The Dutch Concept “Niksen”: The Act of Doing Absolutely Nothing

Photo Credit: Unsplash, Simon Migaj

I’m a constant go-getter. My brain never stops thinking, my feet never stop moving, and my need to sate my curiosity is always thriving. It is an integral part of my internal monologue. So recently when I bottomed out from severe stress, anxiety, and depression, I was left with the frightening thought of “stillness.” It was a coping mechanism I learned in therapy that I couldn’t quite grasp. I was like, “You’ve got to be joking. Me? Sit still? Be mindful?” What the heck was this mumbo-jumbo?

Photo Credit: Unsplash, Simon Migaj

Then I came across this article on SimpleMost, which talked about a Dutch concept called niksen, the art of doing nothing. And I wondered…is that actually possible?

Brittany Aras (who authored the article) tried it out, and I was down right intrigued.

Before we jump to her experience, I should explain the concept of niksen. It’s not about being “mindful and present,” like health and wellness gurus talk about. It’s more about just being. The act of sitting and checking out your surroundings – anything really that’s low key and that doesn’t achieve a particular goal.

Time explains it like this:

“Niksen ‘literally means to do nothing, to be idle or doing something without any use,’ says Carolien Hamming, managing director of CSR Centrum, a coaching center in the Netherlands that helps clients manage stress and recover from burnout. Practicing niksen could be as simple as just hanging around, looking at your surroundings or listening to music — “as long as it’s without purpose,” she says, and not done in order to achieve something or be productive.”

Back to Brittany.

She started her niksen practice on a Monday morning, a hectic time for a self-employed person, but she stuck to it. Resisting the urge to check her email box, she took a cue from her Boston Terrier.

‘My Boston Terrier, I soon learned, is the master of niksen. In the morning, and within a matter of seconds, he went from snoring to launching off the bed and sprinting down the stairs so he could get outside and find a patch of Colorado’s famous sunshine. Then, positioned like a sphinx, he soaked up the sun with no agenda.

Instead of falling into my morning routine, I followed his lead. As I sat outside, I resisted the instinct to refresh my email or mentally build my to-do list. It felt uncomfortable at first. It’s not that I think “busy” is synonymous with “important” but, as someone who is self-employed, I can be an unrelenting boss. After all, if I’m not working, I’m not earning income. I feel guilty. Lazy even.”

After a few minutes of the torture, Brittany admits she was restless. She began wondering how long she was supposed to sit there and “just be.” And then she thought she could place this new “practice” in her normal to-do list. Yeah, not a good idea since niksen is to be done without purpose. So what happened next?

“But then my dog got up and strolled over to the pumpkins on my front porch and started chomping on one like it was an apple. All of a sudden I was laughing and thinking about what an odd concept holiday decorations are for pets. I recalled the time he drank from the Christmas tree water stand and then lifted his leg onto the tree.”

You’re probably thinking Brittany’s small train of thought about her dog and Christmas is veering off topic. But it isn’t! Brittany had “hit” the point of niksen.

“All of a sudden, this Monday morning felt more like a weekend morning. I returned to the house cheerful, more relaxed and ready to start my work week.”

She continued to practice this throughout the week by avoiding social media and email, taking her dog on a walk and sitting to watch a sunset. Niksen is an interesting idea that seems so easy to capture, but with our crazy connected world pushing us to stressful limits, niksen can be hard at first. Awkward even.

Trust me, the shakes are real when you need to check Facebook one more time before bed even though you’ve already put your phone away.

How can you start?

“‘It can be difficult to simply “do nothing,”‘ explains Jillene Grover Seiver, who has a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology and is a senior lecturer at Eastern Washington University. The solution is to do mindless activities that let the mind roam, she says. She suggests activities like coloring, knitting or crocheting.”

Allowing the mind to wander and the brain’s active stimuli to calm, you’d be surprised at how you gain clarity on things like work conflicts or other issues needing resolved. How did Brittany take all of this?

“In my own experience, I started to crave the “do-nothing” breaks. Each time I took one, I felt more present, noticing the sights and sounds around me. I also noticed that my mood improved and that I felt more creative and energized when I returned to work. The best way I could describe it is to say it feels like a mental recess.

As a freelancer who lives a life governed by to-do lists with constant deadlines, carving out time to do nothing needs to be intentional. Maybe that’s an American interpretation of the concept. Nevertheless, it’s a practice I look forward to trying out more. I believe it has the potential to make me calmer.”

I am a believer too. I tried out the niksen concept this morning, and even though I didn’t reach full “being,” I did feel my mind drift comfortably and slowly into a quiet state while I sipped my coffee. It wasn’t jammed with to-do items, more like “This creamer is pretty good,” or “I’m a little tired, maybe I should lay back down,” or “the dog’s tail is wagging, let’s go for a walk.” It was refreshing actually.

I am a firm believer that self-care is necessary to stay productive, relaxed, and fulfilled. So go on and try a little niksen – you might like it!