A Scientific American article looking at the latest studies on doing nothing even went so far as to declare that “many important mental processes seem to require what we call downtime and other forms of rest during the day. Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life.”
But while the scientific consensus on the benefits of a healthful level of laziness is pretty clear, that doesn’t make switching off and kicking back any easier for tightly wound type-A professionals. How do you actually get yourself to take the sort of complete rest that will yield the maximum productivity benefit?
WNYC’s intriguingly named “Death, Sex, and Money” podcast found an unexpected source of inspiration for your necessary laziness recently—Ellen Burstyn (hat tip to New York magazine’s Science of Us blog for the pointer). In an interview with Anna Sale, the Academy Award-winning actress revealed her top trick for truly switching off. It’s called “should-less days,” and maybe you should steal it.
“I have what I call should-less days. Today is a day where there’s nothing I should do. So I only do what I want to do. And if it’s nap in the afternoon or watch TV and eat ice cream, I get to do it,” Burstyn explains. “Should-less days, I recommend them. Because what I figured out, is we have wiring, I have wiring in my brain that calls me lazy if I’m not doing something. God, you’re so lazy… And that wiring is there. I haven’t been able to get rid of it.”
Sound familiar? If you share that nagging sense that you always need to be accomplishing something, Burstyn says, should-less days just might be the cure. “What I can do is I can put in another wiring. I can put in should-less days. So when that voice goes off and says, You’re being lazy, I turn to the other wiring in my brain that says, No, this is a should-less day, and I’m doing what I want,” she says.
Maybe you can’t afford to dedicate a whole day to going “should-less,” but certainly even the busiest people can find at least an afternoon to dedicate to doing… whatever they want really. Not only does that sound immensely enjoyable, but also science assures us that the experience will do wonders for your thinking and productivity as well. So go ahead, go should-less.
What would a “should-less day” probably look like for you?
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