When somebody asks “How are you?” is “Busy” the answer you give and expect to receive from others? When you repeatedly give or hear this answer, it means you or the other person has normalized “busyness” as a usual state of affairs. It doesn’t have to be that way, and when it is, it is quite possibly minimizing what could be a problem in your own or someone else’s life.
Letting busyness dominate you is like handing over the wheel of your car to a reckless stranger who serendipitously whisks you here and there while you provide the fuel. You need to get back behind the wheel and take control so that you can choose your destination at a speed that works for you. Maybe you need to upgrade your fuel too.
A routine that keeps you constantly in motion and involves over-scheduling, long work hours and a lack of time to plan for the future is a sure recipe for disaster. It puts you in a “hamster wheel” of action, sometimes productive, sometimes not. Of course, you have a long list of reasons that justify your hectic life. Here are some of the more common responses I hear:
• I am successful.
• I am making money.
• Others are depending on me.
• Only losers prioritize their personal life.
• I’m just doing what my peers do.
• Being busy tells me I’m important.
Think about replacing these “busy” justifications with something better and ask yourself the following:
• Do I love what I do for a living?
• Are my relationships with others rewarding?
• Am I living up to my potential in all aspects of my life?
• Am I happy?
• Why am I here? (yes, really)
• Do I have a work-life balance?
These questions are designed to invite you to look within and to consider what really matters, rather than being governed by what is often ephemeral and superficial. By thinking about them, you can more objectively analyze your accomplishments and goals, your relationships with yourself and others, as well as your values and their alignment. In other words, you can begin to focus on what’s really important.
Also, the questions should encourage you to avoid dwelling on the past or in the future. The present is what counts. By being in the present, you can replace your “hamster wheel” with a new vehicle — mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”
A state of mindfulness will allow you to maintain a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and surrounding environment. In it, you can make thoughts of the past disappear and make future fears invisible. It is a time-tested device to banish extraneous thoughts and focus only on what’s really relevant — the present. So, if you want to get out of that hamster wheel and effectively continue your journey to your goal, you will find no better alternate vehicle than mindfulness.
You might ask yourself now, “How can I learn to drive this vehicle?”
The “vehicle of mindfulness” operates with seven simple parts:
1. Meditating. Learn to be alone with your thoughts and observe them as they come and go in your mind.
2. Breathing. Slow down your breathing by counting to three each time you inhale or exhale.
3. Connecting. Focus on connecting to all your senses. Don’t forget the often-overlooked senses of smell and touch.
4. Listening. Emphasize the other’s personal needs, not your own.
5. Flowing. Get lost in the flow of doing things you love.
6. Committing. If you’re obligated to do something you’re not really committed to, focus on its value or the reason you’re doing it.
7. Creating. Where possible, bring your best skills to the task at hand. Use them as a springboard to creatively improvise novel solutions.
The bottom line is that just being busy won’t get you where you want to go. Instead, treat every task as the only one you need to complete. Focus on it and complete it to the best of your ability without regard to what you did before or what task lies ahead. If you do this with mindfulness, I’m quite confident you’ll begin to shine.
This article was originally published in Forbes.
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