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How to master the Dutch art of 'Niksen'

Helen Alexander

Senior Contributor

The Danish brought the world the feel-good sense of wellbeing that comes with creating a space that’s filled with hygge, while the Swedish practice of lagom encouraged people to embrace balance and moderation by leading a life that contains ‘just the right amount’ of everything. Now the latest wellness trend to emerge from Europe is the Dutch art of niksen, which is all about relaxing and relinquishing control. Here’s how you can disconnect and do nothing – whether you are at home or away.

In between trips

Ever feel like you’ve been running around all day, but haven’t crossed anything off your to-do list? Then you might just benefit from doing less. Remember that there’s a very big difference between being busy and being productive. And that, while it might seem counter-intuitive, taking time to rest and reflect can actually boost your ability to get things done.

That’s where niksen comes in, which essentially means ‘to be idle’ and is used in Holland to describe the art of doing nothing and having zero objective or aim. Think of like this: while mindfulness and meditation encourages us to be aware, niksen is rooted in quiet contemplation in which there is no end goal.

If something triggers a happy holiday memory, stop what you are doing and allow yourself to daydream for a little while. Both your brain and body will thank you for the break from reality, and the practice can strengthen your long-term recall. Set aside a space in your home that’s your sanctuary, then look through photos from previous trips or maps of places you plan to visit to encourage some mental globetrotting during your niksen time.

During a leisure trip

Working your way through the must-see sights in your guidebook is all very well, but how much of your trip are you actually taking in? To really connect with your surrounds, it’s important to schedule some free time in your itinerary for simply being. We talk about holidays being a chance to recharge, and by incorporating some niksen into your trip this couldn’t be truer. Doing nothing prompts our ‘relaxation response’ – the opposite of the ‘fight or flight response’ that causes stress and weakens the immune system. Therefore, by taking the opportunity to reduce anxiety, we increase the body’s ability to fight off a common cold.

Resetting your priorities might take a little practice, but the next time you are away, spend some time sitting in a café or at a food stall and observe what’s going on around you. What can you hear, what can you smell? How are people dressed, and what’s the dish or drink that everyone’s ordering? Don’t force your responses – just enjoy the sensation of getting lost in your thoughts. Better still, book a guilt-free niksen break where do nothing (or very little) for a few days. A room with a great view is a great place to start, whether you want to gaze out over coastline or a cityscape. Don’t set your alarm clock, take walks with no planned route or destination, take a long bath, and spend time doing your favourite activities – whether that’s cooking, reading or playing an instrument. Then, when you are feeling relaxed, sit back and enjoy some niksen.

During a business trip

Being ‘always-on’ can make us feel anxious and mentally drained. And while it might seem counter-productive, sitting and staring into space is a great way to clear your mind from any unwanted distractions. Practice niksen while travelling for business by resisting the temptation to work on a presentation or reply to emails, and instead turning off your devices. This also means not listening to a podcast, reading a book or playing a game on your phone. There should be nothing getting in the way of your mind being free to wander. To assess you into the process, a digital tool that forces you to take two-minute breaks (and resets if you touch your keyboard or mouse) can help.

Many psychologists believe that it’s only when we truly switch off that we are able to tap into our intuition – so you might just come up with a creative solution to that workplace problem without even trying. Avoid burnout by finding time between client meetings to inject a little niksen into your working day. Find somewhere you can sit comfortably – maybe your hotel room, an airport departure lounge or even the corner of a coffee shop – and take some downtime. Remind yourself that there is as much value in using your time to do nothing as there is any other activity and allow your brain time to switch off each evening so it can recover from any stresses and strains placed on it. 

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