For over 14 years now I have been working CEOs, managers, VPs, employees, mothers, husbands and friends. And whatever the problem they were bringing to me, I was surprised to notice the following pattern: over 95% of those needing my assistance are not aware of the connection between their challenges and the fact that they just have too much on their plate. It seems to me that, for various reasons, they have lost their ability to feel when to stop and pause. They only have two functions: Play and FastForward. And if they only knew that at least half of their problems resolve automatically if they come out of this “zone” in which the obsession with “being busy” has effectively incarcerated them.
So, why do people keep going, and even increasing their schedule and to do lists, despite the decrease of their life quality? Well, think eating disorders, like anorexia for example: there is no sensation of hunger, although the anorexic hasn't been eating for days. And there is no ability to see one’s real body image, the anorexic perceives his/her body as fat, although the mirror shows only skin and bones and the scale shows 60lb.
It is exactly the same with being busy. People have lost the ability to perceive the signs that they need to stop.
Here are my 7 very good reasons, which practically formulated themselves, throughout many years of observing and working with human relationships:
1. BUSY BECOMES THE FAST-FOOD THAT FEEDS YOUR LIFE.
The way convenience has replaced nutrition, by normalizing the consumption of synthesized fast-food to the expense of slow cooked natural ingredients, the same way pause, contemplation and slow strolls in the park have been replaced by incessant movement. And the same way junk food makes you crave it again, being busy increases your need for being busier.
2. BUSY INVADES AND THEN REPLACES HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS. When being busy becomes the way of being, you start approaching relationships with the same mindset. You begin relating to people in terms of the “value” of the time you “invest” or “spend” in a relationship (please note the financial terms that are now so popular to describe a romantic or friendly relationship). Spontaneity, awe, surprise, are forgotten or they never develop, and when encountered they are perceived as nuisances. Since you do not seem to find a satisfactory relationship, you bury yourself even more in busy activities to forget and justify your emotional insuccess, and then 5-10 years later you come and see me complaining of anxiety, anger, insomnia, and difficulties managing your employees.
3. BUSY IS TRANSMISSIBLE. When you see your life as an endless chain of planned goals, objectives and activities, you tend to transform your children too in (lifetime) projects. It is still unbelievable for me to see the level of planned activities, appointments, and playdates that starts as early as 2-3 years old. Children learn that the normal way of being is to constantly do something, and consequently they never learn how to be.
Suggestion: try for a whole month not scheduling any leisure activity. Decide that day what you want to do, and try to simply be, inside your home, instead of rushing out to some activity. Wake up late in the weekends, do not open your computer before 12 noon, and definitely do plant the children in front of the TV. Tell them to invent a game instead.
4. BUSY CREATES ADDICTION. Raise your hand if in high-school, college, grad-school, or now, in your current profession, you use prescribed or illegal stimulants so that you can study or work more. Or party more. Or feel happier. Or feel less sad. Or feel normal. Well, when someone needs a chemical in order to feel normal, it means that they are well advanced on the addiction road, initially paved with the most honorable intentions. Using chemicals to keep yourself going and justifying that with “I’m busy”, shows how deeply unaware and removed from our natural environment we have become. The saddest story I’ve heard was from a parent who had took their child to several psychiatrists, insisting the child needs to be prescribed Ritalin, so that they can study longer.
Suggestion: Why don't you try a beautiful latte to refresh your mind, and make sure it is served in a real cup, ceramic or glass -- if coffee could react I can guarantee you that it would puke every single time someone pours it into a chemically lined paper cup. If coffee doesn't wake you up, then you must take that as a sign that it is time to STOP.
5. BUSY BECOMES ADDICTION. 12 steps philosophy has always been a source of astonishment for me, I never really understood how can this model be as popular as it is, accepted by authorities as the main “treatment recovery” model for addictive behavior.
Those familiar with 12 steps programs might remember one of their numerous slogans: “Keep yourself busy at all time!”. The idea is that by doing something all the time will divert your thoughts from thinking about alcohol, drugs, etc. Well, guess what, keeping yourself busy can definitely distract you from the object of your addiction. For a while. That is, until the busyness itself becomes the addiction. Exchanging one addiction with another is not real recovery in my opinion, even if the new addiction is less destructive.
Being busy all the time, whether self-induced or dictated by your boss, job, etc., becomes a way of being. You simply cannot stop anymore, despite psychological and biological signs (fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression, anger, irritability), despite calls from your children (only children notice your crazy rushes, your friends and your significant other are probably caught in the same web and they already think that obnoxiously busy is normal). If you stop --usually forced by more severe symptoms-- you experience a weird sensation of emptiness, a void which asks itself to be filled as quick as possible. And you start over.
Suggestion: Once you start accepting that the normal way of being includes doing nothing, and that in fact periods of doing nothing are absolutely necessary for recharging your batteries and avoiding burnout, then you will see positive changes in your life.
6. BUSY BECOMES ANGER. Frustration, irritability, anger, are all normal emotions, and as long as they are acknowledged and expressed in a way that allows for a resolution of the issues that causes them, they are nothing but opportunity to mature as a human being. But when you are flooded by information, tasks, goals, and last minute stuff (and there is always a last minutes something…), your ability to process information and respond in a socially accepted way is challenged. Frustration becomes anger, anger is directed toward others or yourself, and then becomes aggressive or passive-aggressive behavior.
Suggestion: Learn your limits: what are the early signs of feeling overwhelmed? What are the patterns of your behavior when you are too busy? What is the feedback from those around you? Again, consider the help of a professional who can guide your awareness and teach you how to make anger and frustration work for you.
7. BUSY PROMOTES DENIAL. Increasing the busy time is very useful in avoiding dealing with not so pleasant aspects of your life. But at the same time prevents you from facing those issues. You might feel insecure, lonely, unwanted, worried, discouraged, these emotions do not go anywhere, even if you think you have buried them deep down, under many hours of “being busy”. They pile up there on the back burner of your psyche, and they will come out in other circumstances and areas of your life, disguised as anger, anxiety, gastritis, substance abuse, phobias, OCD behavior, insomnia, inability to focus, inability to sustain relationships, and hundreds more. Obviously that dwelling on negative emotions and their causes is not a healthy option either. But denying their existence and pretending you are busy will not get you much further.
Suggestion: Learn and practice how to face your emotional and life challenges, while at the same time don’t let yourself be engulfed or controlled by them. It is the only, I repeat, the only way emotions are integrated, “digested”, so that they can be used as fuel to promote your psychological growth. Consider the help of a professional if you are not sure how to do that.
The pause is especially important for the freedom of being. what I have called essential freedom. For it is in the pause that we experience the context out of which freedom comes. [...] When we don't pause, when we are perpetually hurrying from one appointment to another, from one 'planned activity' to another, we sacrifice the richness of wonder. And we lose communication with our destiny (ROLLO MAY, MD, Psychoanalyst)