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  • Filip Sjöström

The fear of doing nothing

It’s Sunday and I’m about to leave for my Sunday bikram yoga session. My journey the last year has been a lot about identifying and changing non wanted behaviors within myself. It all started when I was at the Vipassana retreat in Ödeshög. 10 days without talking, seeing someone in the eyes, reading or writing really changed my life. What was it that changed my life? The knowing that there are many behaviors, subconscious behaviors, we use everyday without realizing that we have a choice in doing so. Many of these behaviors lowers the quality of our life. Many of these behaviors come from fear – and behaviors deriving from fear is always non wanted behaviors. Fears will actually stop us from getting what we really want.

So the retreat was a starting point for me and my journey to clean my mind, clean my memories and becoming a better and happier person. The more I work, the more I realize that I have a lot of work to do in this cleaning process. I realize that it’s like an onion. When we peel of the hard outer part we get more sensitive and reach many more layers inside.

I have realized that the two biggest fears that are preventing me from living my life fully and getting what I want are the fear of opening up and giving love and emotions to people (also myself) and the fear of not doing anything at all.

The fear of not doing anything at all. Where should I start. I have a memory from my childhood that I always was running ahead of the rest of the family when being at different activities. Going to a theme park, having roller coaster rides or visiting a city of some kind – I was always ahead, looking for things to do. I was afraid of doing nothing at all.

This has been my identity for as long as I can remember. A schedule filled with activities, always doing something at home and always feeling pain against boredome and doing nothing. The more I realize and work on this behavior within myself, the more I see it in people around me. It’s almost as I’m attracting these people into my life. The term ”many balls in the air” keep returning, both when they describe themselves and when I’m describing myself. I used to say ”I like to have many balls in the air, that’s just who I am”. Now I’ve come to realize that we are not our behaviors, we use these behaviors for filling up a big need within ourselves. We do not like to have many balls in the air, we are afraid of not having them there since we are scared of not doing anything at all. And now you might criticize me (especially if you’re one of those people) and say that it’s good for you to have it that way. You are correct in one way, but at the same time completely wrong. Within me, and all the people I’ve met having the same problem, I can see a pattern - a loop that keeps repeating itself. It is a loop consisting of going back and forth between performance anxiety and procrastination. I will explain. One of the most clear patterns of mine the last years have been frustration. Frustration with not getting the results I’m after, frustration of not moving forward and frustration of not succeeding with what I want. This frustration has led to me trying even harder, trying to push through and trying to force myself to do things. I have worked many hours, risen early (sometimes insanely early), worked on weekends, never allowed myself to rest. I have felt anxious about not doing things, not being productive and the thoughts of what I should do have always been on my mind. This isn’t just about work, it’s about all my goals. It’s about health, relationships, eating in a specific way, working out harder, meditating more, having more stricter routines and more discipline over all. I now realize that even things like spending time in nature, meditation, yoga have had a purpose for me. I haven’t just meditated to do nothing and practice on that. I have meditated for having something to do!! With that said the meditation has been good for me in many ways, since I’m step by step altering my self awareness. But, the problem I’m facing hasn’t gone away.

Have you ever asked someone what they did the last weekend? Have you ever got the answer that “I just took it easy, relaxed from a busy week”. When you then asked them what they did they tell you: “No I just had this long run on Saturday, arranged a big dinner for my friends, read a book on self development, attendet a yoga class on Sunday and had a long walk in the sun with my sister”. This might be relaxing for some people, but the important part is the intention of doing these things. I can tell you that this could probably have been a weekend from my own life. During the weeks I catch myself thinking about the weekend as a time to do all those things that I didn’t had time for during the week. And it’s always about growth, moving forward and never about just being. It’s not black and white as it might sound – of course there are times when I’m present and not doing anything. But I always fall back in the same pattern and it has to stop.

So, back to the pattern of moving back and forth between performance anxiety and procrastination. Frustration and anxiety from not doing things and moving forward is very common for me – but I constantly get to know myself better and learn how to get out of the loop. Frustration and anxiety forces me to take action – to do something. So I do. I’m really good at starting the morning out with writing a list of what’s most important and then start completing the list, but I’m very bad at completing the list and to keep focus during the day. I’m a procrastinator, but with a lot of willpower to push through. This makes me good at still doing what I must do, but it’s very seldom an enjoyable process. I am good at starting things, but terrible at completing them. I like planning (no I even love planning), but I really suck at following a plan because it becomes too boring and frustrating to do so. I have always been very creative, which is a good thing. But if that creativity comes from the fear of not having something on your mind and to not do anything, you will undeniably get problems – problems like stress, performance anxiety, procrastination and the habit of not completing what you started. I see the same thing in other people like me. They say “I have so many great ideas that I have seen come true” – yeah but why haven’t you started them and created them by yourself? Fear, fear and more fear is in the way.

Why is this happening, is there an explanation? I believe there is. When we are scared of not doing anything we will get motivation to the point that we are no longer not doing anything. It’s like saying to yourself “I don’t wanna be fat, I don’t wanna be fat” and when you’re no longer fat you stop – AND will start getting fat again. Jojo dieting is the same thing as switching between performance anxiety and procrastination. And I can hear you say that “I’m not just focusing on having something to do, I have dreams and goals as well that gives me motivation”. So do I, it doesn’t help me at all, and this is why: The power of our subconscious mind is greater than we think. If you have learned your brain since you were a kid to constantly have something to do, which fills up a big need in you, you will not solve the problem by trying to motivate yourself by high goals and more force, more action. No. You have to start doing nothing and in that way achieving more.

The more answers I find about my own patterns, the better I get at solving my problems. This is my present theory for being and acting the way I am. I have connected doing to being loved. It gives me outside confirmation. I have also connected not doing to something dangerous – since it requires me to connect to other people and since I also, subconsciously, believes that opening up and connecting to others is dangerous and will cause me pain, I fill my life up with as much doing as I can. I have for many years have over eating problems. I can see that these problems are also related to this. Eating is something to do, so eating is a tool for me when I feel I need to do something. Coffee is also a tool, and it makes things even worse – but my subconscious loves it. Coffee makes me even more creative and productive, but at the same time more stressed, tired and fearful.

So for things to change, I need to find a new way of fulfilling my needs that constantly doing things is filling today. I am trying new things and learning more and more. Decreasing the overall stress is a good way to overall take control over yourself. Meditation, workouts, yoga (especially bikram yoga) and spending time in nature have helped me a lot as well – but I feel that they are only some kind of symptom treatment. I believe that we all need to learn more about why we do as we do, when we started to think that doing so is beneficial and what the actual belief about ourselves and the world is. Then we can release that belief and create a new belief of how we see the world. It always comes down to learning, practicing and starting to create new habits and new connections in our brains. It’s also about practice doing things but at the same time doing nothing at all.

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