"Don't just sit there. Do something."
My mom must have said that to me a thousand times. Sometimes she yelled it.
She didn't just single me out. She said it to everyone. And she had several variations on the theme: "Be up and doing!" "Get off your seat" "Be active!" "Don't let any moss grow under your feet!" "An idle mind is the devil's workshop."
And no one ever questioned her. After all, it is better to be "up and doing" than to be down and drooping. No question. Always has been, always will be. No argument.
But our world has changed since the time my mom told me to “do something.” We have evolved into a society where there is so much happening that we are always doing something, sometimes at the expense of thinking and feeling.
Back in the less technological, less complex and less competitive days of yore, there were natural seasons and periods of reflection and repose. There were natural "breaks" after the planting or after the harvest. And when it got dark at night, work was done.
Not so today. We may have business cycles, but none of them involve rest. We have weekends, but they're usually the time to do the work we couldn't get to during the week. And we have evenings, but the night belongs to homework with the kids, or to working overtime, or to trying to "play as hard as we work."
And if we ever do stop for a moment, it is to flop down mindlessly in front of the TV.
During our busy days, we fill up any spare moments with our technology and gadgets. You never see anyone sitting and simply relaxing or reflecting. Everyone is checking email or texts, eyes down, focused on the small screen.
We coined a new saying once by accident. One of our kids was watching a ballgame on TV, and Linda was reminding him that his homework and his music practice and his dishwasher-emptying was not done. She threw my mom’s old cliché at him, but in her frustration, it came out backward: “Come on son. Don’t just do something. Sit there!”
We had a good laugh, but later I (Richard) started thinking about the flipped-around phrase. It occurred to me that in our over-busy and hectic lives, the reverse version might be more relevant than the original.
Most of us have more to do than we can do most of the time. Rather than just doing something, what we need is to sit there for a few minutes and decide what matters most. Not sit there at the computer or in front of the TV or video game, but sit there and think; sit there and plan.
We sometimes let ourselves get infected with the notion that any action is preferable to any inaction; that doing is superior to thinking; that doing something— anything — is better than occasionally doing nothing at all.
In a world where there is an endless number of things to do, we can become fanatic, frantic whirlwinds of activity, working ourselves to an exhausted frazzle each day and yet looking back over the weeks and months and not being able to see much progress. Like someone sawing furiously with a dull saw, we keep doing something and tire and stress ourselves.
We need the new maxim that Linda coined by the slip of her tongue: Don't just do something. Sit there!
Sit there long enough each morning to decide what is really important during the day ahead. Sit there long enough once or twice in the middle of the day to collect your thoughts, to meditate for a moment, to calm your mind and regain perspective. Sit there on a child's bed at bedtime and just listen to that precious son or daughter. Sit there and watch a sunset rather than just doing something.
The fact is that just "sitting there" is rapidly becoming a lost art, stomped out by trying to do something every minute. Reversing this old cliché in our minds can give us a new and useful maxim that slows us down, tunes us in and makes us more selective and more purposeful in the things we choose to do.
Richard and Linda Eyre are N.Y. Times No. 1 best-selling authors and founders of JoySchools.com who speak throughout the world on marriage and parenting issues. Their new books are "The Turning" and "The Thankful Heart." See www.valuesparenting.com.