Book Review

Slowing Down in a Fast-Paced World

Book: “Do Nothing” by Celeste Headlee, picture taken at Drift Sidewalk Cafe, Saskatoon, SK

If 2020 is telling the world anything, it’s telling us to slow down.

Scenario #1:

Flashback four years to when I started university, I was definitely not caught up in the highly productive and motivated world. My grades were quickly declining, I was not racing well, I was frequently getting sick, and throughout first semester I spent most of my weekends partying.

Scenario #2:

Fast forward to my third year of university, my lifestyle looked completely different. I was an honours student, one of the best female middle-distance runners in the country, very fit, and I spent most of my weekends being “productive” and making sure I was going to bed at the exact same time every night.

I think that the vast majority of people [after reading both of the above scenarios] would assume that the second scenario is a “healthier” and more “productive” lifestyle. I would have as well if you had asked me a year ago. But the year 2020 has really changed my perception of what constructs “health” and “productivity”. Similarly, the book, Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee, recognizes common misconceptions about lifestyle choices within the modern world that things like marketing, technology, and social media cultivate.

“How to Win Friends & Influence People”
“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”
“Think & Grow Rich”
“Hold On But Don’t Hold Still”
“The 5am Club”
“…”

The above titles are some of the top wellness books listed on Indigo’s website. It’s no wonder society praises individuals that work incredibly long and demanding hours, constantly feeling the need to be acting towards outcome goals. But does this type of lifestyle truly promote good health and wellness like it claims to?

If your answer to that question is yes, I would highly recommend giving Headlee’s Do Nothing, a read. After years of living the sort of lifestyle that has been described, Celeste Headlee took a step back and truly assessed her productivity, health, and above all, her happiness. Her research is astounding. At the least, the book provides a good history lesson of artists, entrepreneurs, and the way that society’s working culture has evolved over time. But more than that, the book questions our social habits, workplace norms, overall happiness, and so much more.

Does spending that extra hour truly result in a better test grade? Will going the extra mile really help me win the next race race or set a personal best time?

These are some of the questions I used to (and sometimes still do) ask myself. Last year, the stress that I was putting on my body was accumulating and I was forced to find a way to make more with less [by means of running less and sometimes slower miles in training, but racing faster than I ever had]. This year, the “making more with less” ideal was tested even further. A significant injury caused me to assess my training and distinguish the “nice to haves” from the “must haves” in order to achieve my desired outcome.

I don’t discredit the hard work that I’ve done previously in helping me to achieve what I have in sport and school, thus far. However, there are many things that I look back on and wonder if it was all about the work, or if it was more so the commitment and belief in myself that resulted in these outcomes.

Headlee raises this familiar question: does more work result in greater productivity and results? The answer she suggests is NO. As human beings, we are not programmed to operate like a machine. We need breaks. We need leisure. We need to live and enjoy our lives, rather than constantly feel like we are working towards something greater than what we already have.

Headlee also addresses the prevalence of rising suicide rates [especially among youth]. Obviously this cannot be attributed singularly. But overall, as social media becomes used and abused we are spending less time engaging in human interaction and more time comparing ourselves through falsified lenses. This isn’t to say that editing photos, using filters, and all of these other applications on social media is a bad thing. It becomes a problem when we wrongfully perceive things online to be a 100% accurate depiction of reality.

My biggest takeaways/action steps that I will take from the book Do Nothing are listed below under the titles that Headlee uses in Part II of the book:

Challenge Your Perceptions

“As we have become more efficient, we have also become more fragile. Consider the difference between the goal of efficiency – adaptation to an existing environment – and the goal of resilience – the ability to adapt to changes in one’s environment.”

Celeste Headlee

Takeaway: There is a great difference between efficiency and resilience; in fact the two could be considered opposites. Where efficient processes are meant to operate productively within a stable environment, resilient processes adapt to a changing environment, and realistically our world is constantly changing. What I take from this is to not be afraid to get uncomfortable and challenge my daily routine. Become more resilient through the willingness to stray from the status quo.

Take the Media Out of Your Social

“In the end, this is about reclaiming your time. It’s about grabbing the reins so the horses are no longer driving you.”

Celeste Headlee

Action step: Over the past week, I’ve been making an effort to shut my phone off around 8:00pm and disconnecting from the online world. I’ve actually noticed a big improvement in how much faster I can get to sleep in the short time that I have been doing this. It might not happen all the time, but it definitely makes a difference on the nights that I have.

Takeaway: It’s not about cutting out social media entirely, it’s about cutting down and being aware that the online world is not an accurate representation of reality.

Step Away From Your Desk

“Proving your worth by logging an arbitrary number of hours is more than silly – it’s a practice that is killing productivity and, more seriously, endangering your health. Get up and get out.”

Celeste Headlee

Action step: Distinguish the work that is necessary to achieve the desired outcome and dedicate the remaining to rest, recreation, and recovery.

Takeaway: Whether it’s running, business, or anything that requires a substantial amount of work, human beings function optimally when we are not caught up in the “more is better” ideal.

Invest in Leisure

“Sometimes striving to improve on everything we do can impede progress. Stop becoming and just be for a moment.”

Celeste Headlee

Takeaway: Reducing leisure and dedicating every waking hour to becoming better at whatever it is that you are striving for narrows your focus and blinds you from other aspects of life. A balanced amount of leisure counterintuitively improves progress.

Make Real Connections

“If you truly want to break free of the obsession with efficiency, practice random acts of kindness.”

Celeste Headlee

Action step: Whether it’s for friends and family, or simply a stranger, make moments for kind gestures.

Takeaway: At the end of the day, the greater support that you have backing you the greater the achievement will be. You can accomplish great things, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot if there’s no one left to celebrate with.

Take the Long View

“End goals are often directions instead of destinations. They are not usually items you can include in a checklist or bullet journal. Focusing on ends rather than means is helpful because it leads us to find creative solutions to problems (if not this way, then another way). It can also reduce stress, because it embraces failure and welcomes flexibility.”

Celeste Headlee

Takeaway: Ultimately, if our life is a checklist of goals it would be infinitely growing. The whole point in setting a goal is laying out the direction that will set you on the right path. I think that often, goals are taken far too literally.

To end with, the main message that I believe underlies Celeste Headlee’s Do Nothing, is that when you let go of the need to accomplish things as quickly and efficiently as possible, you live life more fully.

I have attached a link to the book on Amazon if you’re interested in reading it! I definitely would recommend. šŸ˜Š

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