Doing Nothing Is an Art, and This Dutch Concept Is Proof

November 13, 2020

Niksen - the art of doing nothing

by Marina Ljubisavljevic

Fact: Even in the midst of the slow-going pace that has been lockdown, it’s still far too easy to get overwhelmed by the daily grind. From the time we wake up and log onto our devices, up until we settle in for the night, our minds are constantly running as we fire off emails and scroll through our news feeds. If only there were a way to help with the constant rush, right?

We’d like to introduce you to our new favorite mindfulness practice (so far, anyway) — Niksen, or the art of doing absolutely nothing. Originating in the Netherlands, the Dutch concept has been embraced as a way to take a break from our stressful schedules, rewire from the constant pressure, and shift the narrative of having to be productive all the time. Here, we break down exactly what Niksen means, how to practice it, and the wonderful benefits of simply doing nothing.

Why, it’s exactly what it sounds like. The literal translation of Niksen is to do nothing, be idle, or to do something without any use. It’s a wellness practice with intentional purposeless-ness, which ends up helping to boost productivity, decrease anxiety, and get your creative juices flowing in the long run. Think back to that rainy Saturday morning when you couldn’t be bothered to be productive, and ended up staring out of your window daydreaming — it’s a lot like that.

Start by engaging in an activity that requires zero effort, and almost no movement. No, we’re not talking about an afternoon nap, but rather watching the world outside your window, looking at fish in an aquarium, or even just watching your dog take a nap. No scrolling through social media, no listening to music, no reading, and no TV. Leave the phone in your pocket, and allow yourself to be present while your mind wanders. If your schedule allows it, take 30 minutes each day to spend time with yourself and your imagination.

Though it may sound like an easy task on the most surface level, actually doing nothing can be harder than you think if you’re the type who is constantly on-the-go. When we’re constantly preoccupied, we may lose the ability to sit still because our brains are used to being in go mode. In order to really master the art of doing nothing, you need to really lean into the idea of completely indulging in leisure. In other words, tap into vacation mode. “Let the mind seek its own stimulation,” says psychologist Dr. Sandi Mann, who researched whether or not being bored makes us more creative. "That's when the process of daydreaming and wandering of the mind begins, and that's what will give you an injection of creativity." According to Dr. Mann, the act of daydreaming helps make us more creative, improves our ability to solve problems, and makes it easier for our brains to generate new ideas. Ever wonder why you get the best ideas when you’re in the shower? You’re not alone — some of the most interesting thoughts and meaningful songs actually originated in the shower. Because the activity is physically active to only a mild degree, it allows you to become less aware of your environment and more aware of your internal thoughts.

Well, to start, you’re not doom-scrolling through Instagram to avoid your to-do list — you’re consciously allowing yourself to do nothing without any distractions from external factors. While mindfulness is about being in the moment, Niksen is simply about being, minus the need to have to focus on a particular intention. Contrary to what our parents may claim, doing nothing (and doing it well) is a skill, and the essence of the whole process is to recognize and accept that even moments that are not filled with a measurable outcome have value and significance. Simply put, the goal is to get rid of obsessive social norms of achieving goals and toxic productivity.

Sure, our internalized hyper-productive mindsets may trigger a pang of guilt when we engage in the Niksen practice, but think of it this way: When you don’t take time to slow down, you run the risk of burning out or increasing your anxiety levels. Stress manifests itself in our bodies in the weirdest ways, from making it harder to fight off a cold, to impacting the appearance of our skin. When Niksen was practiced at a coaching center in the Netherlands among a group of people experiencing a lot of work stress, they reported increased feelings of happiness and decreased feelings of stress when they took part in the art of doing nothing. Of course, moderation is key, but considering that Dutch people were ranked the fifth happiest in the world, we figure they’re definitely on to something with this concept.