You know how we all figured out a while ago just how dumb it was to always answer “How are you” with “Busy”?
Being busy is the new perfectionism – both of them are constructs we invent in our minds just to avoid sitting still in a big puddle of our own thoughts.
It’s not that I’m suggesting you don’t have plenty to do. I get it, I do too. But it’s the way we conduct our worlds in a way that just adds to the chaos and mayhem.
Here are some things we do to contribute to our own chaotic brains – some may look familiar:
- We multitask.
- We scroll mindlessly, taking all that outside noise into our heads.
- We say yes to stuff we really should say no to.
- We have weak or no boundaries, allowing other people’s priorities to overshadow our own.
- We procrastinate by doing things that don’t matter (I’m looking at you, people who iron their pillow cases).
- We answer “busy” when people ask how we are, and convince ourselves we have no time for anything.
A few years back, this “busy” mentality landed me in the hospital. I had three young kids and a (now ex) husband at home, and I’d been travelling for work. With everything going on, my regular exercise and healthy eating regimen had taken a back seat to pub meals and a stress-busting wine or two before trying to get half a decent night’s sleep.
My inner dialogue at the time went something like this:
“I’ll catch up on sleep later – anyway, I’m not that tired.”
“I’ll restart my running training next week.”
“I’ll do something special for myself when things slow down a bit.”
“I just have so much to do!”
I told myself these things while flogging myself like the proverbial dead horse – all the while waxing lyrical in this very blog about the importance of taking care of yourself. The irony is not lost on me, I promise.
It all came to a head when I met my mate Gillian for a drink in between arriving back in Brisbane and heading home to the family. One drink in and I suddenly came over all nauseous and dizzy. When that turned into a tingling left arm and totally numb hand, Gillian called me an ambulance and I was carted out of the Ship Inn on a gurney. Kewl.
At the hospital, they hooked me up to a drip and tested me for what would have been a very unplanned pregnancy, and a stroke. Not to be flippant to those who have been through either, but I remember tossing up in my head which one would be the least awful, and it came back an even draw.
Luckily for me, both of those tests came back negative, and the whole thing was put down to stress and exhaustion. I was sent home for some bed rest. (Again, I had three small children at home, so LOLLLLL!)
But what that episode taught me is that nobody is going to slow things down for me, and that you can look to the world like you’re taking care of yourself, but the only thing that matters is that you actually are. Your body won’t let you get away with keeping up appearances when you’re all alone with your stressed-out self.
These days, I have no less to do than I did then, but I have learnt to create space in my days. How?
- I don’t over-commit – I work out how long things will take, add in some buffer, and then I guard that timetable with my life. And if I found I have over-committed, I do something radical and shocking: I change my mind, apologise and withdraw. Nobody so far has died from this approach.
- I don’t just meditate and tick that off my list, I practise mindfulness all throughout my day. This free course by Tara Brach is the absolute business, if you’re interested in getting a piece of that.
- I have a long list of things I know help me to feel good, but I only try to do a few each day. Exhausting yourself trying to fit in all your self-care is the absolute epitome of an oxymoron. This one was hard-learnt, but necessary.
- I create boundaries and I patrol them like a doberman at a self-storage facility. Yes, this has upset a few people, but only those who benefitted from me not doing it earlier.
- I declutter on the regular. I once had a psychologist explain to me that chaos in my home was directly linked to chaos in my brain. Now, I am perfectly willing to ditch stuff to create space. That Marie Kondo knows her shit, even if she is a bit weird about folding her smalls.
- I make time to sit and do nothing. Yes, we’re all busy, but doing nothing, even for 10 minutes a day, allows your brain to unwind and relax, creating delicious mental space and a boost in creativity. That means no scrolling, no chatting, not even meditating – just sitting and being. If you find that super confronting (I did at first), it’s a good sign you really need it in your life. Try it for however long you can handle it and then build from there.
Learning to slow down and say no to more stuff is a hackneyed cry, I know. But the real lesson lies here in what you’re giving up for this life of busy-ness. Because every day we keep ourselves anaesthetised with minutiae, we’re neglecting the things that really make us vibrate at a higher level.
That business you haven’t started, that instrument you’re yet to learn, that painting you’d love to start…you’re choosing shit activities over them, and you’re the only one who is missing out.
We can’t do everything, but we can do the things that matter, if we allow it.
“The biggest, trickiest lesson,” Elizabeth Gilbert once said, “is learning how to say no to things you do want to do” – but if you are going to do that, at least make it for a good reason. Choose wisely, and take care of yourself in between.