Niksen is not a call to lay down tools, but de-stressing in order to work more purposefully

Niksen is the Dutch lifestyle concept of doing nothing

Woman with her hands behind her head relaxing on a sofa.
Niksen is the Dutch lifestyle concept of doing nothing. (Pornpak Khunatorn/Getty Images)

How many days in the week does the alarm clock go off and the rollercoaster begins?

Get up, shower, make lunch, eat breakfast, walk dog, go to work, find a diary crammed from 9 to 5 (and beyond).

Shove lunch in as you run from one meeting to another, drive home, walk dog again, eat dinner, do dishes, kids’ homework, housework, maybe you coach football, maybe you do some exercise, you squeeze in a half hours’ worth of tv, then ready for bed and it all starts over again.

It’s a grind. By the weekend you are typically knackered and even then, the office work part just gets swapped out for domestic activity; washing, cleaning, shopping, grass cutting, ironing, meal planning, taxi services for the kids sports and activities.

Even the things you probably class as relaxation such as going to watch a match or having a meal out with friends become diary items to be ticked off. You still need to make an effort.

At what point do we ever consciously make a decision to reset and allow some of the stress from the daily grind to dissipate? We can’t, nor shouldn’t, be on the go 100% of the waking day, there needs to be some form of release valve.

Well, this leads me to the art of doing nothing. I read a few articles about it recently and then came across a book written by Olga Mecking that introduced me to ‘Niksen’. A Dutch word, which literally translates as ‘do nothing’.

Now before employers everywhere start thinking, come on now Barry, surely you are not going to advocate staff just rock up and do nothing (and cue jokes about x,y,z company, industry, or person already being experts in this).

Of course not. Niksen is not a call to lay down tools and put the feet up all day.

Rather it is a method to de-stress and try to leave you in a better place to do your work by consciously, purposefully, doing nothing in particular for a short period.

It helps the body and mind recover form the daily grind, to try and avoid burnout.

It does however, need practice. We are conditioned to always be doing something. To not be idle. To be productive. The concept of Niksen therefore can actually quite difficult to grasp as it’s very much not taking a break to do something purposeful or which has any particular meaning.

It’s not stopping work on that spreadsheet to read a showbiz article on the internet or flick through your social media. These are all conscious and purposeful activities. You are still doing something productive (to varying degrees), there are still outcomes.

It’s not mindfulness either, mindfulness is more about being in the present, about being very aware of the surroundings you are in, the noises, sensations, feelings you are experiencing. Niksen is actually more like the opposite of that: ‘mindlessness’ if you like.

Niksen is about allowing yourself to drift, to be in a place where there is no set purpose, no outcome expected at the end. It’s about letting your thoughts wander with no direction or agenda. This allows the mind and body to reset a little, to refresh, to leave you in a better space to take on the next challenges of the day.

It can be starting out the window. It can be sitting on park bench watching a dog chase a stick. It can be just sitting in your chair daydreaming or lying on your sofa listening to a song. The key thing is there is no purpose, no outcome, you are simply just being.

Not only does Niksen help us rest and de-stress, it can also help unlock the creative side of the brain, where ideas are allowed to appear unbidden and float around with no agenda, or rigour. Our unconscious brain is still working, perhaps even with a little additional room to make connections or solve problems while processing in the background.

Finally remember, this is not an exercise in laziness, Niksen is not a permanent state of being, it need only be applied for 5-10 minutes at a time. There should be no guilt; this is helping you.

Bing Crosby once sang about being ‘busy doin’ nothing, working the whole day through’. Maybe we should think about that, adding those Niksen breaks into our day, to keep us fresh and on point for the rest of whatever work we need to get done and maybe helping us solve some problems or generate new ideas unconsciously, as a by-product.

Barry Shannon
Barry Shannon

· Barry Shannon is head of HR at STATSports