Niksen: The Dutch Concept of Doing Nothing
We live in a time where information, entertainment, distractions, etc. are constantly at our fingertips. No matter where we are or what we are doing, we can pick up our phones and do something. That something might be productive, like responding to emails. Or it might be less important like scrolling through social media. Rarely do we take the time to put our phones down and look at the world around us.
There is emerging research that suggests that by taking time to simply do nothing we can actually be more productive overall. Our brains need breaks from constant stimulation and this idea of not doing anything can help our brains reset. The Dutch have a word for this concept: niksen. It is defined as, “to be idle or doing something without any use.”
The concept of niksen is not to be confused with mindfulness. Mindfulness is the idea of being fully present in the moment. If you are out walking your dog, mindfulness is the simple act of paying attention to what is happening around you while you are walking. This means that you are not thinking about your to-do list, or also scrolling through instagram. For more on mindfulness check out this blog post: https://charmaustin.com/practicing-mindfulness-discover-the-effects-on-your-well-being/
How To Do Nothing
Niksen is less like mindfulness and more like mindlessness. To practice niksen, you must commit to doing nothing, for the sake of doing nothing. The way you choose to do nothing is not important. In Caroline Janssen’s book on niksen she writes, “slow down and celebrate the moment of not achieving.”
Here are some examples of how to practice niksen:
- Sit and listen to music. Make sure your phone is not near you. Simply sit comfortably and listen. Welcome whatever thoughts come your way and notice them.
- Go on a walk without a phone or a plan. Just walk as aimlessly as possible, not being concerned with where you are going, how fast, etc.
- Resist the urge to look at your phone when you are in public alone. Waiting for your coffee to be ready? Sit back and watch the coffee shop hustle and bustle. Sitting on a bus? Look out the window.
- If the practice feels challenging at first, start by performing a task that keeps your hands busy but is mindless enough that your mind can wander. This might include activities like knitting, or coloring.
Remember that there is no right way to practice niksen; as long as you are being idle, dare I say lazy, then you are doing it correctly.
How Niksen Can Improve Happiness and Productivity
The Netherlands is consistently ranked as one of the world’s happiest countries. This is due to a combination of factors including a shorter than average work day, universal healthcare, and lifestyle habits that emphasize downtime. The idea of doing nothing is built into the Dutch way of living. They understand the importance of taking time to simply be. They also understand that it is impossible to be productive all the time and that that should not be your goal.
One study showed that people who were experiencing work burnout and stress felt happier and less stressed after incorporating niksen into their daily routine. Another study showed that taking mental breaks to be unproductive actually helped boost people’s creativity. By giving their minds time to wander and unwind, they were able to later come up with creative and useful solutions to problems.
The idea of doing nothing, for the sake of doing nothing is not one that our capitalist society supports. We are constantly bombarded with signals and messages that everything we do needs to have a purpose. Enjoy painting? You have to make it your side hustle and sell your work for it to be worth your time.
Niksen is directly counter to that idea. You are choosing to do something because you simply like doing it, not because you are trying to get something out of it. Research has shown that by taking time out of your day to do something mindless you are giving your brain a well-deserved break. Yes, this takes time away from other tasks but it will help you be more productive later.
Limitations of Niksen
Evidently there are certain limitations to this practice. We can’t do nothing all the time and think that is going to help us be more productive, or creative. It is important to establish a good balance between work and rest. Too much work can lead to burnout and stress whereas too much rest can lead to laziness. Start by practicing niksen for just 10 minutes, several days a week. Over time you might start to discover activities that you enjoy as part of niksen such as walking or crocheting; at this point you can practice these for however long feels fulfilling. If you find yourself having difficulty with adopting this new habit check out this blog post: https://charmaustin.com/new-healthy-habits-4-ways-to-build-them/
Another potential drawback to practicing niksen is rumination. If you find yourself stuck in a thought loop about problems or issues then you might have gone a bit overboard. Again, the best way to start is to dedicate time to a specific task while letting your mind wander. Practicing niksen this way will make it less likely that your mind will get stuck in a negative cycle. Niksen should feel restorative, if you feel more exhausted or agitated after practicing it then you might need to reconsider how you are choosing to do nothing.