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When doing "nothin'" is good for your health

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

"Thank God it's Friday!" At the risk of sounding a bit like the character Cliff Clavin from the television show Cheers, I looked up the origins of the expression TGIF. This colloquialism is listed in various dictionaries of American slang, some of which cite its origins back to 1941. Despite the vintage status of this phrase, Friday still holds reverence in the hearts of American culture and much of the world. Where am I going with this? If you like Fridays, ask yourself "why?" The expression TGIF is tied to a traditional Monday to Friday workweek, when many employees "punch out" from a payroll-based time clock, physically or virtually. The end of the week signals not just a pause, but a hard stop. Even in today's workplace of 24/7 mobile connectivity, there remains unspoken permission to ignore emails from coworkers because Friday marks the start of the the best part of the week - the hallowed weekend. Friday is the day many of us take a deep breath and say, "Thank goodness it's over!"

I want to acknowledge that while the days of a traditional workplace in a brick and mortar office building are slipping away, we can't forget the vital employees who serve us daily away from their homes on the front lines of emergency services, utilities, hospitals, grocery stores, distribution centers, and the drivers who transport our goods and work product, While this is an incomplete list of employees who still work a set schedule dictated by shifts and regular time off, many of us have watched the lines blur between work and home life, such that kitchen tables now function as multipurpose workspaces and school desks. With a background in Human Resources, in the 1990's and 2000's we talked endlessly about the importance of fostering "work-life" balance for our people. Who could have imagined that a global pandemic would violently swing the pendulum toward a "home" office in more ways than one?

Today's blog title about doing nothing seems laughable. Who has time to do nothing? Do working parents juggling deadlines and the rigor of managing their children's educational needs and extra curricular activities have time to do ANYTHING, let alone nothing? Is it ridiculous to put forth the idea of intentionally doing nothing? When I was a single working parent, I would have answered this question by tossing my purse down, throwing my hands up and screaming, "YES!"

The pressures of modern life, compounded by the ferocity of social media lambast us with headlines to exercise more, exercise better, eat less, eat better, drink more water, but if you think eight glasses is enough...ha ha, drink more! We have calorie tracker apps on our phones, watches that have replaced the manual pedometers of the past, no longer just counting our steps, but tracking how well we sleep (or don't sleep). We're told to pursue "wellness," to take our medication compliantly yet live naturally, and to never miss our preventive health screenings. We subscribe to companies that deliver us everything from a monthly box of pet supplies to freshly prepped meals, shaving supplies, and environmentally friendly dish soap. Hats off to the younger generation who can juggle all of these mixed messages and infinite choices with ease, but for me, it's back to the basics.

What is the simplest thing you can do right now? You could stop reading this blog post and just sit. Can you do it? Can you put your smart phone away and find an old egg timer (ask a grandparent what this is), and try to just sit and do nothin' for three minutes? Sound easy? Try it. I'll wait.

I think porch sitters have it figured out. "Porch sitting" is a real term from a real era, and "thank God it's back." While a front porch the length of your house is nice, and a wrap around porch gives the kids a built in track even on rainy days, WE DON'T NEED A PORCH TO GET PERMISSION TO SIT. All we need is a space big enough to plop down. Where might you do this? Your front porch, patio, "stoop", steps or your grass? Leave the phone and technology in the house, and it becomes easier to look up from our laps and look out. It's amazing how quickly we remember once again to breathe, to feel our legs settle into the surface beneath us, to become present. There is clear evidence that doing absolutely nothing can boost creativity, allow your brain to down=cycle and recover, reduce stress, and enhance productivity when you later reengage.

So let's take a lesson from the porch sitters of the past! We've all spent too much time indoors, right? Give yourself permission to "punch out" of your work time clock and reconnect with yourself, your family, your neighbors. It doesn't have to be Friday. Take a break whenever you need it. You'll be glad you did absolutely nothing.

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