Niksen – The Dutch Art of Doing Nothing

If I told you to sit down, relax, and do absolutely nothing, how long would it take you to start sweating over your endless to-do list? It takes me about five minutes because at the very thought of dilly-dallying, I start planning what I need to do next. That’s where you and I are wrong and the Dutch are right. Rather than running yourself off your feet, take a moment to practice niksen – in other words, nothing.

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The Definition of Niksen is Relaxation, Not Laziness

There, I said it before anyone even got the chance to think it. Niksen is a Dutch word that means ‘to do nothing or deliberately do something without any purpose or goal of productivity’. This can be lounging around, listening to music, or looking out the window. While this may sound like laziness to some of you workaholics (myself included), don’t dismiss it so quickly. Doing nothing on purpose is a deliberate action that helps people relax. Given that the Dutch are globally known as a carefree nation, I would argue that they’re onto something with their concept.

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Niksen – The Dutch Art of Doing Nothing

Be careful now; this is the art of doing nothing on purpose. It is the opposite of mindfulness, where you’re actively trying to be present in the moment and aware of your surroundings. Once you begin to ‘niks’, you should focus on being, not doing – let your mind wander, don’t try to control any gestures or motions, and, most importantly, don’t try to be productive. So, if you remember something funny, smile or laugh, and feel free to tap your feet and fingers against any surface. Basically, do whatever feels natural at that very moment!

According to researchers from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, doing simple tasks or simply nothing allows your brain to process pieces of information it has received throughout the day. Be it studying, writing a paper, or listening to lectures, taking some time to just niks gives you time to consolidate information, which is also why your study breaks are so important (and why you should consider doing nothing when you need rest).

Adding Some of the Niksen Trend to Your Life

Dog-tired? Check.

Overwhelmed? Check.

Not a fan of meditation? Check.

We’ve got exactly the right thing for you! Did you know that there has been an alarming increase in stress-related health conditions, anxiety, and burnout over the last couple of years? The whole world may be a stage, but nobody warned us it was going to be a rat-race ring, and people are losing steam at high rates. When you feel like it’s all become too much, try NIKSEN! The trendy Dutch solution to tiredness and trepidation. The only thing you need to start ‘niksing’ today is some time and good intention!

Side effects may include increased happiness, higher motivation, and better rest. No need to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before practising niksen.

Niksen is a helpful tool in battling burnout and high stress related to work. By allowing yourself to rest when you need to, your brain gets a chance to recuperate from various external inputs. Also, with rest, your glands are brought into balance, which reduces cortisol production – that awful stress hormone that makes you jittery even when you should be taking some time off.

On the other hand, if you’ve tried meditating to calm down and failed, you don’t have to ‘get up and try, try, try’. You can simply call it quits and move in the direction of the Netherlands. Niksen is not about being mindful and aligning with every breath of fresh air, zoning in on chirping birds, or being as swift as the coursing river. It’s simply about being. By practising niksen, you’re mindful of what your subconsciousness may need rather than imposing control.

And here, you might find, is the core of the problem. We’ve been conditioned to think that we should be doing something, anything, at any point during the day. If we somehow end up alone on the couch, we get antsy and look for ways to be productive again. University environments (especially post-bachelor studies) are particularly keen on training you to be on the go. But here I am, as the worst sufferer of no-niksen-ever, to tell you that it’s absolutely fine to take a much-needed break!

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Learning to Niksen – Dutch Courage is Not Necessary

I’m not going to lie; niksen, surprisingly enough, takes practice. It’s not as simple as sitting down and doing nothing for a while. For example, when I sit to do nothing, my mind starts racing: It’s already planning my would-be big writing breakthrough, considering the plot, the characters, the … wasn’t I gonna paint that dragon picture? Oh, and the soundtrack of Begin Again is so inspiring, I want to learn to play all the songs on the guitar. And there it goes; the endless to-do and want-to-do-but-I-don’t-have-the-time lists are already reeling in my head before I spiral into everything I should have said to the hairdresser (who obviously mistook me for a sheep and sheared off half of my hair), but I’m afraid of confrontation, so I just gave her the money and cried at home for hours.




Your first attempts at doing nothing on purpose can look something like that, and that’s because niksen doesn’t come with an instruction manual. There are no five-easy-steps shortcuts to enjoying your own being without doing. You have to get acquainted with your mind and let it deal with the unpleasantries of the day.

To start, pick a comfy chair and simply stare out the window or around the room. You don’t need to focus on anything in particular or think about it for any length of time. Just pick a starting point and let your mind do the rest and go where it wants to. Over time, you should be able to relax into doing nothing and enjoying its rewards.

Benefits of the Niksen Philosophy for Students

Mind you, practising niksen is not meant to be an excuse for procrastination😉. It’s a way to improve productivity in the long run, and its goal is not to ignore your tasks until they explode and try to eat you. With that said, niksen, when done properly, offers many benefits:

  • Increased productivity. When your mind has dealt with anything it needed to process, be it the latest gossip (don’t you act all high and mighty, everyone gossips sometimes) or that mind-blowing book you’ve read, it will be ready to get back to work at full capacity.
  • Better motivation. You’re more likely to be motivated to get things done when you’ve already dealt with the mental load of the day or the week. Also, niksen is a form of reward for the mind and the senses, so it’s good to know that it’s waiting for you after a long, gruelling study session.
  • Stress-relief. Need I say more? We often add to stress by overthinking any problem while simultaneously trying to find as many solutions, causing a bit of a short circuit in our stress-hormone production. Often, it’s enough just to let things be –you can think about them without needing to act until you’re calm and collected again.
  • Better work-life balance. Or study-life, if you prefer. Nobody will die if you don’t respond to their email immediately. If it were THAT URGENT (!!!)*, they wouldn’t be emailing you; they would call. Besides, you don’t have to be at anyone’s beck and call at all times – that, my dear, is toxic, and you don’t need to sink into it.
  • Digital detox. While niks-ing around, stay away from your phone if you can. Let your mind do its thing and let your body rest, but keep social media to the minimum to regain control of your own life.
  • Better mood overall. If your niksen includes listening to music or watching a film, you’ll end up in a good mood anyway, but even if it’s just absolute nothing-ing, you’ll be refreshed.

* Don’t you just love those ‘urgent-now-for-now-immediately-or-else-apocalypse’ emails?

Finding Your Own Niksen Meaning

Depending on how busy your life is or how crammed you’re trying to make it, niksen will look a bit different to everyone, and it may vary from day to day. Sometimes you’ll be doomscrolling on Reddit; other times, you might go for a walk or lie around and enjoy the silence. Enjoying these precious moments will help you cope with whatever life and studies throw your way.

To reiterate:

  • Niksen is all about doing nothing on purpose.
  • It is not meant to be lazy – it’s meant to be refreshing.
  • Finding at least 15 minutes a day to niks is likely to increase your productivity in the long run and boost your mood and motivation.
  • It may be difficult at first, but practising niksen can and will become a rewarding relaxation technique.

With that said, happy being, not doing!

What does niksen mean?

Niksen means ‘to do nothing’ or, quite literally, ‘nothing-ing’. It’s the Dutch philosophy of doing nothing on purpose in order to relax and recuperate.

How do you do niksen?

Niksen may be difficult at first, as we are trained to be busy. But to do niksen, you can start off by sitting and staring out the window and letting your mind wander. Otherwise, you can enjoy some music, a movie, or even prolonged scrolling. The key is to be, not to do.