The Importance of Doing Nothing – Neuroscience at the Beach

By Abi King | Travel Chat

Jan 03
The importance of doing nothing - why science says it is good for you to do nothing from time to time. Regularly taking breaks can help your creativity, health and wellbeing. And, hey, it's free after all!
How to do nothing and why it is important

How to do nothing and why it is important

The Importance of Doing Nothing

I first wrote about the importance of doing nothing while travelling alone. Now, as a mother of a toddler, alone time is scarce. Doing nothing seems positively criminal. So, I’ve caught up with the neuroscientist in me and reminded myself why it’s important. Is it time that you did too?

Do you ever let yourself have nothing to do?

For two hours now, I’ve watched the waves curl one across the other in a marbled mixture of turquoise and frothy white. Above them, pelicans lurch with comic effect before dropping like torpedoes in a single soaring swoop.

In short, I’ve had nothing to do and nowhere to go – and I have tasted freedom.

Technology and the illusion of something to do

Of course, that’s not entirely true. I have photos to take and articles to write. Exercise to attend do and an inbox more swollen than the archives of Shakespeare. But my current situation – in addition to its overwhelming beauty – has more or less demanded that I forget all that for a while.

The internet is patchy. The batteries running low. There’s the time difference and the lack of a table and chair. But above all else, there’s the wasted opportunity of an almost criminal nature. How can I let this pass me by while I glaze my eyes to a screen?

Recommended reading: The Original Pursuit of Happiness – Plato in Athens

Travel gives freedom through enforced periods of nothing to do

That’s the freedom that travel gives us, I think. The permission to rest and to breathe and to think – at least for some of the time.

And that time, of course, is precious: we can’t know how much we will have.

What does science say? 

The message from the world of philosophy, sport and science is clear: it’s not only important to find nothing to do. It’s essential to our wellbeing.

In elite athletes, overtraining is a recognised condition, one with deleterious effects. Time and time again, research reveals that mental rest is just as important as physical rest. It not only helps us think more clearly, but we live longer, avoid certain diseases and are potentially even more creative. 

Sir Isaac Newton and the apple that hit him on the head and Archimedes relaxing in his bath may or may not be legends. But one of the small team who made the breakthrough in discovering the structure of DNA had this to say on the subject:

“It’s necessary to be slightly underemployed if you are to do something significant.” – James D.Watson

Recommended reading: The Slow Food Movement in Italy

The Fabulous Feeling of Freedom – Creativity Awaits

In between the fall of fat raindrops, inspiration bubbles inside.

My notebook now sings with shiny new plans and the cherry-picked thoughts from the hundreds that passed by.

But as this photo reminds me, as do those wings that glide through the sky: we have won the fight for freedom, for most of us reading at least.

And so that authoritarian watchkeeper, the one who decides how we spend our time, whether we date our dreams or roll around in nothingness and let the thoughts fly by, that gatekeeper to our freedom lives within us.

It isn’t always easy.  (And there’s no doubt that a tropical beach most definitely helps.)

Recommended reading: Why do people travel? 25 Reasons or is there just the one?

How to find time to do nothing

But among the many things that we all have to buckle down and do, among the burdens we each must bear and the pain that we fear no-one else will understand, we still have it in ourselves to set time aside for just living, just breathing, and just watching the world go by.

We can’t always find two hours. But we can’t never find that much as well.Let that be my new resolution, declared here for 2014 2019. To laugh more, smile more, do nothing more and let that rise out from the other goals and targets that glint and gleam ahead.

I’ll follow it no matter what happens, but I’m just interested to hear what you think about the following idea:

To make time for the importance of doing nothing

 

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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • I love the Italian phrase/philosopy of ‘dolce far niente’ and making an effort to enjoy those moments without feeling you SHOULD be doing something. I recently had an unwanted enforced break (only a few days) from the internet and went from panic to acceptance to savouring the freedom. Enjoy the rest of your stay!

    • Abi King says:

      That’s a lovely phrase – and an idea I’m keen to embrace this year!

  • Shereen says:

    I often have a hard time doing nothing for long periods of time but I think being in front of a beautiful beach view would definitely help to just sit back and take it all in and not think about anything.

  • I cannot agree more. We need a break from stress; work, home, pollution and what not.. and there’s one place on earth that’s been always effective in relieving me from stress; the beach.. and lesser people is much better. It’s important to keep your sanity, or you’d find yourself one day mentally ill in one corner, or is close to getting insane. I don’t know why I said that, maybe because I’m longing for the beach for a long time now.. and I’m close to eating my hair.. haha just kidding.

    I love the door sign though.. will create one for myself. Wish I could go to the beach by the end of this month.

    • Abi King says:

      I grew up by the sea (on a distinctly less tropical beach than this!) but regularly used to walk to the beach and just watch the waves crash and smash around to help clear my head. It seems I have forgotten how to do this a little as the years have passed by…Here’s to beaches and breaks!

  • Chanel @ La Viajera Morena says:

    I watched this great movie last night called ‘The Blue Lagoon: The Awakening” and it was about this girl who was uptight and planned EVERYTHING out and was always keeping herself busy. It wasn’t until she got stranded on a desert island with nothing to do that she discovered who she was and how calming it could be to have no plans at all, and to do nothing. It is important to give yourself breaks and just to relax and do nothing.

    Great post :D

    • Abi King says:

      Ha – I know I’m in no danger of overplanning things but I do often feel a sense of guilt if I’m not working whenever I can be. I shall strive to take your advice more often!

  • Arun says:

    Absolutely loved this post. ‘do nothing’ something we all want to do and sometimes strive to do. Indeed, a charming place helps…

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