How to do nothing

Right now I’m living through the hardest lesson of my life – acceptance.

Acceptance is particularly difficult for women, as our natures tend towards improving things and trying to make them better. Just accepting things as they are is extremely difficult – so ladies, this is directed especially at you. And if you’re anything like me, acceptance is a struggle.

Being of a choleric temperament, I’m a doer. I’m active. I’m impatient. I consider a moment which is not spent in achieving something – however small – a moment wasted (including time to relax, of course).

However, I’m in a period of life in which I very much want something I cannot seem to find – a loving, committed relationship. I’m not about to go into why this is the case, but for now, suffice it to say it is increasingly clear to me that being single right now is exactly what I am meant to be.

And if you are actively and consciously pursuing God’s will, putting Him first above every desire, yet you’re still single, then it’s likely this is where you’re meant to be as well.

On Sunday the priest said this during his homily in relation to praying for things we want:

When God makes us wait, He helps us appreciate His gifts all the more.

When God makes us wait and persevere in prayer, He is helping us to realise that we are completely dependent on Him.

Knowing this, of course, doesn’t necessarily make it easier. That’s where acceptance comes in.

For a while now, my psychologist has been working with me on acceptance. I feel extremely blessed to have had her help and, quite frankly, I don’t know where I would be today without her.

It’s taken a long time to be able to let go, to stop struggling with the direction my life has taken and simply just accept it. ‘Just accepting’ doesn’t mean putting your life on hold or that you stop doing things (which would be practically impossible for me anyway), it just means you take a step back from the mental struggle and cease the internal tug-of-war; to say “I’m going to stop trying to control everything and remind myself that it’s okay, God’s got this”.

Sometimes you’ll need to step away from the struggle dozens, or even hundreds, of times a day. But as you persist, it gradually becomes habitual.

It’s really just living out the old prayer adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

So how does one go about accepting what one cannot change?

Well, it starts with recognising the struggle, and identifying when you’re at war inside yourself. At those moments you can say something to your mind like, “Thank you for that thought, but I’m not doing that right now” and turn your attention to something interesting or grabbing, like a problem to solve or a TV show you’re watching (this may sound a bit hokey but it works).

Taking a few deep breaths also helps – exhale slowly out of your mouth until there’s no air left in your lungs and then allow them to fill up with oxygen naturally through your nostrils.

Prayer is an important step. I regularly pray for the grace of resignation to the Divine Will; also taking time to talk to God in mental prayer daily is extremely important and useful.

However, if you’re like me and have an active imagination, here’s a cheat I learned which not only helped me enormously in accepting my relationship status, but which made me much happier: stop thinking about relationships. Stop thinking about men, stop daydreaming about this or that person and stop dwelling on the relationship status of your friends and those around you.

I didn’t realise until quite recently just how much I was torturing myself by keeping my mind focussed on what I didn’t have. I wasn’t even aware that this is what I was doing – but when I saw other people getting engaged, or even couples holding hands in the street, my heart would sink with longing and sadness and my whole mood would be brought down.

I had no idea that, while these feelings were natural, I didn’t need to dwell in them. I slowly came to realise that this was a choice, and that if I changed my perspective, I no longer felt so bad.

For example, if I saw a happy, newly-married couple in a church, I would experience a stab of pain in my heart, a clenching of my stomach and a temptation would bubble up at the back of my mind to feel resentful, hard done by, forgotten by God, perhaps even envious. I was then presented with a choice (whether I was aware of it or not): I could either indulge in these feelings and wallow in my misery, or I could reject them. Most of my adult life I’ve done the former without even realising I had a choice!

But what I’ve learned is I don’t have to take someone else’s abundance as a reflection on my lack. Technically, their marriage has nothing to do with me. Hopefully they’ve followed God’s will just like I have. So instead, I now immediately reject the temptation as it arrives and find something positive to think, such as it’s actually a wonderful thing to see happy, young Christian couples getting married. This is what the world needs more of. Instead of taking misery in their abundance, I take joy.

Similarly with daydreams and fantasies – these are just a giant black hole of frustration and regret. Apart from the fact that spending time imagining what it would be like if I were married to this guy, or if that guy liked me, or if I’d stayed with so-and-so (ad infinitum) is a terrible waste of that precious commodity, it entrenches you in self-pity and a host of other negative feelings, even if it makes you feel better in the moment. It also removes you from the present and traps you in your own mind.

This habit is just about the worst thing you can do when you’re feeling lonely and sad. We do it as a comforting technique but it just mires us even deeper in loneliness and sadness, as it serves as a continual reminder of why we’re unhappy – especially if we do it frequently.

So rather than exploring a romanticised what if thought experiment, try to distract yourself by doing something else. If it happens when you’re trying to go to sleep, stop yourself before you even start, say a prayer for guidance and strength, and turn your mind to something else entirely (preferably something that’s gripping enough to distract you). Or if it’s really bad, get up and read a book or watch some TV – anything to pull your mind away from the fantasy. Daydreaming and fantasising can be difficult habits to break, but like any habits, they will diminish the more you turn away from them.

A few weeks after practising the above, and just generally choosing not to feel sorry for myself, a remarkable thing happened – I was much happier! Because I was no longer reminding myself of what I wanted but didn’t have.

I stopped daydreaming, I stopped wallowing in my own sadness, I stopped nursing my negative feelings – I did none of these things. In short, I did nothing.

None of this was easy to stop doing, partly because it was instinctive, but partly because there is something strangely compelling in the excitement of living in a fantasy and thinking about men and romance, or even nursing your wounds. If you’re not living the thrill of entering a relationship, it seems like the next best thing – even if it is more painful in the long run.

I used to genuinely fear the thought of there being no excitement in my life – which was how I justified continuing to do all the things that were making my pain worse: daydreaming, thinking about how I would plan my wedding, indulging in my sadness and feelings of being abandoned and unheard by God.

But the excitement, the drama, the emotion – none of it is worth it. Trust me.

Moreover, none of it helps you accept the life you’re living; it just makes everything harder and more painful. Often the best route, and the more difficult one, is to do nothing. It’s to get out of your head and come back to earth, to stop nursing your hurt feelings, even if they are perfectly justified.

Of course, the title ‘how to do nothing’ is a little facetious, but this is how it will feel at first. You may need to take up some extra hobbies to fill your life, which also serve as distractions. Outside of work and blogging, I take dancing classes, I study a language, I’m learning to play guitar, I cook, I bake, I knit and I read. Also take time to call or see friends. Start a regular rosary or prayer group. Throw a board games night. Keep your mind busy and your life active with things you enjoy doing. Don’t wait to be married to live your life, start living it right now!

And as for finding love, do as the Saint says: pray, hope and don’t worry.

10 thoughts on “How to do nothing

  1. YOUR A GOOD EGG ANNA- JUST WONDERFUL😊😃😊😃😊😃🤓😆😄🙃🙂🙄😊😆😄☑️🍏🍌🍒🍐🍈🍎🚸🍯☕️🍧 Unfortunately I couldn’t find an emoji sunflower🌻 Or did I ?

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  2. Well…it always could be worse. You could be going through a divorce. Instead of thinking about happy couples, read about nasty divorces. A month ago I went to an acquaintance’s wedding. His new wife is one of the most annoying people I’ve ever met. She’s loud, bossy and has a laugh that could’ve formed the plot of some Seinfeld episode. I definitely would not have traded places with him for a million $.

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  3. “And if you are actively and consciously pursuing God’s will, putting Him first above every desire, yet you’re still single, then it’s likely this is where you’re meant to be as well.”
    I guess the flip side to that point would be the old saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” If it is God’s will that you be married, then would not the best thing to do be to work towards that (not to obsess or fret about it, certainly, but to make positive changes in your life that lead you closer towards the goal?
    I guess the next question that would arise is “How do you tell whether it is God’s will?”, which obviously isn’t easy to answer. However, I don’t think it’s necessarily true that, if we do God’s will as best we know how and find ourselves in a certain state, then that state is where we’re “meant to be”.

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    1. A lot of women have apparently never read this story:
      —————————————————-
      A very religious man was once caught in rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted God to rescue him. A neighbour came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.”
      “No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”
      A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.”
      “No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”
      A little time later a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said. “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.”
      “No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”
      All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the religious man drowned. When he arrived at heaven he demanded an audience with God. Ushered into God’s throne room he said, “Lord, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.”
      “Yes you did my child” replied the Lord. “And I sent you a canoe, a boat and a helicopter. But you never got in.”
      —————————————————-
      Considering the huge lists of requirements that women make in who they’ll accept, the story is even more evident in the female case…
      Men, knowing this is the nature of women, you need to act accordingly…

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    2. Good man. Agreed, God’ s unending and abiding truth gives us the real capability to cope with what life throws at us. The example of Jesus specifically is testament to this- being persecuted beyond belief,but he faithfully stayed the course. 100% agreed ,the state is where we are ,not where we are meant to be ,except of course that’s where we are,( I think I need a drink😊). And the dynamic is ?

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  4. Okay here’s the rub everyone ,including you Anna. In order to relax and get a restful sleep, there are core prerequisites., no caffeine, reduce your exposure to light and for that matter any stimulation- wind the body down before bed-just like animals that hibernate ,reduce body temp. I personally find it therapeutic to sit in the dark- which probably goes someway to explaining why my neighbours give me strange looks; or it might be because I walk from room to room using a torch ,anyway it doesn’t concern me or matter :incidentally this is politically correct as it is in accord with left wing Marxist garbage like ‘earth hour’ which are priming us for a return to the Stone Age- I digress. Think of good bed rest like having a successful dating experience, just do the etiquette. Remember it’s all about shutting the brain down. I once explained to a friend of mine I felt stressed and found it hard to get to sleep. His suggestion was to lie ( not lying) on your back with the eyes closed in the dark, now the first instruction was to breath through each nostril independently, let’s call it nostril bias( yes I know it’s discrimination but we don’t have to tell the HRC (Human Rights Commission) do we!-this gives us an idea of what inhaling through each nostril separately is like( which is just like inhaling through each nostril separately) which sort of fits in with Einstein’s idea of madness ,doing the same thing and expecting a different result- but hey we are trying to get a good nights sleep here ,are we not. So once you’ve finished irritating the HRC in your mind , it’s time to get serious about sleep. So the trick now is to breath through your nose/ nostrils at the same time but the inhalations have to be even , now the really weird thing about this,is whilst concentrating on keeping the inhalation on each nostril even , it’s actually impossible to think of anything else- which sort of stands to reason because where all concentrating. Now the time needed to fall asleep depends on the individual, but my experience has been maybe 5 mins and the next thing you’ll realise is waking up in the morning- wondering what the hell happened in the first place- there’s the rub everyone🤔………………….

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  5. This is a great article Anna! Thanks for sharing your story and offering such practical suggestions.

    Have you seen St Alphonsus Liguori’s little treatise “Uniformity with God’s Will”? When my husband and I were struggling with infertility and repeated miscarriages (while all our friends seemed to fall pregnant so easily!) that little book saved us. It showed us it was possible, and desirable, not only to accept God’s Will in each moment but to embrace and LOVE His Will for us. It’s the recipe for real joy and peace in this vale of tears. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

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