When did 'busy' become the new 'fine'?
Ask some people how they are today and listen to the responses.
When I did this I heard things like: -
“Really busy, but good thanks.”
“Good - manic at work, but good.”
“I’m okay. Work is just so hectic at the moment, you know how it is.”
“Busy, as always.”
I’m also very guilty of saying these things! And it isn’t to say it isn’t true, but what happens when you are not busy? How do you feel?
I’m a busy busy bumblebee
It has become such a norm to be constantly busy, on the go, achieving, striving, thriving, that to step off the treadmill, to slow down, even just a bit, has negative connotations. In work, you fret that not being busy means you will be made redundant. Outside of work, you worry that you are not living a fulfilled enough life.
But what if you could take a slight step back; remove some of the ‘noise’ and let yourself just ‘be’ for a bit? At work, could it lead to some interesting thoughts arising, some space to think about better ways of doing things, a new project that could make or save the company thousands? At home, could it lead to a weekend reading with your partner, laughing and chatting with your children over a leisurely dinner, a slow walk with your dog, with no watch on your wrist?
Introducing some control over your mind
By always being busy, you are not allowing your mind to rest, to mull over ideas, to develop new connections, to find different and better ways of doing things. Neuroplasticity is the premise that your brain can continue to change throughout your life; the ability to create and develop new neural pathways for different responses to stimuli which gives you more options to the situations you find yourself in. Margaret Moore and Erika Jackson (2014) think that, “a full focus of the brain’s attention resources is a first step in neuroplasticity” - meaning you need to remove the busyness that fills your mind, to create space and focus on a single task, to be able to start creating new thinking.
As Graham Lee and Ian Roberts (2015) put it, “bringing attention to the present moment...can give a measure of control over [your] states of mind… attending to the present moment with openness and curiosity.” How would more control of your mind serve you? Would having more options available to you be advantageous?
I encourage a daily meditation practice - whether that is 5 minutes concentrating on your breathing, or a 60 minute yoga practice, or a 30 minute guided meditation, or 15 minutes doing that favourite activity where time seems to disappear as you get into the ‘flow’ - anything that helps ground you in the present moment, where you are focusing on ‘being’ and not worrying or feeling anxious about something that has happened (which you can no longer change because it is in the past), or could happen (and you are running through the many ‘what if’ scenarios). When you are consciously focusing on the present moment and removing the other distractions in your mind, it is amazing the self awareness, reflection and learning that can happen.
But in this fast-paced world, is slowing down really an option?
If busyness can be described as doing a lot of activities, mindfulness can compliment this by ensuring you are fully present when doing your busyness! Here are a few things for you to be mindful of (see what I did there?!):
Multi-tasking is a myth - it has been proven that multi-tasking is just moving your attention back and forth between various tasks giving the illusion that you are doing the tasks simultaneously, but are actually being less productive than doing the tasks separately with your full attention on each. So, concentrate fully on one task at a time, get it done well and then move on to the next. (Don't believe me - try this simple experiment here!)
Control that rising panic - when you feel that impending doom, the tightening in your chest, your heart beating a bit faster - move away from the situation and find somewhere you can concentrate on your breathing for a couple of minutes. This could be a toilet cubicle, a meeting room, the path outside your building, in your car - it doesn’t matter, it just needs to be some space for you to gain control. Breathe in slowly and breathe out fully. Concentrate on your breathing. If thoughts come into your head, acknowledge them and then put your focus back onto your breathing. In this very moment, all that matters is your breathing and you are fully in control of this.
Get off auto-pilot - you do so many tasks automatically, and this is a good thing because it frees up your energy and resources for the tasks that do need your full attention. But sometimes, becoming fully present in the moment means you may appreciate a detail you had previously not noticed, question why something happens in a certain way which could lead to different thinking or just give your mind a rest from the constant chatter evaluating what has happened this morning, the meaning behind what your boss said, the comeback you should have given, or worrying about the presentation you have got coming up, the mountain of work you have to get through before you go home today or the various responses that you may receive on the proposal you just sent out. Just being in the present moment stops this as you are not thinking about the past or future; it gives you space and control of your mind.
And this may include being aware of your response when someone asks "how are you?". It might then be a conscious response of "busy", or it may mean you give yourself permission to give a different answer - maybe you are happy that your team won their game last night, maybe you are cross at your daughter as she left her homework bag in the middle of the hallway again this morning, maybe you are grateful that you have a few minutes to think and feel in control of your day.
Lee, G. and Robers, I. (2015), in Leadership Coaching 2nd Edition (ed. Passmore, J.), Coaching for authentic leadership, p.26, Kogan Page Limited
Moore, M. and Jackson, E. (2014), in The Complete Handbook of Coaching Second Edition (ed. Cox, E., Bachkirova, T. and Clutterbuck, D.), Health and Wellness Coaching, p.318, Sage Publications