Can you do nothing?

This question about understanding yourself, comes from a 2014 study conducted by researchers from the University of Virginia and Harvard, showing that for many people, doing something is better than doing nothing.

Martina Sheehan and Susan Pearse, authors of Do Less. Be More describe the results of the study in their MindGardener blog:

Subjects were asked to spend just fifteen minutes alone with no distractions: no devices, no music, no paper or pen, no pictures on the wall, and no windows to look out. A bare and empty room except for one button. Touching this button would deliver a light electric shock, which they had all previously experienced and reported as ‘unpleasant’. Can you guess what happened? An extraordinary two-thirds of men and a quarter of women chose to give themselves electric shocks rather than sit without distraction. One high achiever shocked himself 190 times in just fifteen minutes!

How good are you at doing nothing? Test yourself - in a situation when you might otherwise squeeze in just one more task, instead put it all aside and literally sit or stand doing nothing. You only need to try it for a few moments - does it feel uncomfortable? Do you feel like you're wasting time? Do you feel the pressure to pick something up or move around?

Discomfort like this is not a sign that you are doing something wrong. It is a sign that allowing yourself moments to ‘do nothing’ is not a regular habit for you. If you rarely give yourself the space to rest, recover and reflect, you are missing out on a valuable source of inspiration, insight and ideas that comes from a brain set loose from daily tasks. Try embracing moments of stillness, silence and solitude. It’s good to be able to sit still and breathe for at least 10 minutes.

If you would like to read more about why the ability to do nothing is so important, check out Why Doing Nothing Matters, again by Martina Sheehan and Susan Pearse.


Information that appears on the TCB Wellness website is general information only and is not intended to be medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or instruction. The TC Beirne School of Law encourages students who have health-related concerns or questions to seek professional healthcare assistance, either from the student services provided at UQ or from their general practitioner.

Last updated:
20 April 2018