Overwhelmed by feelings of busyness, we wake up at 2am and remember something important that needs to be done the next day, worried that we’ll forget we get up and quickly add it to our ever growing to do list. In conversations with others or while spending time with our kids, we do our best to stay present, yet our mind wanders off to the next thing that must be done.
On those busy, distracted days, time spent relaxing, enjoying ourselves or anything that doesn’t feel like we’re being productive, can feel wasteful or irresponsible and lead to feelings of dreaded guilt.
Being busy is addictive.
It has become part of our identity, sometimes to the point that we fear being not busy might also mean that subconsciously we feel we’re not worthy or important.
So much has happened in our world over the last two years, in some ways we have changed the way we live and work with less commuting and staying closer to home. But we have still managed to find ways to keep ourselves very busy. At the very least, we have become very good at maintaining a busy mind.
Keeping busy allows us to stay distracted from our feelings and emotions. It keeps us safe from feeling anything negative and we keep a safe and comfortable distance to the issues in life that are sometimes hard to look at. We’re not comfortable being still with our own thoughts because we’re afraid of what might surface when we do.
Busyness has shaped much of my life. I was so addicted to doing and achieving that even though I climbed that ladder pretty successfully, I was only until I realised my ladder was leaning up against the wrong wall. Despite my successes, I was miserable. I felt disconnected to myself and everything that was important to me. Constantly chasing success and happiness outside of myself and feeling the pressure to always keep up, juggling all the balls and afraid that if I dropped any of them that I would feel like a failure.
When I left my 9-5 career and became a health coach, a healer told me that the source of happiness had to come “from in here” as he pointed to my heart. From that moment I decided to dedicate my life to redefining myself, how I valued myself and get clear on what was really important. I started to get very curious about this “busy” phenomenon and why we get so busy looking for happiness outside of ourselves.
Recently I have discovered a term to desribe this busy addiction.
Action addiction, a condition caused by a chemical imbalance in our brain. The hormone dopamine is the key player in keeping us busy and is a highly addictive reward-drug that gives us a short-term sense of enjoyment, relaxation, and gratification. When we’re busy we become task oriented and ticking things off a to do list, going shopping or scrolling social media feels good in the moment, then that feeling passes and the brain craves another kick. More action needed. And over time we’re caught in a vicious circle of action and reward and that addicted feeling of needing to be busy.
A mentor once said to me that busyness is a choice. We may have lots on in our life, but we get to choose whether we become action addicts or just mindfully observe the experience of having lots on. It’s a choice. And the ability to make that choice comes from developing a clear and present mindset.
Nowadays we tend to all be busy, overextended, stressed and anxious. It’s part of our identity. If we’re busy, we are important. If we’re stressed, it’s because we’re hard working. It´s part of living in a very busy and distracted modern world. If we’re not busy and stressed, we mustn’t be trying hard enough and we fear being called lazy.
Why it’s important for us to heal our need to be busy.
Keeping busy stops us from seeing the bigger picture. When we’re stuck in the daily, often mindless tasks and ruminating thoughts of our mind, we lose touch with what’s truly important and we miss the beautiful moments of life. We risk missing out on all those things that bring us love, joy and happiness.
In Chinese, the word “busy” consists of two syllables, one meaning heart, the other death. Keeping busy slowly kills our heart. The busier we get, the more energy flows to our head and away from our heart. The busier we get, the harder we are on ourselves to keep up, the less love, kindness, and compassion we have for ourselves, and we build a wall around our heart to help keep us safe, and we also tend to distance ourselves from those we love in the process, we become resentful because we literally have no capacity left to give.
Get more done by slowing down
To avoid slowly killing our hearts and allowing ourselves to reconnect with compassion, love, joy and happiness, we must learn to slow down and start to prioritise more stillness in our days.
The key to slowing down while being addicted to busy, requires a series of very small consistent habits to calm a busy mind.
1. First step is awareness. Being aware of your need to be busy.
2. Second step is to create a morning ritual that involves being still for a few minutes before you start your day. This could be through meditation, a gratitude practice or breathwork.
3. Third step is to create mindful moments throughout your day to remind your brain that stillness is a safe place to be. When we slow down and let go of the need to do all the things, we allow the brain to let go of the immediate urge for dopamine. In these moments ask yourself: Are you choosing to be busy? What’s keeping you busy? Is it worth it? Are there things on your plate you could let go of? What would happen if you let those things go? Let yourself contemplate these questions by journaling your answers. Be honest with yourself, you might be interested by what comes up for you.
4. Final step is to repeat these steps everyday. There are no shortcuts or quick wins here. Mindfulness requires a consistent commitment. Change won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. And when it does, that’s where the magic happens.
Are you addicted to busy?
Here is a little exercise you can do to see if you suffer from action addiction.
Next time you get to your desk in the morning, or you get home after dropping the kids at school, just as you’re about to get stuck into your to do list for the day, sit down and close your eyes. Don’t do anything. Just sit in stillness and do nothing for 5 minutes.
If you find this exercise difficult and you’re challenged by doing nothing, you feel restless, perhaps a little anxious and your mind is overrun with thoughts — you are experiencing some degree of action addiction.
I hope these insights help bring more focus to the way you live your life and help you redefine your relationship with busy. Make a commitment to prioritise stillness in your days, I promise you it will be worth it. You might just find that by slowing down, you might actually do less but get a lot more meaningful things done.
I love you.