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Why doing nothing could be the most worthwhile thing you do this year

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You could madly launch yourself into new resolutions that you will never keep, or you could do nothing at all. Viv Groskop explores the benefits of doing sod all

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By Viv Groskop on

This is going to sound like a very counterintuitive piece of advice. Especially at a time of year when everyone is devoted to making monumental leaps of transformation. Give up alcohol forever? Yes, why not! Vow to eliminate sugar for the whole of 2018? Bring it on! Adopt a challenging and invigorating exercise regime? You can do it!

Except we all know that we can’t. Or maybe we can but only for about three days and then we will just go and eat one and a half almond croissants in a row and cry in a brand-name coffee outlet because they have discontinued the eggnog latte for another 11 and a half months. (I may have a “close friend” who has done this. “What do you mean, there’s none left? Get some. Just get some.” Then I burst into tears.)

The fact is, there’s a trick a lot of the self-help gurus expound on the quiet. It hardly gets any mention but it’s one of the most useful strategies in the arsenal of human behaviour. If in doubt or in difficulty, consider the radical possibilities of doing absolutely nothing. Yes, you read that right. What if you do absolutely sod all? Change nothing. Take no action. Walk away. Move on to something completely different and unrelated. Be lazy. Ignore stuff. Take zero action. Stick your head in the sand. Hum “la la la la” to yourself. Have a nap.

If this seems irresponsible or wrong, think about the times when we’ve all done this, sometimes accidentally, with no bad consequences. I am terrible for making hundreds of to-do lists, micro-managing everyone and everything around me and generally thinking that I can change the earth’s gravitational pull if only I send enough carefully-worded emails. However, late last year I took an uncharacteristic one-week break – (to Mallorca – an excellent place! Though poor on the eggnog front) – and resolved that while I was on this break, I would only briefly check my messages and not actually respond to any of them. I didn’t do this because I thought it would be efficient. I did this because I really, really needed a stress-free break for the sake of my mental health. (See eggnog, above.)

The wise and sensible strategy of Doing Nothing (copyright: Dalai Viv) has made me realise that there are things that I treat as urgent, important and stressful when I could just totally ignore them.

The unexpected side effect was... efficiency! Things got done without me having to do anything. People answered questions by themselves without my input. They resolved problems themselves without expecting me to do it. They resorted to relying on themselves instead of relying on me. Two people even got back at the end of the week and apologised for bothering me about something they could (and did) sort out themselves.

This strategy works for so many things as it pinpoints what “nothing bad” means to you. Supposing you decide to “do nothing” about your attitude to exercise or diet. Does it mean you feel more relaxed and stop beating yourself up, which actually motivates you (which in turn actually makes you do something you actually enjoy)? Or does it mean you’re letting in some things that you can’t define as “nothing bad” (ie. poor health and hopeless self-care)? You get to the answer pretty quickly. That’s helpful.

The wise and sensible strategy of Doing Nothing (copyright: Dalai Viv) has made me realise that there are things that I treat as urgent, important and stressful when I could just totally ignore them. As a result I now frequently ask myself the question: “What happens if I do nothing?” If the answer is “Nothing bad” then I proceed and do sod all. Result: no recent meltdowns at brand-name coffee outlets. This is better for me (and means I am more able to affect gravitational pull when I do decide to Do Something) and it is better for humanity. Let’s all Do Nothing more in 2018

@VivGroskop

This is part of our special new-year series called Small Change, Big Difference – small things you can do in 2018 (and not big unrealistic resolutions you can't keep). To read more in the series, click here

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Viv Groskop
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