Doing Nothing – Does It Make You Feel Uncomfortable?

Doing Nothing – Does It Make You Feel Uncomfortable?


Doing nothing or having fun – Do you ever feel bad about it?

Do you feel guilty if you think about doing nothing? Do you worry about being thought of as selfish, or think you are lazy.  You aren’t alone.

Self-Care & Judgment

Do you feel guilty about taking time out? Doing ‘nothing’?

Do the words ‘selfish’ and ‘lazy’ rear its head, in your mind, when you think about doing it, or are doing it?   Do you even do ‘nothing’ that often?

What about going out? What happens if you think about doing more fun things?  For no other reason than, just because? Frequently.

If guilt or discomfort comes up, then you aren’t alone.

Self-Care Memes & Analogies

We often see posts about ‘self-care’.

We hear phrases about running on empty or recharging our batteries.

Memes about, putting on our own oxygen mask before someone else’s, pouring from an empty cup.

It makes sense. Using an analogy to give an explanation, to make it easier for us to step outside of ourselves, to see it differently through the comparison, and then create a change.

The risk, however, is that some of them can feed back into the cycle of guilt, that makes them necessary in the first place.

Car Analogy

We can readily relate to the car comparison.

If your car runs out of petrol it can’t go any further. If you don’t get it serviced, or replace items as they reach their shelf life, or through wear and tear, more things are likely to go wrong. Sometimes, things break anyway. In many ways a bit like us.

We both have types of gauges to tell us when we are approaching empty, but we tend to ignore ours more often than our cars.

Many of us don’t truly believe we have an empty.  Why? Unlike a car, we can run on fumes for a very long time. In fact we can get so used to running on fumes, as the norm, that we don’t remember what it was like to be different. We think it is okay because we have managed to keep going in the past. We may even associate being tired and being low on energy incorrectly.

We ignore our bodies and our minds, in a way we would not ignore our car. Whether a service due date, an odd noise, a repair.  We also tend to judge ourselves, and others, if we break down. Often, we can’t even believe it has happened to us.  After all, we managed in the past (perhaps even through ‘worse’ times) just fine.

Mobile Phone Analogy

We can also see the similarity between us and batteries in phones. Some phones, as the battery runs down, start to slow down, throwing up warning notices, with certain functions or apps starting to stop working or are shut down. We may also need to do a full reboot to remove glitches.

Unlike some phone batteries, we don’t need to regularly run down fully to recharge and it isn’t recommended.

We also tend to pay more attention to our  phones. We ensure they are fully charged before we leave the house, or keep it topped up, just in case. We plan ahead as to when we might get caught out. Car chargers, portable battery chargers, plugging it in overnight or whilst getting dressed. We may even delay leaving the house, to top up our phone battery.

A useful reminder to help us think twice about how we are looking after ourselves.

But why do we need these constant reminders?

There are many reasons why the modern world lends itself to us trying to do more, in less time, and more often. Technology, and the speed it offers, has one part to play amongst many others. The use of psychology in advertising, marketing, the many ways to create comparison and demand.  Alongside the ‘busy’ status badge, and more.

It comes from different places.

History. Society, and our families, shape the ‘rules’ we take on board.

Be it around types of role, or what a ‘leader’ should like.  Or arising from how we used to have to work due to technology availability and daylight. Whether going back centuries ago, or through to more recent times.  Where the ranking of ‘importance’ of tasks has emerges from, and what is classified, and counts, as ‘work’. Alongside behavioural expectations, in relation to gender, and gender responsibility.

Whilst unpicking the ‘why’ more widely, helps to create greater understanding of where the guilt comes from, so to release it. Even when we know the ‘why’, it can sometimes still be difficult.

Whilst the analogies can be useful, they also highlight that people are needing a justification, an ‘excuse’, or external ‘permission’ to stop over-giving to others or to not be ‘busy’ doing something, anything, that is not fun. It has become ingrained as somehow unacceptable to stop. And if we are stopping, then we might think that we can only do so if we allocate that time to structured relaxation, such as breathing, meditation, yoga perhaps.

Empty Cup/Oxygen Mask Analogy Dangers

Do these memes and analogies also perpetuate the story?

Pouring from an empty cup – perhaps the questions is, why are we pouring from our cup at all? Perhaps a better analogy is a permanently refilling teapot, that pours into all our cups. And our cups are for us. Yes, we might let others take a sip, enjoy it a little, even perhaps share from time to time. We set an example for how others can lift and drink from their own cups, and focus on our own, not looking to take from others, or allow others to take from theirs.

What about putting on our own oxygen mask on first? This makes perfect sense for emergencies. Yet, we often carry this analogy into everyday life, and for far too many people in our world.  We keep extending our feeling of responsibility, even when we know others should step up and accept their own, and we expand our guilt along with it.  It isn’t a survival situation (or similar) most of the time.

We put ourselves last, we let others behave in ways we would not accept of ourselves, we keep doing more for others, running around for others, and taking the responsibility of their actions, as our responsibility (or ‘fault’) because that is what ‘good’ people do, self sacrificing. Without expectation that others do the same, and perhaps even when people try to give, we do not accept it.

We therefore wait, until we cannot do anymore. We become exhausted.  We need to get to a point where we feel we can justify our right to rest.

We set parameters that are acceptable to us. Choosing non-chore or work related activities which are permitted as ‘time-out’. How long is it okay to do that activity before it becomes selfish? Or how often, before guilt kicks in?  We often set the bar pretty low. Fifteen minutes to have a coffee, read a chapter, eat a sandwich away from a screen, the occasional bath, maybe a little exercise, perhaps seeing some friends from time to time, but nothing too wild or fancy.

Even when doing these basic things, the chances are, we still feel guilty. We still start to feel lazy, selfish, guilty, ‘bad’. We over do it before or afterwards to make up for it. Jumping up to start doing errands if we feel we have sat for too long. As for ‘doing nothing’ we are never doing anything, we are simply dismissing the activity as being as important as food shopping, online buying, making lists, driving around, running chores, etc.

Even when we do something to rest.  It’s just enough to stay over a certain level, a little top-up.  Or we cycle through full charge to depletion, over and over again.

The impact of the language used around relaxation

We’ve grown up with these expectations of filling our lives with chores, and doing, and actions. We’ve grown up with those about rules of what ‘good’ girls, or boys, do. We’ve grown up feeling we might be, or we have been, judged for wanting to do less or living our lives using our time for something different.

Think about the language used.

‘Luxurious relaxation’, because relaxing is a luxury (and yes it used to be, and still is for much of the world. This is focusing on those of us, who are fortunate enough to have greater freedom around our time).

‘Treat yourself’ to some time with your friends, a coffee at home, a bath.

‘Time out’ – time out from what?  What is it that we are filling so much of our time with.

‘Doing nothing’. Even when we are sleeping we are doing. We rarely do nothing. What do you count as doing nothing? Is it watching tv? How long before guilt and judgment kick in and you jump up to do some errands?  More importantly, what do you judge as doing something? We rarely look at what we think truly counts as something, to override the doing nothing.

There is often such a strong association of us ‘doing’  that it can make us feel it is connected to our worth. And therein, lies part of the danger. It is never done, it is never complete, it is never enough, we never feel that we have truly finished. We are always chasing, and if we associate our worth to that, we will never feel ‘good enough’ because when will we have given enough? We need a new standard, a new acceptance, a change, as to where we set our boundaries and lines.

Breaking the cycle

There are certain needs and tasks in life that have to be completed so to give us food, shelter, water, health care, income, and meet certain responsibilities for others, including those that cannot do certain things for themselves. There are some societal norms and workplace expectations, that are again both reasonable, and need to be met.

At the same time, we tend to add more and more ‘shoulds’ to that list. We buy into extra rules and expectations, from the past, or as they come up. We accept it as the norm. Others do the same.

The cycle is self perpetuating. We copy others, despite us thinking we want something different. Others copy us, despite thinking they want to do something differently too.

Occasionally, we may get a moment of clarity, or something happens and we are motivated or we are reminded that life is short.  Sometimes, we do something about it, we taste the freedom. Then we get scared and hunker back down, or get sucked back into what we were doing before. Especially, if we don’t have others who are similar around us.

We go back and we over give, ignore our needs, and ignore the fun things in life.  We keep going.

Be the change you want to see in the world

Perhaps you have heard this saying before.

Be the change you want to see in the world. You can be the one to break the cycle. To be the voice that shares what others are thinking. It doesn’t need to be massive action, in fact, if we can try to do too much at once or expect an immediate change, we set ourselves up to potentially consider that we have then ‘failed’. We may, for example, need to look beyond our diaries of right now, and look at how we can make changes to our time in the future. Whether that is a few weeks or a few months down the line. Making incremental and subtle changes, as we go, that make a bigger difference over time.

What about the guilt?

We aren’t going to abandon others. We aren’t selfish. When did living life only for others become the rule?

We worry so much that we will become this awful person, even though we probably never thought it through.

What tends to happen, when we think about doing more for us, or saying no, is after perhaps some initial excitement, the guilt or shame kicks in. It is an emotional reaction. It sometimes fogs the brain, or feels too painful, or confusing, to explore it further. We therefore don’t want to delve too deeply, in case we really are that ‘bad’ person and go back to doing.

However, when we stop to unpick it, and look at it more fully, and sit with those uncomfortable emotions, it becomes easier to understand what is happening.

We’ve been brought up think that we are bad person for wanting these things. To think or ourselves as selfish or lazy is too unpleasant. To be called it by something else, is to be poked into an open wound, and cuts deep. Closing that wound takes place over time. We also learn that different activities or people will trigger us differently.  We need to do the inner work, to make a difference here.

We also need to remember, that those that might judge us ‘selfish’ or ‘lazy’, are doing so for their own reasons.

It could be about the impact on them if you are making a change. Their time and activities, and reliance on us, are now being adjusted, to create a different balance, mix, of indeed tip the scales the other way for a while.  This can make them feel unsettled, or unsure of where they stand, in the relationship with this new change (and yes, we might need to think about how to manage the transition for ourselves and others).

It is also often about their own fears, and judgments. They, like us, worry that if they let themselves go down that path, it may go too far. That they are a bad person for even wanting it. They then project that onto you.

Or they may be envious, perhaps resentful, that they didn’t do it sooner, or aren’t willing to take the risks of doing it now. Again, offloading that on you.

Either way, they can choose to do the inner work. As can we

Our inner work

To create a change it helps to dig into the facts.

We may know at one level that we want to ditch the stories. That we want to be okay with it. Logically, we may even know that what we are talking about is neither selfish or lazy. But the feelings are still there, and there is little point in ignoring them to make the change we want.

With new awareness, we can start to unpick the activities that perhaps fall into particular categories.

What specific tasks create more guilt than others? Does it change with how often, how long, the time of day, the impact it has on others? Start to notice what this emotion looks like in real life, notice when it comes up, how you feel it, where you feel it, who triggers it the most, when does it fog our mind and keeps us from wanting to explore what feels unsafe.

Where have these rules come from?

What about external criticism? How real is that? Who does it come from (and in due course what do we want to do about that). Have we ignored when people have supported and encouraged us to the opposite and enjoy our lives more?

You may also start to notice which activities have a stronger link to our ‘worth’.

It could also be that keeping busy, gives us other benefits. It means we can avoid stopping and feeling, we don’t have to pay attention to what is going on, or perhaps it allows us use it as an excuse to not go after our dreams.

As you start to notice, you can begin to make new choices and decisions. Some will be actions. Others will be letting go, or new responses. At times feeling freeing, exhilarating, like a weight off your shoulders, or a reflection as you look back at your new norm.

Tweaking as you go, enjoy the learning, enjoy the journey, and seek others who are on that path as well.

Day to day, year to year, or month to month… what space will it include for you?



About Simona Hamblet

Simona is a specialist coach & hypnotherapist, working with lawyers for the past six years helping them to create the firms & lives that they want. Simona also has over 20 years of experience as an employment solicitor & partner in a dual-office law firm (focusing on staff development & business growth).

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