In my latest musings on “busy-ness” and productivity, I’ve been thinking about how we, well, think about being busy. There seems to be a growing tendency to “glorify” being busy in a way that emphasizes not only how “productive” we are, but also the stress and the drama.
In his article, “Busy is a Sickness,” Scott Dannemiller realizes that much of his “busy-ness” is compounded, or even created, by his “awfulizing” it in his head.
In other words, the way he thought about everything he had to do, changed how he felt about it—how he perceived it.
I, too, can recall conversations I’ve had in which we’ve all commiserated with each other on how much we have to do – “glorifying” and “awfulizing” at the same time. However, it doesn’t have to be a conversation with other people – if I’m not careful I also do this with myself, in my own head!
Dannemiller recounts an incident when he described his busy day to a friend, who then remarked, “Sounds like a full day. Have fun!” At first this bothered him, as his friend wasn’t sympathizing with how “awful” his busy day was. When he realized that the stress of his busy day was actually stress he brought on himself, he saw that he was manufacturing a sense of urgency both in himself and those around him, creating anxiety and even resentment.
This relates to a concept in the Alexander Technique called “end-gaining.” The idea is that when we are overly focused on the outcome of an activity (the goal, or “end”), we do not actually pay attention to what we’re doing in the present moment.
In terms of a busy day, we may be so anxious about getting everything done that our mind is always on the next thing, rather than what we are actually doing. We fail to be fully present to our current activity, whether that is a meeting, writing an email or watching our children’s soccer games.
Physically, when we’re overly focused on getting something done, we lose sight of how we’re doing it. Take the simple act of walking across the room to get your phone. Your focus is simply on getting it, and NOT on how you’re walking to do so, which, if you’re like the vast majority of us, means you are employing unnecessary tension. The more rushed or anxious you are, the more tension. In the scheme of things this may not be a big deal, of course. If, however, your whole day, every day, is filled with moments like this, you will start to notice the effects and feel the stress. For anyone with back pain, neck tension, or balance problems, it could be disastrous.
I’ve noticed that I, my Alexander students, and people in general, tend to push themselves forward in some way when we’re in this mode, maybe jutting the head or chest out, pulling ourselves out of balance – sometimes a little, and sometimes it’s quite extreme.
In the book How the Body Knows Its Mind, Sian Beilock writes, “When people think about events in the past, they lean backward slightly, and when imagining the future they lean forward. These are small shifts, only several millimeters in one direction or the other, but nonetheless they exemplify our inclination to translate time into how our body moves through space.” *
In my experience, when we’re strongly attached, or anxious about, getting things done (in the future) this seems to be exaggerated. Practicing the Alexander Technique, on the other hand, requires you to be present.
When you’re very busy it may feel like you don’t have time to be conscious of yourself on top of everything else. I would contend, however, that it’s even MORE important on a busy day, than on one when you don’t have much to do. When I work with my students I help them notice what they’re doing in the moment, and that in itself helps lower the stress of the situation. Awareness may come initially at the mental (what am I thinking?) or physical (what am I doing with my body?) level, and with that knowledge we gain some say in the matter – some control over – how we proceed, what we think and do, moment to moment. Through awareness Dannemiller found that he was able to reframe his “awfulizing” of busy-ness in a positive light, and subsequently he enjoyed what he was doing more!
SO, my two main messages for you:
- NOTICE if you’re “glorifying” and/or “awfulizing” being busy. Can you think differently about it – reframe it for yourself? What if, instead of thinking, “I’m so busy” you think, “I have a full and interesting day today” or “I’m lucky that so many people value my work!”?
- Allow yourself to be PRESENT to the activity at hand. If you’re interacting with others they will benefit from your undivided attention. If you’re working independently the work itself will benefit from being your sole focus. And the bonus is you’ll be less stressed, and your posture and balance will benefit too. 🙂
This is an ongoing practice for me, and Alexander Technique is the best tool I’ve found for being present in moment whatever I am doing.
How do you relate to the concept of “being busy?” What are your challenges? Can you reframe it? Do you have strategies that help you?
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments in the space below.
* Sian Beilock, How the Body Knows Its Mind (New York: Atria Books, 2015), 121.
Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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