Let’s be honest, for most of us it’s not hard to be busy.
Step One: start with all the obligations most humans have to get done in a typical week. Then accept every additional meeting request, say yes to every social event on offer, take on extra projects at work.
Step Two: rush through your day frantically trying to stay on top of everything, rushing mindlessly from one task to the next and the next, half-listening during conversations, replaying your to-do list in your mind during meetings. Fill up any spare second texting, and checking and posting on social media.
Many of us operate like this from week to week, often with the flawed notion that this will make us more successful and therefore happier, yet ironically any small moments of success and enjoyment in our day are drowned out by the a constant stream of endless planning and worrying buzzing in our heads.
If this sounds like you, then maybe it’s time to stop and consider what “busy” is delivering you.
Sure it makes you feel important and purposeful sometimes, but let’s be honest — for most of us, jam packing ours days with an endless to-do lists, and jam packing our minds with endless thoughts about how on earth we will keep up, can make you feel trapped, detached and ultimately unhappy.
What does “busy” do to your brain?
The feeling of having too much to do and mindlessly rushing through our day has a very interesting effect on our brain. It can make us feel trapped, and feeling trapped activates the brain’s aversion system. This system narrows the focus of your life, makes you more anxious, less flexible, less fun to be around. The brains aversion system also shuts down possibilities, limiting creativity. Operating like this over extended periods of time can make us feel stressed, exhausted and helpless, which can trigger depression and anxiety. The World Health Organisation has estimated that New Zealanders are among the most anxious people in the world, with a quarter of kiwis diagnosed with anxiety during their lifetime. They also note that by 2020 depression will impose the second biggest health burden globally. In fact its probably fair to say that most kiwis either are suffering, have suffered, or know someone who has suffered, from anxiety or depression.
Chronic rushing lowers performance and innovation
According to the author of The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, we are all suffering from a type of “Cultural ADHD”: always switched on, trying to do multiple things at once all day.
He points out that we receive 11 million bits of information every second, but the executive thinking centres of our brain can effectively only process only 40 bits of information.
The result? We push our brains to operate in what’s been called “continuous partial attention”, trying desperately to stay on top of everything, while not giving any one thing the full attention it deserves. To some degree this is just the world we live in, which is faster, busier, more complex. But we don’t have to sit idly by while the unrelenting barrage of input causes our attention to fragment.
Identifying and confronting the problem gives us an opportunity to do something about it, and what we have to do is learn to manage our own minds in this maelstrom of distractions, deadlines and demands.
Learning to manage our minds is a skill that we can develop over time, making us more productive, creative, happier, less stressed, and yes – less busy.