Let Go of Shoulds and Stress and Let Yourself Do Nothing

Meditating man

“When you try to control everything, you enjoy nothing. Sometimes you just need to relax, breathe, let go and live in the moment.” ~Unknown

I am a recovering doing addict. My whole life I have been committed to getting things done. I do, do, do until I can’t do no more.

I have a very clear memory of myself in college, sitting at an evening lecture. I am not paying attention at all. I am writing a huge, long to-do list on the back of a blue folder.

Things keep popping into my mind, things that must get done right away. I must capture them on this folder so they don’t escape me. All that matters is the list in that moment. I don’t listen to a word that is being said.

Scraps of memories like this one, some from earlier in my life, remind me that I have always been like this. This way of moving (or running?) through my life is not new. It is woven into the fabric of my being. And it has worked well for me in a lot of ways.

I have lived in different cities, held many jobs, traveled all over the world, and started my own business. But there’s a darker flip side to it too, one that drives me into a frenzy of action more often than not. I am growing weary of it. It’s exhausting—the doing and the shoulds and the have tos.

About a year ago I decided I wanted to change the way I am in the world. I wanted to transform myself from someone who was always stressed out and striven toward the next thing to a centered, joyful, fun, and more loving person.

I had recently started my own business and was feeling devastated that I wasn’t enjoying it. Just like every other job I’d had, I was working myself into a stressful mess each day. I was at the end of my rope and didn’t know what to do. When I spoke with my life coach that week, I shared that I felt like I needed to be broken wide open for things to change.

During our session that day she suggested I put everything on hold and carve out a week to just be. No work, no doing, no nothing—just being. “But,” I proclaimed, “what am I supposed to do?” And she replied, “Well, Megan, you’ll just have to figure that out.”

I trusted her deeply and she had never led me astray. Plus, I was desperate. So I decided to go along on this adventure and deemed it the “Week of Being.” I wasn’t sure what to do that first day, so I went to the movies. I figured I’d ease myself into the whole doing nothing thing with some mindless entertainment.

I sat in silence a lot that week. I meditated, listened to music and Buddhist teachings, took walks, read, and laid on the floor of my living room doing absolutely nothing. Slowly, I felt the stress and anxiety fall away. It dawned on me that none of the things I told myself I had to do in life were real. They were all completely self-fabricated.

At the end of the Week of Being, I had a vision of myself in the middle of a labyrinth. I looked down and in my hand I was holding a smooth black stone. I had arrived at the center, and when I looked around I realized there was nothing there…nothing but me.

In my journal from that day I wrote, “I had it backward these thirty-eight years. I thought the doing was what was most important. So the doing often led me down a path of anxiety and stress and even more doing. But it’s in the being where all of the answers lie. Taking care of myself, being in the present, accepting the now—that’s the answer. It’s the only thing I need to focus on. The rest of life will fall into place.”

It was a powerful week. It has shifted me onto a path of allowing more being into my life and letting go of some of the doing. It’s a simple concept really, but it’s not always easy.

It takes practice every day and sometimes I forget the lessons. But I am committed to this process, however long it may take. I know how to get things done, after all, even changing myself.

Lessons from the Week of Being

You can change yourself.

If you have a vision of who you’d like to become and are committed to the work, change is possible.

Do less. Be more.

Practice the art of doing nothing. Take some time each day to lie on the couch or stare out the window. When waiting for a friend at a coffee shop or riding the bus, just sit and do nothing. Don’t fill every moment with action.

Change is not a linear process.

Sometimes you may find yourself reverting back to your old habits and patterns. This is normal. Change doesn’t happen all at once. The good news is that every time you have a relapse, it feels worse and worse. This means you are changing! Get back on course and be easy on yourself.

When you take care of yourself, you are a better person.

Taking time to care for yourself will help you have more energy for others. When you are calm and centered you are a better partner, sister, friend, and parent.

Allow your actions to arise from a place of centered being.

Mindful action is far more powerful than flitting from thing to thing. When you live your life from a deep place of peace you are able to bring about profound change.

Photo by ChrisHayesPhotography

About Megan Cain

Megan Cain helps people create gardens that feed their bodies and souls through design, education and consultation. Her business, The Creative Vegetable Gardener, is a go-to resource for home vegetable gardening on the internet. Get her top 5 tips for growing more food with less work in a garden that inspires deep joy at

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