The comfort trap of busy

I’ve got a confession to make. Too often I hear people respond to ‘how are you’ with ‘I’m so busy’—and when they do I cringe. It’s one of my biggest frustrations right now. And not because I’m annoyed at them for being busy. It’s because I totally understand where they’re coming from. Either they’re on autopilot mode and don’t even realise that their response gives zero indication of how they really are or, they’re so desperately snowed under they can’t fathom an alternate response (it feels far too unnerving to admit to the internal struggle going on).

And I’ve been in both places. Which is why it really makes me cringe because I also know that life does not have to be lived that way. You know through the foggy lens of ‘busy’ and distant connection. I was craving connection so desperately in my life that what I realise I created was a false sense of being valued. ‘If I just get a little busier, people will start to notice, and they’re realise I’m important, or significant.’ They’ll like me more. I’ll feel more valuable. Trouble is what ended up happening is, instead of feeling super connected and all energised about my life, I crammed more and more into my days and was left feeling exhausted, depleted and frankly unenthused about committing to any kind of change in direction.

So, I’m not really surprised when I do hear people respond with ‘I’m busy’. It’s become the accepted way of responding. And to be fair when I’ve been there before, when I’d tempt to say more, the scariest thing someone could have told me at the time was to ‘stop taking on so much’. ‘Why don’t you just take a holiday?’, ‘you just need some rest’, ‘you know you don’t have to do that thing at work’… like a bucket of water to my flickering remaining spark. Those comments would flatten me. I’d instantly deflate and get defensive – don’t you know I simply can’t?!

What I was really saying is, I don’t know how I could possibly handle the void of not doing. You see, we always ‘get’ something out of running a certain pattern of behaviour (for me, people-pleasing and over-achieving and running myself down in general!), even if it’s not so obvious to us at the time.

The way we’re wired is we need to feel safe and protected, so our brain creates a meaning to any behaviour we’re running – if I do this I’ll be safe. Which translates to: whatever the behavioural response is (regardless of whether it’s still helping you out or not) you get to feel comfortable. A.k.a. safe.

Keep doing ‘busy’ and you get the certainty and comfort of knowing what busy feels like. You know how to run that strategy. I get up, I do stuff to make others happy, if I don’t have time I just cram it in, then I feel better about myself… You get the cycle. And I have no doubt you have your own version of this too.

I can’t say that my ‘busy’ story changed dramatically overnight, although I can pinpoint a pretty huge defining moment where I for the first time short-circuited the meaning I’d created around ‘being busy’. And we’ll all have our own versions of this moment – rock-bottom, burnt out, sick, that perpetual fight that goes round and round and never ends, debt, addictions of all kinds.


What if it didn’t have to get to this point? What if you could get better at picking up the cues your body and inner voice is sending you before you hit rock bottom. I wonder how that would impact your life?


The defining moment for me was being asked what was the one thing that would make the biggest difference in my life right now. For some reason it was the first time I’d 1) paused long enough for the question to be asked and 2) giving myself full permission to be utterly honest. No more BS. Just get real. Speak your truth. Perhaps it was in the space my gracious questioner held for me to open up in this way. (Although to be honest, I was headed to this point for a while, so I have a feeling it would have happened in some way or another).

My plea to you is, if you’ve resonated with anything that I’ve just shared in my own story, then now could just be the best time to start getting utterly honest with yourself. There’s no quick fix here, I’m no longer interested in treating symptoms. The root cause of what’s holding you back right now could very well be based in that deep honesty with you. And if you can start there then you can also start to unpick what it is you gain from your current pattern of behaviour.


So what is the one thing that would make the biggest difference to your life right now?


And, how could you take a step towards this now? Even if it’s a teeny weeny one…?



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