"Busy" is a 4-Letter Word
Towards the end of 2018, I noticed a pattern whenever I asked people how they were doing.
“Busy,” was the standard reply.
It was so common that I threatened to start a swear jar every time people described their lives as “busy.”
Because “busy” is a 4-letter word!
It’s become a badge of honour when the reality is that it’s quite the opposite!
Metaphorically, "being busy" can make people exceptionally unwell because it overloads their brain circuitry, leading to a host of potential health problems.
... Plus all the emotional toil that comes with it!
In my experience, when people say that they are “busy,” what they are really giving is an indescript description for, “I’m doing all kinds of things for myself and everyone around me - running myself ragged day-after-day - but not really getting anywhere.
But I have to say something to justify why I feel so tired and frustrated and unwell all the time. But what choice do I have when I have all these other responsibilities? What I really want to do is say ‘f**k it,’ and go on a mental break for a while. … but that won’t solve my problem either! In fact, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t even know what the problem is!
I just know there’s a problem and it’s driving me to tears. But because I don’t know what it is or what I can do about it, it’s easier for me to bury my head into routine and sedate my feelings under the guise that if I’m doing a lot, I must be doing something right and going somewhere … even if I don’t know where that somewhere is.”
That is what “busy” has come to mean.
Busyness is Aimless Activity
Aimless in the sense that it occupies your time but does not necessarily have purpose in taking you where you want to be in life.
I’ve heard it said that one of the most frustrating things you can do to a person is to give them a problem that they can’t solve.
How strange it has become that this elusive “missing piece of the puzzle” is something that is actually the default human setting: happiness.
In whatever form you define it, isn’t happiness ultimately what we all want in life?
Peace. Gratitude. Fulfilment. Certainty. Growth. Contribution. Satisfaction. And so forth.
I don’t know if I have the answer for this one, but I do have a few thoughts.
Foremost, we’ve learned to substitute our innate definition of “happiness” with what the world says “should make us happy.”
Think about children. Assuming that they have their basic survival needs met including shelter, food and love, kids are happy. They play, they make-believe, and they create all the time.
Their default setting is to be happy.
But somewhere they lose that.
- Maybe it’s the byproduct of 12 years of instruction and schooling where that sense of “play and creation” is substituted by “discipline and wrote memory.”
- Maybe it’s the byproduct of mass media and marketing where that sense of “who I am” is replaced by “who I need to be in order to fit in, be cool and ‘be happy.’”
- Maybe it’s the byproduct of our cultural and familial beliefs where that sense of “individual expression” is sacrificed by “duty.”
- Or maybe it’s a combination of the lot, or something else entirely.
As Krishnamurthi said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Yet this is exactly what we do!
Unconsciously, 1) we abandon our sense of personal identity, vision and happiness; 2) we accept someone else’s version (that they may not like either, but still enforce); 3) carry through life doing all the things that we are supposed to do - being “busy;” 4) and then wake up one day wondering feeling exhausted and extremely unfulfilled.
Questions to Consider to Escape the Busyness Trap
To describe yourself as “busy” has become a badge of honour in society … but one that comes with a terrible price when you learn to be honest with yourself.
I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers.
I simply have a few thoughts that I’d like you to consider.
1.How do you define “being happy?” What does that mean and look like to you?
- Married? Single? Kids? No Kids? Friends?
- Spending time with friends and family (the ones you want to only, not the ones you don’t!)
- Living in a big house? Small house? In the city? Near the beach?
- Travelling? Fitness? Hobbies? Career? And forth forth.
Each of these activities represents a GPS coordinate in time and space. If you have not clearly defined where you want to be in all areas of your life, the universe has the tendency to assign the value for you … even if it isn’t what you actually want!
So have you defined your life vision? What you actually want?
2. Have you ever sat down to consider how your current daily activities are taking you where you want to go?
If you want to get from Brisbane to Los Angeles by car only, I don’t care how many miles you drive , how long it takes, how hard it is or how “busy” you make yourself.
The vehicle you have chosen will not take you where you want to go.
I’ve said for many years now that the question we’re asked from Kindergarten through Year 12 - “What do you want to BE when you grow up?” - is completely wrong.
It’s because people assign themselves into an occupational categories that have, by default, certain time, work, financial and lifestyle limitations on them. For example, teachers get lots of holidays, but work is hard and pay is too low for the effort they put in. Doctors get higher pay but few holidays and extreme stress.
You get the idea.
And your occupation is only one dynamic of your life!
So if you allow the lifestyle limitations of your occupation to define your life - especially if these limitations are not congruent with the GPS coordinate of where you want to be in life - no matter how busy you are of course you won’t feel satisfied!
Instead of asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would go back to my original question, :What do you want your entire life to look like? What is your GPS coordinate for where you want to be?”
And then select an occupation that aligns with your innate abilities that will allow you to get there.
3. Learn to say “No.”
Are your current activities taking you towards or away from where you want to be in life? This can include spending time out of obligation with people you’d rather not.
Granted, there is still something to be said for responsibility … plus you cannot ignore responsibilities that you have chosen to take on (e.g., having a family, mortgage, etc).
However, you can place limitations on things going forward. The catch is that you must define your own limits. No one will do this for you!
And failure do define your own limits will only keep you trapped in busy-ness forever.
4. Stop saying “I’m busy.”
When you say the word “busy,” how do you feel?
Empowered? Productive? Successful?
Or do you feel disempowered? Frustrated? And unhappy?
Don’t use “busy” as a word to mask how you feel, especially if what you’re feeling is bad!
If you can’t be honest with yourself and others, you doom yourself to retain in the trap of busyness forever.
Being active and productive and
Remember what I mentioned in the beginning of this post: one of the most frustrating things you can do to a person is to give them a problem that they can’t solve.
Well, if you can’t define how you feel or what the problem even is, how do you ever expect to solve it?
If you feel like you’re wasting your effort, frustrated because you aren’t making progress, or unhappy because the direction you’re heading is not where you want to go, be honest in that space so that you can make the necessary changes.
Also consider the implications of what you’re subconsciously saying to yourself when you use the word, “busy.”
- If you say, “I’m too busy to take care of my health,” you’re actually saying that, “My health is just not a priority right now” … unfortunately when it finally comes priority, it may be too late!
- If you say, “I’m too busy taking care of the kids,” you’re actually saying that, “My other relationships (including spouse) aren’t as important” … which can be dangerous when the kids grow up and is one of the reasons that divorce rates are highest for people with adult children even after 20 years of marriage.
- If you say, “I’m too busy to take time off work ,” you’re actually saying that, “My own sense of wellbeing and direction in life is not a priority” … and so months or years later when you finally burn out, you find yourself even farther from where you want too be, simply because you were “too busy” to lift your head up and look to see if all your busyness was taking you somewhere you wanted to go!
“Being busy” is a trap that keeps many people stuck in an unconscious (or semi-conscious at best) pit of despair.
It robs you of your potential for a better future.
It robs you of your potential for happiness and wellbeing.
It robs you of one of your few birthrights, which is the ability to make conscious decisions that share the quality of your life.
Although “being busy” may seem like the easier path, as I’m sure you see by now, “busy” takes so much more than it gives.
I hope you may take this opportunity to examine a few things is your life - to stop wearing “busyness” as a badge of honour - and to stop using the word entirely like the 4-letter swear word it actually is.