Posted by: ginalazenby | May 8, 2018

Are You Doing Too Much?

Conscious Cafe Skipton April.jpg

Are You Doing To Much?    (20 insights from our discussion evening)

Quite clearly for most of us the answer is yes. Our April Conscious Cafe gathering in Skipton gave us an interesting discussion because most people have come to accept this as a way of life and have little incentive or ability to change. It is true that 21st century modern life is so much more complex than it used to be and there is a staggering amount of choice available to us which in itself makes even the smallest decision much harder work. With so many possibilities for our free time, why on earth are we so short of it … and in some cases, so worn out?!

Busyness has a lot more to do with psychology than work load. For some bizarre reason there is a worthiness in having to do so many things and not feeling able to take time out simply to be. How dare we be so selfish!  Why is looking after yourself so frowned upon?!

I recall a time I was interviewed for a book about female entrepreneurs called “The Pilgrim Mothers”. In my interview I spoke of a childhood memory of my parents always working hard and being busy and how that might have affected my drive in adult life. I laughed about my memory of walking into a room and finding my mother sitting down with a cup of tea. She would act as if she had been caught out and say “I have only just this minute sat down”. The sub text being of course, don’t get the idea that I am being lazy here … I am only guiltily taking two minutes for a quick cup of tea then I will get back to work!! I gifted my mother a copy of the published book and when I walked into my lounge I saw her sitting reading it with a cup of tea. She laughed and repeated her line … “literally, I have just sat down”!  So if there is guilt about taking any time out of busyness, then no amount of workload reduction will help .. we will simply look for other ways to fill our time and feel worthy.  

With a world packed full of leisure waiting for us to enjoy why do we frown upon the simple act of stopping and taking time for ourselves. And worst of all seems to be the notion of actually doing nothing at all.  I recently added on a holiday week to a convention trip to San Francisco.  I hired a car and drove south to Long Beach with every intention of visiting a network of colleagues I knew down there and making the most of my time. In the end, that rental car sat outside my friend’s house for five days untouched. I had an idle week with a daily routine of a walk, a swim, a couple of meals, one visit to the cinema and lots of reading on the porch or on my bed on cool days. I did feel rather guilty as I had brought various packets of notes for writing and all sorts of other things to ‘catch up’ on now that I finally had some time. In the end, I just let my brain stop working and I enjoyed reading novels, not even worthy non-fiction!  When I revealed to friends that that was how I was spending my time … doing nothing …three different women congratulated me for being a role model for simply stopping and taking a restorative pause for myself. My inactivity inspired them! I knew I needed the break and I took it.  Instead of being normal, it appeared to be an outrageous luxury… a holy grail that is hardly ever attained and worth acknowledgement when done!

Our Conscious Cafe group conversation in April explored our own attitudes to activity and rest and what we thought was going on in society. Here are some insights.

  1. Expectations keep us busy doing things we think we should do. These can come from family, culture … and now social media. We need to pick them apart and consider why we are doing what we are doing.
  2. Comparing ourselves to others through the images we see on social media can be a shortcut to feeling that we are doing less than we should. Even though we know this is nonsense, do we still let ourselves get caught up in that? 
  3. Being retired does not necessarily stop the feeling of busyness.  Even without the massive call on our time of full-time employment, it is still possible to create an overfull day .. or at least the feeling of it being overfull. Does the habit of busyness carry over to retirement?
  4. Learning a de-stressing technique, whatever it is, can be a life-saver. However you come to this, through work or being directed into it by a loved one, any training can stand us in good stead for changing the way we relate to work and potentially create balance in our lives. It is a good idea to make a list of everything you have to do then consider what you can delegate, what you are not in control of, what is not important, what does not really need doing, what drains you .. it might be an eye opener to see what actually is left! 
  5. The need for control: this can be a bad habit. At some point you have to examine why you feel the need to manage everything that is in your universe and rationalise whether it is worth the downside and stress of being over-busy and over-committed.
  6. Low self-esteem: this can hit any of us at any time for different reasons and does not have to be a permanent part of your life or personality.  When you are feeling a bit ‘less than’, one strategy for coping is to over-provide, over-care, over-give hoping this will make up for some lack we feel within. Work on the feelings about yourself more, and less on your job list.
  7. Changing roles and taking on something new and unfamiliar can be a challenge. Giving up full-time paid work outside the home in a professional role then becoming a full-time stay-at-home parent can be stressful. If you make your day look organised and easy then it can mask the difficulties inherent in managing motherhood.  Many women can take on too much as they strive to receive recognition for the responsibilities and hard work in motherhood.
  8. Hard work is worthy. If you are working hard then you are doing good, and on the right track.  Of course, working smart is really the key but there is a lingering tendency in the work culture for the need to look like we are working hard and that does not give much of an incentive to enjoy what we do and make it look easy!
  9. Perfectionism is a loaded word. Sometimes it is good to have high standards and be known as a perfectionist expecting the best from others. Creative, self-formulated perfectionism can be seen as a blessing that leads to continual improvement. We appreciate people who go the extra mile and exceed expectations. But delivering this must not be at the cost of oneself. Balance is key. Always do what you can and consider the cost of pushing yourself to an edge to deliver perfection .. time and time again.
  10. Critical inner voice: is this what is driving the activity and effort?  If so, standing back and having a reality check is important. Then another honest conversation about asking for support would be of value.
  11. Kindness: the drive to over-do comes from us not being kind to ourselves. This is the biggest lesson.  The old oxygen mask metaphor holds true. What kind of resource can you be for other if you are continually wearing yourself out? Take care of yourself.
  12. Learn to say “No”.  Letting other people fill up your diary takes away your control. You need to have boundaries about when you are available and when you will take time for yourself to do something playful or nurturing or even nothing at all. Why do you keep saying “Yes”. What do you get out of being always available?
  13. Toolkits: many folks have studied meditation or mindfulness and wish they had known the benefits when they were stressed out in the corporate world.  There is so much out there to help including plenty of apps and downloads.
  14. Language: listen to how you talk about what you are doing. The words “should”, “must” and “need” are better replaced with “I choose to” and “I like to”. Words are very powerful. If over-activity and busyness come from attitude and a choice that we are making at some level, changing the words we use go a long way to altering our habits.
  15. Play: Is play just for kids? Who has time to play as an adult? Play seems to have disappeared from adult life as it is not valued and yet it plays an enormous role in helping us unwind, get creative, let go of stress and generally restore our balance. What’s so bad about making time for fun??
  16. Duvet days. If you are not familiar with these they are days when you simply do not feel like facing the world. Generally, having a day when you just allow yourself not to take part in the outside world and you hunker down for a long sleep, read an entire book .. or whatever … these moments can nourish us deeply.  Sleep is a powerful healer. Sometimes you just have to go with it, cocoon yourself, and come out the other side feeling more whole! Yes, being a parent might need some planning, but seriously, sometimes it is the best medicine.
  17. Language of self-indulgence. Self-interest. Being selfish. Self-centred. These words applied to self care are all very loaded words. If you put them aside and look at the motives underneath then you can choose whatever vocabulary you like.  Taking some time to be by yourself or to do something of your choosing that is simply for you .. whatever it takes to restore you on a daily or weekly basis … everybody can support you in this. When we recover our mojo then we are back again being supportive to others. Start learning how, and when, to put boundaries around moments in your routine when you are simply are not available.
  18. Telly or quiet time? Which is best for relaxing? True, deep relaxation comes from switching off and going inwards for some recalibration of your nervous system to restore. Watching a soap opera can be enjoyable but it is a distraction and not always as regenerative as a walk in nature or quiet mediation. When you know that they do different things then you can use them differently. Watching TV has its place.
  19. Identity: Is your job defining you? If so much activity is clustered around your routine then when you consider getting rid of some, you have to then think about who you are when you let go. How much is your identity tied up with “doing” .. who will you become when you step away?
  20. What’s best? The more you take time out to have quiet reflection the more your life can be put into perspective and you can perhaps have some sane and clear thoughts about how you are managing your life and routine. The more time you make for “being” then the better quality of your “doing”. 

People ended the Conscious Cafe discussion evening: 

  • resolving to take a day to do absolutely nothing (now and again); 
  • deciding not to feel guilty about doing nothing; 
  • valuing living in the country and close to refreshing nature; 
  • aiming to think more about what activities drain energy and can be let go of; 
  • feeling reassured that they were not the only one who is so busy; 
  • feeling inspired to stop back and make space;
  • letting go of judgements.

I can recall a colleague giving me some straight-forward honest feedback and told me that I was giving off busy-energy .. even if I was not very active, I seemed to be. He told me it was not attractive and could be tiring for others to witness. Wow!  It took me a long time to really understand that this was not related to the amount of work I had to do, or chose to do, but the vibe that I gave off and this could be changed by an internal shift of calmness. Since then I have really admired people who have the ability to bring a peaceful energy to a situation and yet they still get things done. It is a kind of graceful unhurriedness I have always aimed to emulate. Making meditation and quiet reflection part of my daily routine has been very helpful for me. And I have to keep reviewing what I do to make sure I can scale down the busyness to an appropriate and sane level of activity. I find getting caught up in a good books pulls me away from my desk 🙂  And so it continues ….

How do you manage your busyness?

Are you good at doing nothing?

The next Conscious Cafe evening in Skipton is on Thursday May 17th and ask the question “Do you know what you are good at?”. More details.

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