The value of being lazy
Why you should worry about doing less, not more
I’m a strong believer in doing less.
I’m always thinking about what else I can eliminate, about what’s going on around me that I can do without.
The reason I do this is because I believe in “less is more.”
You call it corny, but most of us have it all wrong.
Some time ago this quote by Thich Nhat Hanh crossed by:
“Many people think excitement is happiness. When you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace.”
I believe there’s a really important message in that. One most of us could use.
Especially in this day and age where all of our senses are continually overloaded with low-value noise.
Everyone’s always looking around. Looking for the next exciting thing that happened, or might have happened. Most of the time nothing that actually matters happens.
We’re pushed towards this paranoid “what-is-everyone-else-doing?” thinking:
What did so-and-so post on Facebook, twitter, instagram,.. today?
What’s on the news this morning, afternoon, evening?
What’s on the blogs?
In the magazines?
Did I get any new e-mail?
And sure, we’re all supposed to keep ourselves informed on what’s going on in the world, right? But ask yourself honestly what the hell you are going to do with all of this information?
As sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld wrote:
“The interested and informed citizen can congratulate himself on his lofty state of interest and information and neglect to see that he has abstained from decision and action. In short, he takes his secondary contact with the world of political reality, his reading and listening and thinking, as a vicarious performance … He is concerned. He is informed. And he has all sorts of ideas as to what should be done. But, after he has gotten through his dinner and after he has listened to his favored radio programs and after he has read his second newspaper of the day, it is really time for bed.”
The worth of information is in what you do with it, the action that sprouts out of it. You’re not going to get quizzed afterwards. And if it’s really that important, someone will eventually tell you.
There’s so much noise that demands we turn our view outward. At the other person. External.
The noise demands that we give it the one thing we have least of — our most valuable asset: time.
While, if happiness depends most on what’s inside us: our thinking, inner peace, tranquillity — we should be doing the opposite of looking for more and more outward noise.
We should turn to ourselves — inward.
Marcus Aurelius’ guidance on reaching tranquillity/happiness comes to mind:
If you seek tranquillity, do less.
Or (more accurately) do what’s essential.
Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better.
Because most of what we say and do is not essential.
If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquillity.
Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?”
Meditations Book Four, Paragraph 24
“Is this necessary?” might be one of the most important questions you can ask yourself.
Continually asking why you do or say something might be the most productive thing you can do. Because most of the time you will realize that you probably shouldn’t do it anymore.
It’s probably just best to skip it because it’s not meaningful. It has zero value.
Another take on this subject I got out of an old interview with Henry Miller. Henry, when asked about the value of work:
I don’t think what is called the work of the world — this everyday work — that gets glorified, I don’t think that it’s really so important.
I think it would be much much better if people were told to be lazy — to shake the job, to enjoy, to relax, not care, not worry. I think we would get all that work done in some other way.
We are creating this work — not because it has to be done — but because we are busybodies and we do not know how to swim on the river of life. And we prefer a kind of senseless insect-activity to a genuine activity which may often be no activity.
I don’t say to be quiet, to do nothing, I don’t say that at all. But I do say it should have sense, it should have meaning — what we do.
And the greater part of what we do everyday has damn little meaning.
A Conversation With Henry Miller
This is also one of the reasons why I have discarded all the reading of productivity books. Reading these books is actually a paradoxical activity. It’s paranoia-inducing. These productivity gurus got it all wrong.
What they are about is fighting procrastination as if it were a bad thing. While procrastination is actually a good thing.
Procrastination is nature telling you that you don’t want to do this.
That’s why it should be used as a compass telling you that this thing you’re doing is not worthy of your time and you should get rid of it. It’s not essential. Not the other way around.
Nassim Taleb calls this feeling “the soul rebelling against entrapment.”
It is not doing more that we should be worrying about all the time, it’s doing less.
This is what Nassim Taleb feels is the meaning behind being a civilized person. From his book of aphorisms:
You will be civilized on the day you can spend a long period doing nothing, learning nothing, and improving nothing, without feeling the slightest amount of guilt.
On Chance, Success, Happiness, And Stoicism
The Bed Of Procrustes
Then, more than the ability to always do more and say more, this might be the one thing we all struggle with — and therefore should ultimately strive for — the most:
To do nothing at all.