Do you think that you’re being lazy when you’re not doing something? Or wasting time when you’re simply just being there?

Chances are when you think you’re being lazy you aren’t proud of it. That’s because our culture is addicted to an opposite reality — namely, being busy all the time. Yet maybe it’s not so great to be “always on.” Burnout, anxiety disorders and stress-related diseases are on the rise. The American Institute of Stress is keeping excellent stats on the situation.

Burnout is Everywhere

So is seemingly everyone else. “From moms to medical doctors, burnout is everywhere these days,” a Washington Post article screamed last spring. Gallup put a number to the trend; its recent study of 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% are burned out very often and 44% feel burned out sometimes. And the Harvard Business Review calculated the cost of burnout at $125 billion to $190 billion in healthcare spending yearly.

No wonder the World Health Organization recognized burnout for the first time as an official medical diagnosis last May. And no wonder we’re looking for a way to stop this madness.

Of course, we can exercise, eat well and be mindful about all sorts of things, but that still gives us something to do: thinking, planning and executing one activity or another.  Instead, the solution is clear. We need to do nothing.

Creativity Comes From a Mind at Rest

There’s nothing wrong with just sitting still and being aware of everything around you or inside you. If you allow yourself to be watchful of the trees, or the wind, or the people or your breath, you can make some brilliant discoveries. When our attention is at rest and flows during bouts of laziness, our minds can wander to fascinating places. Creative insights strike. Studies confirm this.

A benchmark study done in 2011 periodically sampled people’s thoughts while their minds were wandering. The results showed mind-wandering isn’t unproductive, but rather allows us to do three critical things: rest, plan and unearth ideas. It can also improve our performance and well-being, the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley noted in its magazine, and lead to creativity, better moods, greater productivity and more concrete goals.

The Lost Art of Doing Nothing

But being lazy—or more precisely, choosing to truly do nothing—is a lost art. It’s not surfing the web, checking email, listening to a TV or radio in the background or chatting on the phone. To let our minds wander, we must become less focused in a particular direction and let our mind’s intelligence subtly move in.

“While focusing makes us more productive, unfocusing makes us more creative,” says Chris Bailey, author of Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction. “Our most counterintuitive, insightful ideas come when we’re unfocused.”

Let’s Reframe Being Lazy

So it’s time to reframe being lazy. And do it more often. It may not look like you’re doing much when you’re just being there but, in fact, the opposite is true. Lightbulb moments of brilliance may come your way, or at least novel solutions to your current pressing issues. If you throw yourself into the mind’s meanderings a little bit every day, the possibilities for responding to your life broadens immensely.


(Originally published for AGEIST Magazine)



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