January is often associated with striving, doing and manifesting but this year I’m taking a leaf out of a nonagenarian’s book and taking it easy instead.
After recently holidaying with my 91-year-old father, I have a new word in my vocabulary. Often when asked, “what did you do this afternoon”, inevitably his answer would be, “I had a good loaf.”
Loafing, in this context, has nothing to do with baked goods. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, loafing means “to spend time in idleness”.
His version of loafing usually involves reading The Economist cover-to-cover (a full week’s worth of loafing), snacking and snoozing.
In the last week of my holiday, I spent some some time alone in Sri Lanka and made it my mission to perfect the art of loafing. The New Year began with strolls on the beach, dozing by the pool, massages and early nights.
My journey into loafing was aided by my e-reader, dipping in and out of memoirs, novels and magazines. Walks that were more of an amble rather than serious exercise. Stopping to watch a family of monkeys’ scoot over the power lines and play. Lingering over a fresh juice, while staring out to sea. The aim was to do as little as possible, and the tropical heat was certainly an added incentive.
Elements of a good loaf
Cracking idleness in an age of achievement isn’t always as easy as it sounds. It can take time to turn off the inner voice that urges us to do more. Loafing can include these elements:
- Comfort: whether it’s a well-padded sun lounge, bed, sofa or picnic rug. Finding the ultimate degree of softness, back support and light makes for a more comfortable loaf.
- Gripping but not too highbrow reading material. Most libraries have digital collections of magazines, books and audio files. I love loafing in libraries, so it’s handy to take mine with me. If reading feels too arduous, podcasts are a great alternative.
- A snooze or time to daydream. Being free from time pressures is essential for loafing. Some would suggest that you need to get bored before you fully relax. For me, I know I’ve really tuned out when I start daydreaming. Loafing provides the perfect conditions to dream up a film plot, novel, fantasy home or your next holiday. Or simply conjure shapes in the clouds overhead.
- Easy food: something that can be eaten with one hand while engrossed in a book. Nothing you have to cook yourself. Home delivery makes loafing even easier these days.
- A diary or sketchbook. Ditch the laptop – writing, drawing or doodling with a pen or pencil helps you slow down and be more creative.
Studies suggest writing by hand, rather than a keyboard, triggers a neural response similar to meditation.
Perfecting the loaf throughout the year
While holidays offer an ideal opportunity for idleness, loafing can be practiced throughout the year. An hour in the afternoon can provide small pockets of loafing, to help hone the art.
If you have children it might take a little planning to organise a leisurely lie in one morning or a solo afternoon with no plans. However, a Saturday night with no screen time or to-do list can plant the seeds of idleness if you allow it.
Doing “nothing” and just relaxing can be challenging during periods of prolonged stress. Loafing sometimes feels uncomfortable, a waste of time or pointless but your nervous system will thank you for it.
At a time when our social media stream urges achievement, it can be a relief to give ourselves permission to slow down and just be.
Not ready to loaf?
But once you’ve ridden your initial mojo, give loafing a go to help replenish your creative process.