45 degrees off

Seeing the same thing from a different angle.

The Power in Doing Nothing

One thing I am not very good at is being restful. Restless? Oh, I was born a master of that art! I’ve always felt I need to be doing something. Time spent being restful is wasted. Eliminating the need to sleep would give me an extra chunk of hours to be doing things.  Time spent waiting is time that could be spent making progress. Whether it’s doing what I want to do or doing what I need to do, I want to be doing!

This isn’t working very well for me anymore. It probably never was, but the consequences of not taking time to be restful — to do nothing — just didn’t weigh enough for me to believe they were real in the past. I’ve come to a point in my life where my health issues aren’t going to let me keep pushing all the time. I can’t always do what I need to, and often can’t do what I want to. I have to learn to rest, recharge, and not have a fit if I can’t finish everything within a couple of hours of starting it. I must prioritize things by when they need to be completed, not when I want them to be completed. I even have to ask for help sometimes with getting things accomplished. (I’m even worse at admitting I need help than I am at admitting I need rest.)

It often feels like my power over my own life is being taken away from me. I expected my husband to understand why taking time off is so unacceptable to me. He’s a disabled Marine. He knows very well what it’s like for your own body to betray you, to give up and simply not allow you to do what your heart and mind are set on. To face that fact that, sometimes, no amount of “willing” can make you “able”.

Just because someone understands doesn’t mean they agree with you. He understands very well why this is difficult for me. He’s also told me it’s just something I’m going to have to learn to accept. (He’s in league with the doctors, you know. They always gang up on the stubborn patients.) He’s right, of course. The only thing that can come from me fighting my own body is more pain and illness. Success in life is not always about mastering doing what other people do the way other people do it. Success can be a matter of finding your own way to do those same necessary things. Not all obstacles can be overcome by leaping over them or destroying them. Learning to work around the obstacle when it cannot be removed also leads to success.

As I’m learning to accept this, I’m also finding that there is a certain power in doing nothing now and then. If you’re always working, when do you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor? This can lead to addictive behaviors in some people. The brain’s system of releasing chemicals that gives us a satisfying “rewarded” feeling  can get it’s wiring switched around so that the person never feels satisfied with their reward and continues chasing after it. You may immediately think of gambling addicts, but can also result in a person becoming addicted to work. This isn’t about a person who sets their goals high and doesn’t settle for less, nor is it about someone who enjoys their reward and then decides they can do even better next time. I’m talking about people who never feel the reward is a reward and will work themselves to death chasing after something that won’t make them happy even if they find it.

Take time to enjoy what you’ve achieved before pushing for more.

How many times do you read only short news articles even when they are addressing complex issues? How often do you not so much listen to another person as simply wait for the sound of their voice to stop? How often do you fail to observe what’s going on around you because it doesn’t fit into your plans for the day?

How often do you put down your electronic gadgets while in a public place and simply watch people? How often do you sit and think about the information you’ve taken in after reading or watching something, or listening to another person? How often do you say to yourself, “I’ll wait at least a day before I make a decision on this”?

Personal growth requires time to rest and reflect on things. Step back and see where you’ve been, where you are, and how you got there before deciding where to go next.

Walk away from the writing for a while, let the words fade a bit in your mind, before editing.

Step back and see where all the plants are before putting the next one in the soil.

Put the pen down and look at the whole picture before adding another detail.

Do nothing now and then so that you’re doing your best when you do something.


Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

— Max Ehrmann


2 responses to “The Power in Doing Nothing

  1. Mary E. March 19, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    You should read The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. I think I’ve got a Kindle edition if you want to borrow it. In it he talks about how using the Internet as must as some people do is actually decreasing our attention spans.

    • K. Martinez March 20, 2012 at 11:58 am

      That one is still on my “To Read” list once I get through some of the Kindle books I’ve piled up. (I think it’s safe to say I’ve accepted, if not completely adjusted to, the Kindle.) I can easily see how too much fast-paced Internet could rewire a person’s mental programming, and I think it’s good to have at least one hobby that takes me away from the computer and other gadgets.

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