Recently, one of my young clients, who I was working with for a substance addiction, said something absolutely brilliant that really stuck with me.
We were digging into why they felt they had persisted with the addiction for so many years, and they said, after a period of deep thought “I know it’s pointless, I don’t even enjoy it really… it just turns ‘doing nothing’ into ‘doing something’”.
It immediately struck me that this simple statement and how it was delivered was really quite powerful.
People in general these days, and especially young people, just can’t ‘do nothing’…they can’t be at peace with themselves, they can’t just sit with their own thoughts and feelings and be content. They HAVE to be doing something.
Whether it is scrolling on a phone, lighting a cigarette, calling someone or chewing gum, people just aren’t comfortable doing nothing anymore in this modern world so rich with sensory stimulation from every angle, and this absolutely makes us more susceptible to addictive behaviour.
Silence is golden…
There was a study I came across many years ago on mice and their receptiveness to various sounds. They played various noises to the mice to monitor their brain responses; baby mice squeaking, predator noises, adult mouse squeaks of both sexes etc.
When analysing the results, they became focused on a very active and recurring brain response, far more active than at other times. They thought that whatever sound was causing this must be hugely significant… but when they cross referenced it back to the inputs, they found that these periods of high brain activity were in between the sounds, they were when the mice were faced with nothing but silence.
This encouraged scientists to increase the study of meditation and mindfulness practices. More and more research over the years (into humans now) has shown that mindfulness, meditation and other practices that quieten the mind such as yoga or Tai Chi have a host of mental (and physical) health benefits.
Regular meditators are more creative, calmer, more active physically, more motivated, happier, more focused and more likely to sleep well.
Meditation also improves blood pressure, reduces blood cortisol levels, reduces symptoms of anxiety such as panic attacks and reduces heart disease risk. There are many other benefits we don’t have time to go into right now, but surely these alone are enough.
It is okay to do nothing…
The key message to take from this, is that in the melee of our regular, busy lives, we have forgotten that it is okay to do nothing. One of the reasons the Coronavirus lockdowns this year have been so hard for so many people, is because they have forced us to do less, and that, ironically has been stressful.
Teaching our children to sit and think about their homework, or anything they want to do such as a craft project, rather then just telling them what to do, will boost their creativity and confidence and show them that they have more capability than they thought.
Encouraging young people to put their devices away for a couple of hours each night and just talk more will help them to connect with themselves, and their families and get comfortable not being constantly stimulated.
Anyone I work with for addiction or trauma, or anything really, is encouraged to meditate and practice mindfulness, as it helps them to build agency over their actions and master their impulses.
All adults too need to get comfortable with not being ‘busy’ all the time. Taking time out of each day to just sit and think, reflect, be grateful, meditate or truly connect with someone by talking presently to them, will have untold benefits in the long term.
Remember, we do not always need to turn nothing into something.