Americans are always on the go. Our mornings involve grabbing a large coffee and booking it to work, then spending the day doing our job until we head home. It’s no surprise that an increasing number of Americans are experiencing stress and burnout. Take a moment and ask yourself, what do I do to relax on a weekly basis?
In honor of National Relaxation Day on August 15th, we would like to introduce a new concept garnering a lot of attention for just how easy and simple it is. Niksen, which is defined as doing nothing, being idle or doing something without any use or intention is a Dutch concept that Americans are starting to dig. The hardest part you’ll find is wrapping your head around actually practicing the method because who doesn’t feel guilty about the idea of doing, well, nothing? But research shows that there is a direct correlation between relaxation, happiness, and productivity.
How Can You Practice Niksen?
Niksen translates in Dutch as “nothing-ing.” It is a practice in which you must be intentional about doing nothing. It is the opposite of mindfulness and being present in the moment. Ever get frustrated with meditation because your mind wanders? Give this viable alternative a try. In our society, the idea of being idle is frowned upon and often labeled as “lazy.” For starters, we must begin to re-adapt our association to this concept and the partnering language used to define it and realize there are significant cognitive and physical benefits of taking real moments to unplug. Accept the notion that it is okay to set aside your To-Do list for a few minutes and just let go. It’s about giving yourself permission to just be and letting your mind wander instead of focusing on the elements of a specific action. It’s important to move away from your devices and screens.
Here are some ways to “Niks.”
In each example let your mind wander, without observing your thoughts or trying to let them go; practice just being without the pressure of a focus, purpose or achieving a result.
- Get in a comfy spot and just relax, observing your surroundings
- Sit in a chair and gaze out of a window
- Listen to music
- Do semi-automatic activities that allow your mind to let go, such as knitting, running, etc.
This is a very subjective and individual approach to relaxation and everyone will have varying ways of unwinding that fit them best. The key is experimenting via trial and error different methods of tapping into that free space that speaks most effectively to you. Spend a few minutes each day to practice Niksen and work up to longer stretches of time as you get more comfortable with it, ideally committing to one evening a week without any obligations if you can. Like any new habit that is formed, it takes time to become routine but repetition is key.
The Powerful Benefits of Niksen
An increasing number of Americans are not happy and national surveys show it. A 2018 national report by the health insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield, revealed that diagnoses of clinical depression (also known as major depression) have spiked 33 percent in the last five years and is predicted to be the number one cause of death by 2030. Similarly, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 40 million American adults – about 18 percent of the population – have an anxiety disorder and almost 40 percent of Americans report that they feel more anxious than they did the previous year. To top it off, Americans are stressed out more than ever and according to a survey by the American Psychological Association, more than half of Americans (59 percent) said they consider this the lowest point in U.S. history that they can remember.
We have forgotten the art of just being and that is an intrinsic core need for us “human beings.” Niksen can help us remember who we really are just by slowing us down to listen.
The practice of incorporating Niksen into our lives initiates a new habitual pattern of behavior as it helps us to slow down. By taking a step back and allowing ourselves to literally “let go,” everything else takes a step back too, including anxiety and stress. Imagine reversing your human system with a refresh button. With reduced anxiety and lower stress levels, we can slow down the aging process and even strengthen the body’s immune response and ability to fight off the common cold. Even more mind-blowing is the fact that Niksen can ultimately boost people’s creativity and ability to come up with new ideas.
Imagine feeling stuck and suddenly discovering a breakthrough solution to a pending problem while you’re on a walk through your neighborhood or like magic, have a phenomenal business idea reveal itself while your mind is wandering on a run. The truth is, it’s not magic. It’s real. The fact of the matter is, we have become so accustomed to having our brains being in overdrive and are so afraid to trust that even when we are at ease, that they are still processing information. By allowing our brains to wander, we are actually freeing up energy that is normally reserved for contemplation and deciphering problems. That new open space can then allow us to redirect that energy, creating a more productive outlet, from a calmer and less judgemental headspace. Have you ever felt a fleeting moment of inspiration during a workout, listening to your favorite music or while out in a place that you felt at peace in? A relaxed mind can help a person discover inspiration and find the clarity necessary to achieve their goals, according to a 2013 survey published in Frontiers In Psychology.
Think of Niksen as belonging to a three-part mentality, inclusive to happiness and productivity since all three are directly related to one another and rely on one another for optimal benefit. One may think of the downsides of having a wandering mind: getting lost in a sea of contemplation and over-thinking things. It’s important to remember that like anything else that takes practice, we must begin to train our minds to reflect in a way that is imaginative and positive. A great introductory practice to Niksen could be writing a list of all the things you are grateful for or taking a walk in nature as a gentle way of easing into the concept of what acceptance and letting go feels like. Trust yourself to resonate and unwind, knowing your best work is yet to come.