The Significance Of Nothing

2 year(s) ago
The Significance Of Nothing

We sometimes underestimate the role of "Nothing" in our lives. Our lives have started revolving around the "to do " items; be it at work or home. The ubiquitous availability of technology has further helped us pack a lot into our lives. One of the greatest discoveries in Mathematics was that of the concept of zero. One of my favourite episodes in Seinfeld, the American Sitcom, is the episode about Nothing (Titled The Pitch). Unfortunately, the notion of nothing is dying a slow death as we shoot for maximizing our productivity and pack more and more into our day aided by the advances in technology. But I would like to make the case for the importance of nothingness.

Can improve performance

I have been training for half marathons for the last couple of years. The trainer always told us about the importance of the "rest" day. Earlier, I used to think of clocking as many miles as possible and feel that it would equip me better to run long distances. But rest and sleep are important as well for the body to recover and perform at the level we want to.

Subliminal benefits of "nothing time"

There is another benefit of "nothing" time, whether it is rest, sleep or just doing nothing. I understand these are periods when one's brain is working subliminally. I have been learning the guitar for the last few years and I often find that if I hit a wall while learning a song, sleeping over it and coming back the next day actually increases the odds of me getting a pattern right. I am guessing, while we might be resting the brain, it continues to work on the challenge/lesson/problem in the background.

Cross-connections can happen

Clay Christiansen, in his book "How will you measure your life" talks about how this plays out in organizations. He says that often companies focus on building buckets of capabilities (e.g. Cost reduction in Operations, Marketing excellence, IT transformation etc). But the real benefit to companies is only when these dots are connected in a meaningful way for the company to benefit overall.

Similarly, he draws parallels to children being crammed with classes back to back. He says, that while it is important to build solid capabilities; it is as important is for the child to learn the meta skill, which is to reflect on how it comes together. It might seem a little far-fetched but I can see why this could make sense. It is a bit akin to the notion of why meditation is recommended to extremely busy people. In this way, 30 minutes of doing nothing and observing your thoughts could help you save a lot more time and get you to be more productive as you start your day.

So, what is the "so what" of what I am saying here. 3 things that I would like to point out for parents:

Cherish the nothing moments

"Nothing" moments are often the most memorable. There is something to be said about the human connect that one forms over seemingly inconsequential things. One movie that comes to mind is Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, where they show 3 friends getting to know each other over a long drive where they don't really have an agenda during the day. But these moments of nothingness often provide the canvas on which we could pour our real self and really get to know the other people around us. It is not without reason that we say that the best relationships at work are often formed outside of work. That is the time when we are possibly operating in the present moment than being preoccupied. More importantly, that is where we are probably more authentic without any masks that we often wear when we get to work.

Make the nothing moments a bonding opportunity

Our daily life offers us many "nothing moments" with our children - waiting at the bus-stop, having a meal, putting them to bed, etc. We could easily multi-task during each of these moments and get more done. For instance, one could easily catch up on the daily news or the stock update on your phone while you and your child are waiting for the bus. That would give an immediate sense of fulfillment in terms of having spent the time productively at the start of the day. When we take stock after a few years, these moments of nothingness might just be the most significant and most treasured memories for us to cling on to. Let us resist the temptation of filling these moments with agenda items which might seem fulfilling in the short term but might rob us of building a deeper connect with our family (specifically children) over time.

Pull beats Push over the long term

There is always an on-going debate between how much to fill in a child's daily schedule. The "Tiger Mom" approach, which has almost become a brand in terms of bringing up children by cramming their schedule and pushing them really hard. But here is the counter-argument. When I look at executives and think about their long-term potential, one of the elements that differentiates Great versus Good leaders is the notion of curiosity - their willingness to learn new things and openness to seeking feedback. This is a Pull mechanism where the individual seeks learning 

I am of the belief that there is a fine balance here. The more we push children, the lower the odds of the pull mechanism working strongly in the future. There is a risk of burnout/rebellion/frustration that could set in if we make the experience of learning a distasteful one for the child. It is worth bearing this trade-off in mind. Nothing moments might help the child savour the learning that he/she is experiencing and thereby increase the odds of the curiosity engine cranking away in the future.

As I write this piece, I must confess that these are challenges I grapple with day in and day out myself. I do not want to come across as somebody who has solved this puzzle once and for all.  I am learning myself as we speak. As I think about it, recognizing the issue is half the battle won. Driving behavioral change is often much harder and is an issue for the long haul! I welcome thoughts from others on what works and doesn't work for them.

Read blogs on similar topic:

Kids need a break too - by Manjiri Gokhale. Click here to read - .

Stay at Home Parents Need a Vacation Too! - by Kumkum Jagdish. Click here to read - .


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Deepak Jayaraman
Deepak is a father of a 5 year old daughter and a 1 year old son. He spends time at work with business leaders specifically trying to get to the bottom of what makes them tick. He is passionate about discovering how some of these seeds of leadership can be sown and nourished during childhood and the role parents can play in this process.

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