Niksen: how doing nothing will save you from burnout


“Occupational burnout” is an officially World Health Organization (WHO) recognized syndrome, and for good reason. Its main symptom is an experience of long-term exhaustion – quite similar to depression – that results in a loss of interest in one’s career.

Burnout is becoming a social plague

The scale of this problem should not be underestimated, for occupational burnout is not just a tremendous personal crisis, it is also a true social plague; as experts confirm, occupational burnouts increasingly lead to higher employee turnover, lower productivity, and higher healthcare costs.

It is therefore not surprising that this problem continues to draw attention and that there’s a constant search for techniques to decrease stress and prevent the risks of falling into a burnout crisis. The latest innovation in this regard comes from the Netherlands, and ironically, it revolves around their often-denounced activity of “niksen.”

What is niksen about?

Niksen is a Dutch verb, which literally means “doing nothing” or in a broader sense, “doing something without a purpose.” Until not too long ago, the term didn’t have a particularly positive meaning among the Dutch. In the Netherlands, a country that has always been devoted to trade and business, and where being productive is a national core value, the idleness associated to niksen has always been perceived as a dangerous symptom of inefficiency and laziness. As a Dutch proverb says: “niksen is niks,” meaning “doing nothing is good for nothing.”

Yet, recently the concept of niksen has been getting a new, more positive connotation. The term niksen is now being used by wellness experts to indicate a method for letting the mind wander and flow, which allows the mind and body to naturally restore to psycho-physical balance.

Behind such a sudden and drastic reevaluation of idleness in the Netherlands resides the work of the prominent stress and burnout coach, Carolien Hamming. Hamming considers “the art of niksen” as a valuable alternative to mindfulness. While mindfulness revolves around focusing your awareness to everything that you are doing and to everything what is happening in and around you at this very moment, niksen is simply about giving yourself an actual break.

Now, Hamming’s study has gained great attention and popularity on the international scene, which has made “the art of niksen” a lifestyle concept that is now spreading all over the world.

But how exactly does niksen have this potent effect?

According to Hamming, the spread of burnout crises can in part be linked to the Western cultural mindset that devalues – and sometimes even demonizes – idleness on the one hand, and promotes activity and productivity on the other. As a result, many people cannot even conceive of spare time as a moment of total relaxation, which keeps them in a lifestyle and mindset where they always feel the pressure and need to do something, anything. In addition, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets too often act as a sort of umbilical cord that keeps us constantly attached to work, social life, news, and other “things” that are happening and demanding your attention…

Indeed, being engaged in hobbies and sports, and socializing with friends can certainly positively impact your well-being and help you in work and your passion, but enjoying life and restoring psycho-physical balance are not the same thing. And as it turns out, the latter is too often underestimated in our world.

Niksen for increased energy and productivity

Thus, that being said, don’t be ashamed to take breaks from time to time in order to do… well, just nothing. Simply let your mind wander and flow around, and feel for yourself how this indispensable “activity” recharges your batteries and helps you to see everything from a new perspective. And for those workaholics among us, rest assured, for after your heavy session of niksen you will be able to return to your commitments, goals, and ambitions with an reinvigorated motivation, creativity, and happiness.