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For Alisha Ramos, Doing Nothing Is Doing A Lot    

For Alisha Ramos, Doing Nothing Is Doing A Lot

Art by FISK

When working on your mental health, one of the most important things to remember is that it shouldn’t always feel like actual “work.” What you do in your leisure time plays a really important role in supporting your mental health. Whether it’s learning to meditate or getting into a flow state by putting together a puzzle or doing absolutely nothing, leisure activities help us remember that our worth is not tied up in our productivity.

Alisha Ramos has built her life’s work around that belief. The founder and CEO of sibling brands Girls Night In, a newsletter with more than 200,000 subscribers, and Whiled, which is known for its aesthetically pleasing (and challenging) jigsaw puzzles, Ramos is shaping a world that allows for  “luxuriating in doing nothing”. In an age where the boundary between on and off time is blurring as we’re more and more glued to our screens, Ramos helps people slow down and reclaim that downtime and use it as an opportunity for more analog experiences. Also, her puzzles are just plain fun and awesome.

We spoke with Ramos about slowing down, her newfound love of gardening, and what she feels optimistic about.

Where did the idea for celebrating the art of doing nothing come from for you? 

This was a reaction to the fast-paced lives that we’re all living right now. Technology and this culture of endless ambition are a big part of it. The pandemic has certainly placed a sharper focus on this for many of us I’m sure. [We’re asking ourselves] why do we value ambition, growth, productivity? There is so much beauty in slowing down, doing nothing, getting curious, and tapping into a more childlike state of wonder. These are the feelings that our brands like Whiled try to capture.

When was the first time you noticed how slowing down impacted your mental health? 

I noticed it more recently with my newfound love of gardening. When I’m in our yard, tending to plants or even just walking around the grounds with a cup of tea in the morning, I feel so calm. Nature is so grounding. It provides clarity. In these moments of slowing down, I’ve had my most creative thoughts and “A-ha” moments. It helps to let your mind just wander and float, versus using brute force, to solve really hard problems.

What are some other activities you love that put you in a flow state? 

Aside from gardening, I’ve always loved writing (with my hands) and drawing or painting. As a kid, I used to create these storybooks for my parents, complete with fun illustrations and bindings. When I have a lot on my mind, the best way for me to process and calm down is to pick up a pencil and just start writing in my journal. It could be gibberish, it could be observations or thoughts that feel embarrassing, it could be poetry. No matter what it is, at the end of it, my mind is at ease, knowing that whatever was in my brain is now on a page that I can look at, observe, and reference.

For many people, embracing nothing can feel like a challenge to our short attention spans. Do you have any practices that help you focus? 

I will leave my phone in a different room and retreat into a bedroom and get comfortable, either sitting in an armchair or literally lying down on the bed. If there is a lot on my mind and it’s racing, I’ll do a five-minute meditation on my Calm app. Sometimes I’ll listen to music, sometimes I’ll write, sometimes I’ll read. For me, the first step has always been to disconnect from a screen and the constant push notifications on my phone.

What are some of your top picks for books with mental health themes? 

I’m not sure this counts as “mental health” but I love The Power of Ritual by Casper ter Kuile. It’s about tapping into everyday activities to create more spiritual practices. He introduced the idea of a “tech sabbath” which I love—a 24-hour period of not using a laptop so that he can get more in touch spiritually. I haven’t tried this yet, but I’d really like to.

This isn’t a book, but I love following Alma on Instagram for their therapists’ insights.

How have your coping strategies pivoted change during Covid?

I’m not sure this is a coping strategy, but I talk to my friends more often than before. For me, that’s a nourishing and spiritual practice, whether it’s chatting with them on the phone or FaceTime. 

On a more philosophical level, I’ve begun to really examine my beliefs around goals. As a highly ambitious person, thinking about combatting our always-on-the-go culture and trying to embrace slowness has been difficult but necessary work. What goals have I set? Why did I set those goals? Are they actually necessary? What fears or beliefs underlie those goals? Can I get rid of them, or decrease them? This has been immensely helpful and eye-opening for me as I examine everything from my personal life to professional life.

What are you feeling optimistic about? 

The vaccine rollout, the blooming of spring, the thought of hugging my friends and traveling to new places soon.

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414.