When you are doing nothing, you are doing something

 preston reed

By Preston Reed, {grow} Community Member

At this time of year when we traditionally find some time to rest, I think it is important to reflect on the important work of doing nothing.

I am a professional musician and my life’s work depends on being creative.

When I first finish a challenging creative project, I feel a sense of relief and euphoria.

That feeling may last for a little while. But eventually it wears off … and I am left feeling exhausted.

The truth is, the project has caused me to put out an enormous amount of energy, and I now need a rest. When I am tired I lose (temporarily) my ability to create, innovate, or think fresh thoughts.

And that makes me feel lost.

Fatigue separates me from the heady feeling of power, confidence, and dynamism that was part of the creative mode I was in, and that I had grown attached to.

That electrifying sense of connection with what I was creating disappears and is replaced by a feeling of weakness, listlessness — sometimes actual depression.

I say things to myself like, “How could I ever have accomplished what I just accomplished and then feel as empty as I’m feeling now?”

I worked so hard, gave so much. Why don’t I feel happy now?

I rail against my tiredness, as if doing so will bring the magic back.

It doesn’t work of course. I just feel even more empty and exhausted.

Then at a certain point it all bottoms out and I recognise that I am in a state of withdrawal. I accept that I am tired, let go of trying to be dynamic and creative, adjust my mood and expectations and move on to other things.

After a lifetime of dealing with my creative cycles, I have learned that the magic always comes back.

An idea for new tune, an opportunity for a cool photograph, an insight for a blog post are all right around the corner.

The secret is to get away from the intense creative activity I’ve just spent so much time in, and do … well … nothing for a little while.

I ride my bike, take naps, stare into space, run household errands, fix things, read, cook, meditate, tidy my studio, take walks, catch up with friends, and generally do anything and everything that is not about the creative project I was just doing.

The Irish have a saying: “A change is as good as a rest.”

Actually, changing a pattern of behavior is a rest from that behavior and its associated activities.

Being creative is not just about the active, productive times. It’s about the silences, the gaps, the pauses between creating, when it can seem there’s nothing going on and time is being wasted.

It’s not.

When nothing is going on in your conscious mind, there’s always something going on in your unconscious mind — where the development of the next idea, the next composition, the next project, the next solution to a problem begins.

Creativity is not just about manifestation. It’s about gestation.

When you are doing “nothing”, you are doing something very important.

When the rechargeable battery in my electric beard-trimmer runs out, I plug it in. It takes about eight hours to fully recharge. During that time I don’t use it.

Next time you are feeling tired and disappointed in yourself, give yourself a break.

You are in the battery-charging part of a creative cycle. Use this time to take care of the rest of yourself.

You’ll be back soon.

preston reed 2Preston Reed is a guitarist and composer who invented the two handed integrated percussive style of playing in the 1980’s. He tours and performs globally and has influenced a generation of players. His other passions include photography, travel, food and single malt scotch. Follow him on YouTube.

Top photo credit Nick Neo.

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  • This is simply amazing and every creative person goes through such phase . So its very important to re-collect and come up. Some great tips which would definitley help me in 2014. Thanks Reed, I’m ur fan after this post!

  • Herb Silverman

    Sometimes the most complex issues are right in front of you; thank you for this article! Very insightful! Happy holidays!

  • Great timing for this post! And perfect advice for creatives. Thank you so much and Happy Holidays!

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  • Preston Reed

    Thanks, Satish! Glad you found this helpful :^)

  • Preston Reed

    Glad it worked for you, Herb! Happy holidays to you too :^)

  • Preston Reed

    Thanks, Pauline. Glad you found it helpful and hope you have time to recharge over the holidays :^)

  • Preston Reed

    Mark, thanks so much for this opportunity to participate in the Grow community. I have learned a lot from your blog over the last several years and this means a lot to me. Wishing you happy holidays and continued success in 2014 :^)

  • Herb Silverman

    Happy holidays to you, too!

  • Sandra Isaac

    Well said and great words of encouragement! My husband just lost his job of 32 years, and I think this post will really speak to him. As for me, well I’m just tired and I miss my creativity! The timing of this post was perfect. Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom!

  • It is always a pleasure and honor to be in a position to shine a light on great talent! Many thanks for this contribution!

  • Preston Reed

    Hi Sandra. Delighted this had a positive impact. Here’s to success for both of you in the new year :^)

  • Catriona

    This is so obvious when someone says it…. but not at all obvious when you’re “in it”. Thank you for writing this and reminding me that it’s “ok” to slow down, take time out and rest (as best i can with 3 young children and a business). And i love the beard trimmer analogy. Have a great Christmas and a wonderful rest.

  • Steve Woodruff

    Absolutely true. I find this same cycle in myself with more intense people contact and work – then needing withdrawal (part of being an introvert). I’ve often beaten myself at the periods of lassitude, but have discovered that the magic does indeed always come back. Just rest and let the flow happen!

  • Preston Reed

    Thank you, Catriona. I hope you find that time over the holidays :^)

  • Preston Reed

    Glad it resonates with you, Steve :^)

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