After spending all weekend teaching a yoga teacher training module about Restorative Yoga and the importance of balancing the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (fight-flight-freeze) with that of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-digest-recover), I was inspired to write this blog post from a conversation I had in the studio with a student. This student and I were reflecting upon how "busy" has become such a meaningless term. Like "fine", "busy" seems to be the empty answer most people will reflexively reply when you ask them how they are doing. Sure, most of us are busy. We are a culture obsessed with multitasking and, more and more, I find people silence deprived. If it isn't music in the car, it's the television in the background or the pings and dings from our devices begging to snap up any free time we find ourselves in. You can't ride public transit or wait in a waiting room without noticing: we are obsessed with busying ourselves. As a result, what do I hear in my profession? "I can't meditate", "I can't sleep" "My mind is too busy". We have trained our sympathetic nervous system so well that it takes an ACTUAL crisis for people to remember the importance of balance. It's only when you really can't get out of that fight-flight-freeze state that you crave the balance that comes with rest-digest-recover. Compounding the issue as well are those around us. In our homes and especially in our workplaces, if you aren't busy, you're not pulling your weight. Tell someone you were in the office all weekend trying to finalize a big deal and they'll idealize your work ethic and tenacity. Tell them you spent the weekend at a mediation retreat (a very difficult emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental process) and the reply is much different ("Must be nice!).
Now, don't get it twisted. Yes, I am a yoga teacher, which is an incredibly magical career, but I don't spend my days meditating and making smoothies okay? I understand busy very very intimately. I am a business owner, Mom to a 16 month-old, wife getting ready to spend a month teaching in Bermuda (with the baby) while running a yoga teacher training program, creating content for my online course and classes for Yogasteya and the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, writing these blogs, supporting my online clients, planning a summer YTT, and making some time to sleep and shower. I. understand. busy. I have always had a lot of balls in the air at one time. I like to keep my mind rolling in creative ideas and fun projects. I have a million on the back burner waiting for my physical form to catch up. When I was in University, I was introduced to the idea that stress is a choice and it was so empowering. I could be "stressed" or I could be "capable, but busy" or "working at max capacity". In my post-grad years, my attention then shifted from being "busy" to being "productive" and my mindset changed from frazzled and out-of-control to awake, alive, and able. That paradigm shift allowed me to get back behind the wheel of my time. We are pulled by dozens of priorities every day and it's unreasonable to think that we'll be able to give 100% to all of them all of the time and that's okay! That's why we're humans and not cyborgs. I say it all the time, but I promise you that you're not going to come to the end of your life and say, "Gosh, you know, I am so glad I spent that time emptying out my email Inbox". We don't care about that stuff, we care about people and we only connect with people in a meaningful way when we create spaces in our lives with which to do so.
You can take intentional steps to break out of this ugly cycle of "busy" (to unbusy yourself). Here are a few to consider:
1. Realize that being busy is a choice. It is a decision we make. We are never forced into a lifestyle of busyness. The first, and most important, step to becoming less busy is to simply realize that our schedules are determined by us. We do have a choice in the matter. We don’t have to live busy lives. If, like me, you have a very abundant calendar, consider changing your language from "busy" to "productive". Without that full calendar, I don't feed my family, so I want to stay productive! What I don't want is all the loss of control that seems to follow when one is stuck in the cycle of business.
2. Stop the glorification of busy. Busy, in and of itself, is not a badge of honor. In fact, directed at the wrong pursuits, it is actually a limiting factor to our full potential. It is okay to not be busy. Repeat this with me: It is okay to not be busy!
3. Appreciate and schedule rest. One of the reasons many of us keep busy schedules is we fail to recognize the value of rest. Start small, set aside one waking hour per day for rest and family. Intentionally schedule it on your calendar. Then, work up to a full day and guard this rest day like gold!
4. Revisit your priorities. Become more intentional with your priorities and pursuits in life. Determine what are the most significant contributions you can offer. Then, schedule your time around those first. Busyness is, at its core, about misplaced priorities. Download an app like In Moment and see how much time you spend on social media and even limit that time through the app. One of my favourite prioritization tools is my "Big 3". I've talked about this tons already, but, essentially, this is a list of three things that I must handle today for my day to be complete. As a creative entrepreneur, I have a growing list of ideas and inspirations along with good ole' To Dos. To try to keep myself on task, I take three of those tasks each day and, relentlessly, focus on their completion. This has become a great tool both to keep me focused on one job but also to draw a line between when my kitchen table is a desk and when it's back to the table.
5. Own fewer possessions. One of the biggest lessons popularized from the smash hit book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (that I'd already known for years - humblebrag) is that the things we own take up far more time and mental energy than we realize. They need to be cleaned, organized, and maintained. And the more we own, the more time is required. Own less stuff. Take a page from my book and intentionally live in a tiny house so that you don't have room to take on stuff. Do you know what's more valuable than things? Time!
6. Prioritize space in your daily routine. Take time to go for a walk over lunch. Find space in your morning to sit quietly before starting your day. Invest in a yoga practice. Find opportunity for breaks at work in between projects. Drive in your car without turning on the radio or music. Even notice the little pause between your breaths. Try it now: inhale. Exhale. Now notice the pause before inhaling again. There's possibility in space. Space is where our creativity thrives. It's where we connect to ourselves and each other. Begin cultivating little moments of space in your otherwise busy day and see how the brain starts to change.
7. Practice “no". Recognize the inherent value in the word “no.” Learning to say “no” to less important commitments opens your life to pursue the most important.
Busy does not need to define you. Unbusy is possible. It’s okay to be happy with a calm life. And, honestly, considering the chaos and uncertainty of our political and social climate, doesn’t calmness sound pretty wonderful?