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By Hein Kaiser


Doing Niksen; the art of nothingness

Embracing Niksen can be a critical countermeasure to stress, offering a moment of reprieve that can significantly impact our mental health.

What if you got off the hamster wheel for just a moment, and stopped chasing the kids to get ready for school, left your mobile phone to ring off its hook, ignored social media and WhatsApp notifications and to boot, cleared your diary of meetings, just for a little while? What if you just sat down, stared out the window, and did nothing with intent?

That is the art of doing nothing. It is better known by the Dutch term Niksen, the art of switching out of gear into idle with no intention to do anything much, putting any kind of productivity aside for a moment of just, well, nada, nothing, zero.

“The beauty of Niksen lies in its rebellion against the daily grind culture that permeates every aspect of our lives, twenty-four seven,” said psychologist Dr Jonathan Redelinghuys. He said that the constant push towards productivity and the badges of arduous work and slog we often don proudly, an ego fringe benefit of being busy, has led to heightened stress levels among South Africans. “Add to this,” he said,” the constant environmental pressures we endure, like loadshedding, crime, water shedding and others the rising cost of living. It all can weigh heavily on people.”

“Nobody wants to feel stressed, but it’s inevitable,” he said. Embracing Niksen can be a critical countermeasure to stress, offering a moment of reprieve that can significantly impact our mental health, Redelinghuys said.

Procrastination with intent

Spiritual counsellor Yvonne de Bruin said that it all starts with simply delaying tasks and actions that would not compound into greater stress. “Procrastination with intent can be a great healer, it is a form of meditation, and it can also serve as a window in the that allows you to reconnect with your inner voice,” she said. It is this voice that will bring clarity, new ideas and direction, de Bruin added.

Incorporating Niksen into our lives requires a bit of a mind-shift, said Dr Redelinghuys. “We need drill ourselves into changing our perceptions of what it means to do nothing, to accept idleness. “The first step is acknowledging that taking a moment to do nothing isn’t laziness; it’s an essential part of self-care,” he said. It is crucial to teach yourself that because society demands constant, sustained productivity.

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Take it slow with short moments

Dr Redelinghuys said that getting started should not feel like a giant task. “Starting small is the key. You do not need to set aside hours of your day; just a few minutes will suffice and can make a world of difference.” Short moments that gradually become a bit longer will also people to slowly integrate Niksen into their daily routines, he added. “Taking it slow means that you won’t be overwhelmed by the counterweight that idling presents to an otherwise busy schedule,” said Dr Redelinghuys.

De Bruin said that you do not need a special room or a designated spot to practice Niksen. “All you need is a quiet spot in your home or office where you feel at ease, where you can shut the world out for a few moments,” she said. “You just need a comfortable chair, a bit of a view to look at, and there you go. A quick, easy, and comfortable space for mental relaxation.”

The enemy of nothingness

Niksen’s biggest enemy is digital distraction. Dr Redelinghuys is particularly adamant about the need to disconnect completely. “We’re so used to filling every spare moment with screen time that the idea of just being with our thoughts can seem daunting,” he said. Embracing Niksen means consciously stepping away from digital devices, to disconnect and allow the mind to rest.

Dr Redelinghuys added that it will take getting used to. “Feeling restless or guilty when trying to do nothing is normal. It is a sign that you are not used to giving yourself a break,” he said. Overcoming these feelings is part of the journey towards incorporating Niksen into your day, to allow your mind to wander without a goal in mind. “It can lead to unexpected insights and ideas,” he said.

It is the inner voice that De Bruin said would eventually make a star turn when you are in an idle state of mind. She said that Niksen also encourages mindfulness and simply to be present, without having to be. “When you allow yourself to be still, you become aware of the here and now. Presence in the moment creates a heightened state of awareness and aids a deeper connection with your inner self and the world around you, how things are all interconnected,” she said.

Dr Redelinghuys said that as life accelerates, Niksen’s time-out may help prevent burnout. “Self-care is not selfish. Because you cannot be there for others, if you are not there for yourself, first,” he said. “Doing Niksen can be the most productive and selfless practice.”

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