January 12, 2024
The Art of Doing Nothing  
Share

Dr. Alan Watkins
4 minutes

Sounds tempting right? How nice to have some downtime, even a few minutes to get away from the to-do list and the people who have demands on our time. In this blog, we talk about how to stop doing and start being.

In our world today, people are paid for what they do. So, it’s not surprising that we get obsessed by that. There is a view that the perfect recipe for success is to do things to earn money and be successful. The order of life is do (something), have (money), be (successful). I keep pointing out to people that the recipe should be reversed.

In fact, it’s not just me saying this. Spiritual leaders say the same. If you focus on who you are as a human being, and get that right, then you tend to have what you need, and it leaves you doing the right thing. The correct order is actually be, do, have.

When we ask people who they think is the most inspirational leader alive or dead in the last hundred years, they almost always say Nelson Mandela.

If you study Mandela’s life, for 26 years he was locked up, he couldn’t do anything. There was no doing. He was in a cell. Instead, he focused on his being. He studied himself as a human being because there was nothing else to do. When he was released, he had a huge impact on South Africa, on Africa, and even the world.

We need to move away from our obsession with tasks, targets, goals, metrics, and outcomes. Those things are important, of course, but if we want to game change our ability to do well at work, we need to game change who we are.

We’re too focused on the doing and we ignore the very thing that would transform everything. The answer we seek is actually within us. That’s where the transformation starts.

This is not a selfish act. The more you understand who you are, the more open you are to understanding other people. And that makes for better relationships.

We see this when we develop people in emotional literacy and emotional intelligence. The bigger our own repertoire of emotions, the more able we are to understand somebody else’s emotions.

Imagine that you only understand two emotions – OK and not bad. Then somebody comes into your office in a state of despair. If you’ve only two emotions – OK and not bad – you’re not going to be able to recognise how they’re feeling because you’ve never felt despair.

Now imagine that you can expand your repertoire from those two emotions to 50 emotions, one of which becomes despair. Now, when somebody comes into your office in a state of despair, you instantly know where they are because you recognise that emotion.

The more you understand yourself, the better able you are to understand others. That’s the way we build better relationships – at work and in life.

The art of doing nothing is not about putting our feet up and watching the latest box set, it’s about cultivating our being. It requires focus and work, and it requires us to be curious about ourselves. It’s time to stop doing and start being! 

Author //

A physician and neuroscientist, Dr. Alan Watkins is recognised as an international expert on leadership and human performance.
Over the years he has coached thousands of individuals to greater levels of performance, transformed organisational cultures and helped leaders discover new ways to succeed. Alan has become a confidant to many of the world’s top leaders over the past 22 years.
Read bio