Doing Nothing Can Be Good for You

Key Takeaways

  • Taking frequent breaks (i.e., “pulsing”) can help you break through a difficult problem- solving task.
  • Systematically removing distractions that clutter your brain in today’s society allows great problem-solving and creative thinking to occur.
  • Matthew May’s The Laws of Subtraction and our June 4 Spring Cleaning BBQ can help you simplify your life.

Did you ever see that experiment in which two groups of participants try to complete a difficult drawing task while looking into a mirror—i.e., everything seems reversed?

One group keeps plugging away, not making much progress, but the other group, also unsuccessful, goes out and plays basketball for an hour. When they come back to the task, the basketball players quickly complete the drawing task that stumped them an hour before. It’s not that basketball has anything to do with drawing; it simply illustrates what happens when you give your brain a mental break from a difficult task.

In his 2013 book called The Laws of Subtraction, Matthew May outlines six fundamental rules for staying focused and becoming more effective. Not to be a spoiler here, but the sixth law is, “Doing Something Isn’t Always Better Than Doing Nothing.”

According to May, prolonged alpha waves in our brain trigger something in our subconscious. For example, suppose you blank out on the name of a famous actor in a movie you always liked—say As Good As It Gets. You know it’s in your brain somewhere but you can’t immediately recall it. Then 15 minutes later, when you’re on to something else, the correct answer—Jack Nicholson—suddenly pops into your brain.

May says that’s the brain’s long alpha waves at work, and there are some simple techniques for harnessing them:

1. Meditation is great for getting you relaxed and into a creative frame of mind.

2. Neurofeedback is about measuring electroencephalograms (EEGs) in your brain, and using that technology to train your brain to become more efficient.

3. Pulsing is when you take time off from hard mental tasks during the day to go for a walk, take a nap or a long shower, daydream or just do nothing. It can do wonders for letting your brain recharge so you can become creative again and have those wonderful “Aha!” moments.


Spring cleaning is another way to declutter your mind, not to mention your home or office. In fact, we’re having our next Spring Cleaning BBQ on Saturday, June 4, from 10am-2pm right in our parking lot. You can shred old documents and donate old clothing and electronics to charity. We’ll also have great music and food while you’re eliminating clutter and making your life easier.

Hope to see you then. Until next time, enjoy.

800-480-7913 |

We value your comments and opinions, but due to regulatory restrictions, we cannot accept comments directly onto our blog.  We welcome your comments via e-mail and look forward to hearing from you.


book img2

A Comprehensive Guide To Safeguarding Your Financial and Family Wealth.

Subscribe to our blog

Looking for Something?

Coyle Financial
Counsel Events

Recommended Reading

book img3
Download Free Chapter on
Lifelong Learning

Watch More Videos