by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA , Redpoint Coaching
One of the default responses many of my clients, colleagues, friends and indeed family members give when asked how they are doing is “Very busy!” “Super busy”, “Totally slammed”. More often than not I suspect it is a boast packaged as a complaint. And I often catch myself giving the implied congratulations response: “Well, better than the opposite.”
I love what Tim Kreider, NYT blogger, has to say about our addiction to busyness:
“Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence. Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”
When I read the above it reminded me of what I sometimes tell my clients: Everyone is busy but not everyone achieves results. It sounds counterintuitive but just ‘sitting there’ is often a necessary prerequisite to achieving great results. There is a reason why we need to have off-site retreats to think strategically: we need to get away from the busyness to think about the important questions.
Again Tim Kreider: “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body (…)The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections it is (…), paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
It is, in my mind, no coincidence that many of the greatest thinkers like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, C.G. Jung and the Dalai Lama spent ( in the case of the Dalai Lama are still spending) many hours alone in quiet meditation…just sitting there.
I am someone who used to keep himself notoriously busy and overcommitted (and no, I am not cured but I am making good progress J!). I have on countless occasions experienced the adrenaline rush of being constantly busy and in demand. It is addictive, no doubt!
What is helping me to combat the addictive need to be busy but rather to focus on what is really important? Here are four things
1. Awareness about what unfulfilled need I fulfill with my busyness.
I have to admit that at times my busyness helps me to not face what I should be facing. It’s often easier to plow rather mindlessly through the to do list rather than stepping back and asking the big, hard questions.
Busyness also provides comfort. The emptiness we face when we ‘just sit there’ can be a scary place. It’s just me facing me and….nothing…pretty scary uh?
Building awareness around what need you are fulfilling by being constantly busy will help you take steps to let go.
2.Regular (2-5x/week) meditation practice
Over the course of the last three years I have started to mediate regularly. There are dozens of studies demonstrating the physical, emotional and mental benefits of a regular meditative practice. And I can attest from my own experience: it is one of the purest ways of ‘just sitting there’.
3. Monthly retreat with self (pen and a note book only)
I take regular time by myself over a coffee or yes, a drink, in a comfortable place, armed only with an old fashioned pen and note book but by design without any wireless connections that would distract me from asking the big question: Am I spending my time and energy with the people and projects that are most important to me? If no, what changes will I make?
4. Most of us keep To Do lists. However, instead of focusing on what “to do”, my “Stop Doing” List encourages me to think of activities I should not do anymore, things that I am doing out of habit, a (false) sense of obligation, and that are not really moving me to where I want to be.
Re-visit my stop doing list for some pointers on how to accomplish this.