People just do nothing: is the Dutch concept of niksen the best way to relax?

Stuart Heritage
Photograph: Posed by model/Getty/iStockphoto

Doing nothing is exhausting: mindfulness involves keeping a running tally of every single passing thought and sensation, while transcendental meditation involves concentrating on your breathing and mantra. Perhaps we should all try niksen instead?

Niksen is an increasingly popular Dutch relaxation technique where you relinquish control and just ... stop. When thoughts occur, you don’t interrogate them or imagine them being carried away on balloons, you just let them occur. At a time when meditative practices can feel like yet another thing to do, niksen is liberatingly simple. Stop doing everything right now. Congratulations, you just did a niksen. It is essentially sanctioned daydreaming.

It sounds tremendous, so I had to try it. The brief from my editor was possibly the best I have ever received – sit down and don’t do anything for an hour – so I retired to a chair away from my desk and, well, just sort of stopped.

And it was brilliant. A working day can often feel a bit like a zombie attack, with requests and demands coming in from every imaginable angle. To deliberately remove myself from that felt amazing. There was a freedom to it, a tranquillity. We are all so busy doing as much stuff as we can that to suddenly stop felt preposterously luxurious.

Or at least it did for about 30 seconds, because that was when the thoughts started to trickle in. I was staring out of my window, but I was seeing the dozens of unread emails that were almost certainly piling up in my inbox. I was nagged by the sinkful of washing up that needed doing and the bin that needed to be taken out. I thought about the podcasts I could be listening to. Shamefully, I found myself wondering if anyone had written any good tweets.

In the end, I managed 10 minutes of niksen before my brain stopped idling and told me to stop being such a layabout. Still, they were 10 very nice minutes. Niksen isn’t something you can just plunge into, it turns out. It takes time to build up to a level of comfort where you can happily do nothing. And so help me God, I’m going to get there if it kills me.