up: in an attempt to illustrate one of his 7 habits of highly effective people, Stephen Covey challenges an audience member to add several big rocks to a container that is mostly full already with small pebbles. When the audience member inevitably fails, he teaches us that the only way to accomplish this “fitting it all in” is to put the big rocks in first. You then add the pebbles (urgent but not important things), which fill in the spaces around the big rocks. You can then add sand to the container, which naturally wedges into any remaining nooks and crannies. (Here’s a video of it.)

The lesson is obvious:

Put the big rocks in first.

Start with what matters most to you. Make those things a priority, and then fill in with the less important things.

I have tried for a long time to live my life according to this mantra, certain that this was the key to balance. I was also certain that balance meant getting it all done, or “fitting it all in.” When my life felt off kilter or I crashed into the proverbial wall, I assumed it was because I had been trying to wedge big rocks in among sand and pebbles instead of beginning with them.

It never occurred to me that perhaps the problem was my insistence on filling all the nooks and crannies.

Listening to a guided meditation with Deepak Chopra last week, I heard a description of balance that was completely different from the one I’ve been operating with. Instead of focusing on juggling all of my priorities, switching from important activity to important activity, this new definition suggests alternating between motion and rest.

Doing nothing, in other words, is just as important as doing what matters most.

Doing nothing matters.

It matters as much as family, friends, creativity, and work. It’s the essential counterbalance to our inherent need for growth.

I noticed this need a lot this weekend. Megan and Lisa came to town for a girls’ weekend with me and Becky, and of course we planned fun activities and dinners out. But, as luck would have it, we also ended up running away to a cabin in the mountains for a day of painting and pampering. And in between the painting, pampering, cooking, laughing, and talking, we did nothing.

We sat quietly in front of the fire.

We laid on the couches and stared up at the wooden beams above the wagon-wheel chandelier.

We sat in the sauna and closed our eyes, content to be quiet and warm together.

And all of that nothing proved to be the perfect compliment to the mimosa making, pizza dough rolling, fire building, Lush shopping, and late night giggling. Even though none of our doing was strenuous, it still benefited from the sandwiching of even less strenuous doing nothing.

In the last few months, I think I’ve been learning this lesson about doing nothing without realizing it. I’ve found myself setting time aside for loafing. I’ve blocked off weekend afternoons for just being in the house with Jared and the kids, no plans of forcing balance with board games or projects. And it’s felt right. Good. Natural. Slower. And somehow I’ve gotten more of what matters most to me done at the end of it all.

This empty space is good. It’s important and necessary even, I believe. Our bodies tell us so with sickness, fatigue, and a craving for foods that will inevitably put us in a coma for a few hours. Sit your asses down, they are saying. Just sit.

We don’t sit forever, of course. The point isn’t to become totally zenned out and sitting in silence all the time. We are still made for movement. When we have sat long enough, we have to get our butts up and do. But it seems, for me, that is so much easier – and the result so much better – after giving in to the urge for rest.

So, I’m going to look for the empty spaces and preserve them rather than fill them.

I’m going to do more of nothing.

And I’ll tell my husband that these moments of laziness are good for me, because Deepak Chopra said so.

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  1. daniel says:

    There is a lesson to be learned in “doing nothing” similar to that of “recharging your batteries” – it is why we take vacations from our usual work routines. Unfortunately often times we don’t feel as refreshed as we should, or that feeling lasts a week after returning to our normal routine. Why? Because we don’t have that normal balance in our everyday lives that is vital.
    daniel’s most recent post: Identity

    • Miss Britt says:

      YES. I think this is why I tend to crash hard. I go too fast for too long, instead of doing a little of something and a little of nothing every day.

  2. Nanna says:

    One time at some workshop seminar thing, my assigned task was to be silent and just “be” for two whole days. It was harder than you’d think, but really really good.
    Nanna’s most recent post: Taking Scary Fashion Risks

    • Miss Britt says:

      TWO DAYS?

      And no one died?

      I mean, if someone died, you should probably text me that and not leave it in this comment.

      Because I’m assuming someone died.

  3. Chrisor says:

    This is really a simple lesson, yet one I’ve yet to learn. I tend to flit from one thing to another, fretting that I don’t get everything done. Only my mom has said to me to “just sit quietly”. Of course, I felt too guilty to do that when there’s things to be done! Now I will make a conscious effort to be still and relax. Thanks for this reminder to “just be”.
    Chrisor’s most recent post: Salt really DOES raise your blood pressure

    • Miss Britt says:

      I think it’s common to feel guilty if we’re not doing, especially in western civilization where we are taught to honor productivity above all else.

  4. Amy says:

    Sometimes for me doing nothing at all allows me to reconnect with the things that matter to me the most but never seems to keep me from getting things done. In other words. It is never just wasted time.

  5. Great post… and it reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

    Half an hour’s meditation is essential except when you are very busy. Then a full hour is needed.

    ~Saint Francis de Sales

  6. natalie says:

    I LOVE this! A lot of time when we are in the middle of a “doing nothing” we tend to feel guilty or justify the joys of actually doing nothing. We have been taught we must fill those rocks to the top! Do! Go! Hurry! This post was a wonderful reminder to let yourself relax and just be too and that it is more than okay! Thank you for a great post!
    natalie’s most recent post: Crazy Girls

  7. Jessica says:

    As I sit here exhausted from not getting solid sleep for a few days, doing absolutely nothing sounds real good right about now! Looking forward to having Friday off, family in town for the long weekend and telling anyone that asks me why I’m doing nothing to go talk to Deepak Chopra if they got a problem with that! Thanks for sharing!

  8. A lot of people, myself included forget downtime is essential to growth. We have to give out minds and bodies time to rest so we can grow.
    Corey Feldman’s most recent post: Contest for a signed paperback of your choice.

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