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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 creativevegetablegardener.com.

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  • Great Post Megan. It genuinely spoke of your experience.

    Most people who start their own business will agree with you when you say – “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”.

    Many turn away from their 9-5 job, thinking that life is way too short to be working for someone else’s dreams and begin working for themselves only to find it increasingly hard to stop working, and if they do stop they tend to feel bad about it. They then worry about what they perhaps should be doing rather than enjoying the moment as it stands.

    I guess when you quit your job and work for yourself you have to have a certain amount of dedication, determination & responsibility. There’s nobody else who is going to do the work for you, so it’s important to keep things going, to try to be ahead in the game and be one step ahead.

    The belief that owning a business brings in more money, which inturn will make us happier as compared to our 9 – 5 job salaries. But is this really true?

    There is something very interesting I happened to have read recently:

    Research suggests that once we have food on the table, a roof over our head, an education for our children, health care for our family , and some modest amount to spare to pay for, say, a weekly guitar lesson for your child or an annual holiday, we have most of the happiness that money can buy. Higher incomes, flashy cars, mansions, yachts and champagne baths appear to do little to increase overall levels of happiness.

    Thank you for highlighting this wonderful pointer about life : “I had it backwards 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.”

    Will end with a quote : “Nothing is more important than reconnecting with your bliss. Nothing is as rich. Nothing is more real.” – Deepak Chopra

    Thank you.

  • Wow Megan great post. I feel like you just wrote my own experience. This most definitely sums it up perfectly -> “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.” This past year I to have committed to a journey of self growth. And your absolutely right, you do relapse, but that’s part of the journey, drudging through the valleys. It’s the habits and actions that are instilled on the hilltops that get me through the valleys. This is where growth occurs. In fact, just this week I had a relapse. My focus was on everything except the present moment, leaving my in a frenzy and frustrated. I got to a point where I stopped and gave myself permission to let go and drop all expectations for that week without feeling guilty to get back into the groove that is called the present moment. Thanks so much for sharing your story! I can most definitely relate and congratulations for arriving at your center. #UnlessYouCare

  • Wow, great post Megan. It is so important to do less and be more. If we work hard to create the margin that we need to be able to be present with the people who matter most to us we will be much less stressed and much happier with our life. Thanks for sharing.

  • DE

    Well written Megan- We are told, we need to do something all the time, otherwise you are lazy and you are doomed to achieve your dream etc. It is perfectly okay to reach your goals and dream, but not to sacrifice the happiness happening in this moment. Sometime doing nothing is the best thing you can do to help yourself to be happy.

  • Jeannie

    Thank you for writing and sharing this Megan. If you don’t mind me asking who was the life coach you worked with?

  • Thanks for sharing your story Megan. Many people who read your article will be able to relate. Work -Life Balance can be challenging for most of us. One of the things that I’ve found helpful is meditating for 20 minutes twice a day. I learned TM about 6 months ago, and it has really helped me to reduce stress, gain clarity, and improve my decision making, organization, and focus. Taking time to unplug and just be in the present moment is so important for happiness and fulfillment.

  • Motivation Is Back.com

    Sometimes you have to let go of all the things you worry about because It will find its way.

  • Megan, thanks for the words of wisdom. We live in a crazy world world that’s on 24/7 when what we need on and off, ebb and flow, uptime and down time. We all need to take timeout just to be daily, weekly and even for longer periods. I’m planning to take at least a year off and it’s amazing the reactions I get. Everyone seems to think I should fill the year with travel if they can get past the idea that I’m not off to another job!

  • Ellen Bard

    This was the perfect post for me to read today. Thanks for sharing your experience Megan.

  • Megan Cain

    Jeannie- My life coach is the awesome Darcy Luoma – http://darcyluoma.com/

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    “The good news is that every time you have a relapse, it feels worse and worse. This means you are changing!” Would you please elaborate on what you meant by that? This is something I struggle A LOT when it comes to reverting back to my old unhealthy habits & then wondering if I am really back in square one again…

  • krutika

    nicely written Megan loved it! you were right change is possible. 🙂

  • Megan Cain

    Jeevan- I have come to accept that changing some parts of myself may be a life long process. It took me 39 years to arrive at this point, I am not going to change in a few months. I have found that as I move farther down the path of change when I do revert back to old habits it feels worse the more I have changed. My coach helped me reframe those bad feelings as a sign that I am changing. It feels so bad because I have made progress and those old patterns are less and less comfortable. There are plenty of days that I get stuck back into the doing frenzy, but I try to be aware and then make adjustments as I go. Hope that helps!

  • Megan Cain

    Neil- Yes, owning a business is a lot of work. But I will say that the self-growth is amazing! Everything is stripped away. It’s just me staring myself in the face. I love the freedom and flexibility. I am pretty good at balance and work. I don’t work at nights or on the weekends and my husband and I take off 4-6 weeks in the winter. It’s not for everyone and I might not do it forever, but I am happier!

  • Megan Cain

    Peter- A year of doing nothing. Now that would be life changing!

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Yes, I think I understand what you are saying…Thank you; I really appreciate it…:-). Wish you the best!

  • Peggy

    Your words definitely resonate with me. Doing, doing, doing…so hard to just be and so peacefully joyous when I finally stop and “smell the roses”. Thanks for this beautifully written reminder.

  • atul

    Hey Megan I am.slightly confused with your share.does your post indicate the importance of being ourselves or doest it indicate the modern or current definition of living life

  • Anika

    Megan, your lessons from the WEEK of being summarize very clearly what I found out through my “research” in the past three MONTHS. Your short list will be very helpful to me as I could have not stated my findings in such clarity. Thank you and have fun just being 🙂

  • Wait–doing NOTHING for 7 whole days? I would go insane! I really want to tr this but I want to do so many things at the same time. I don’t know how to succeed. Any advice?

    Did you not have any errands to run at all? And do no work?