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How Doing “Nothing” Can Help You Do “Everything”

I’m too busy to play!

I can’t take a break, I have things to do!

I’ll sleep when I’m dead!

How often do you think or say these statements as you try to keep up with your life and work?

This type of behaving and thinking is generally accepted in our culture. They might even seem benign to you. However, evidence suggests otherwise.

In fact, studies are constantly showing us that we are making ourselves ill with the way we structure our lives. Incorporating breaks, sleep, and time in your day where you are doing “nothing”, may in fact give you the ability to get “everything” done with more accuracy, engagement and fulfillment.

You may be thinking all of this sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s not. I am constantly reminding my clients the importance of 3 simple, yet very effective, brain-friendly tools to help them do better, by thinking better — play, mindful breaths, and sleep.

Just Play

man playing with beach ball in the waves

When was the last time you monkeyed around? If you are like most adults, your brain could use some unstructured freedom.

Learning to incorporate playtime in your schedule is perhaps one of the most overlooked performance hacks. When we allow the brain to be freed from a template of behavior we introduce spontaneity, novelty and unpredictability, and perhaps most importantly, an altered state of being.

These states have been shown to increase imagination, creativity, engagement, and fulfillment, and has a carry-over effect from playtime to work time. Playtime is not a child-only activity. Regardless of your professional role, I challenge you to incorporate play, frequently. Go ahead Ninja, play like nobody’s watching!

Ask yourself: What are three activities that you can incorporate into your schedule that inspire play? Need examples? How about trampolining, dancing with the lights turned off, playing with modeling clay blindfolded… let your imagination run wild.

Give Your Brain a Break

woman contemplating with hands on her head

Do you feel your brain is overworked?

How does your body signal to you that you are overextended – headache, neck stiffness, back pain, stomach pain?

Typically, people try to push past these feelings and “just get a little more work done.” But these feelings are warning you. The last thing your brain and your body need at that moment is to keep working.

A more productive use of your time would be to take a break.


Take a breath.

Allow yourself to mindfully reset. Start regulating your mind and body through mindfulness meditation.

Often you will only need 5 – 10 minutes to start feeling rejuvenated. If you want to make your recovery session more impactful try any of these 3 tools: Headspace, HeartMath, or Calm.

Studies have shown that incorporating a daily practice of meditation can help your brain become less reactive and more resilient to stress. So next time you feel like your brain is on fire, put out the flames with a couple minutes of mindfulness.

Try it now: Practice your breathing. When can you incorporate these practices into your day?

Sleep Your Way to the Top

Person sleeping on their stomach with feet off the end of the bed

Are you getting 7-8 hours of consistent sleep every night? If not, you are not alone, According to the National Sleep Foundation, 50-70 million people in the US currently report having sleep disorders.

Unfortunately, many of us wear this as some sort of badge of accomplishment. However, there are serious long term consequences to sleep deprivation.

It is estimated that after 1 week of sleeping only 4 – 5 hours per night cognitive performance decreases are equivalent to having a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 – 0.1% ( blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher is illegal). Sleep deprivation can be more harmful to cognitive performance than being drunk!

Furthermore, it is more than just the amount of sleep you are getting. Even if you are getting 7-8 hours of sleep, the quality of sleep you are getting may not be optimal for recovery. We need to be getting deep sleep!

I like using the Sleep Cycle App to monitor my sleep quality. Also, I like using bluelight blocking glasses a couple hours before bed. Many studies have shown the light emitted from electronics (known as bluelight) can disrupt melatonin production, a hormone that regulates sleep cycle.

You might want to try blackout curtains, an eye mask, limiting screen time before bed, or aromatherapy to help improve your sleep quality, and fall asleep easier.

Create a sleep/ wind-down routine to help optimize your rest. So get to bed, everything you do depends on it.

Ask yourself: What are three things I can do to improve my sleep?

Go on! I encourage you to learn to do “nothing” well, so you can do better by thinking better.

Dr. Yashar Khosroshahi, ND, ACC is the Chair of the Medical Advisory Board (MAB) for Relyf and co-founder of MINDSHIFT NINJA, a Leadership Development company.

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