The average American juggles a seemingly endless number of tasks, activities, obligations, and stressors. We're all trying to balance work and family life, involvement in community activities, and living in a "connected" world that makes it hard to slip away from e-mail, cell phones, the Internet, and television. Not to mention the pressures from social media that make it easy to constantly compare ourselves to others.
There is a hard truth to this reality. Our busy lives come with a cost, and as we get busier something has to give. We are so distracted by our activities that we commonly sacrifice life balance and our health. It is not uncommon in our culture to habitually eat out (or in the car), carry high stressors, sleep poorly, and lack deep connection with each other as well as our inner selves. When asked the question, "How are you?", how often does our "busy-ness" work its way into conversation? Too often, we accept being busy as inevitable.
But here's the thing: we do not have to be victims of our busy schedules. More often than not, we have a say in how packed our calendars are. I learned this lesson the hard way this spring. Thing's were picking up with my business, there was a lot going on with our family, and while I was doing a lot, I didn't feel like I was showing up in the way I wanted and doing much well. I felt the buzzing of being busy and the guilt that nothing was getting my full attention—you know, not a good feeling. I felt the imbalance pretty deeply and knew I had to do something to address the problem. Here are a few of the things I learned along the way:
- Seek support and accountability from friends. By telling a few folks about my goals to slow down and take on less, I built myself an automatic support system. Knowing that I had shared my goals and hopes with others helped motivate me to be more mindful about what I was saying yes (and no) to.
- Understand who you want to be and recognize what choices get you there. I got some coaching to walk through an exercise where I put a lot of thought into who I want to be and how I want my life to feel. Then I asked if each of my commitments measured up to that vision. Those that didn't, I stopped or slowly phased out—a tough prospect for sure! Creating new boundaries and giving myself permission to say no was hard, but the process goes a long way toward reclaiming some sanity. I quickly saw how what I agreed to take on directly affected who I was and how I showed up in the world. Reconfirming who I want to be was a foundational step to informing what opportunities were worthwhile or not.
- Change the conversation! I reflected on how I talk about how busy I am. Even though being constantly on the go wears me out and prevents me from being present, I have to admit I derive some sense of self-worth from the feeling of doing so much. As soon as I started putting less emphasis on the value of doing everything, I noticed how much it improved my quality of life. Don't wear your "busy-ness" like a badge of honor!
Now, when I catch myself responding to a "how are you doing" question using the word busy, I try to see it as an opportunity to reevaluate my choices. If I feel busy it is a red flag that I may not be prioritizing activities adequately. (Or perhaps that I need to change my mindset and how I am engaging in the activities on my plate so they are providing meaning and not just taking up time.) I try to talk about my life in a way that recognizes all that is going on without falling back on a "busy!" reply. This feels empowering and enlivening for me instead of victimized and draining.
All that said, having a full plate is not inherently bad. In fact, I want my plate to be full, but in a meaningful way: full of healthy relationships, meaningful work, connection to my spirit, physical activity and rest, and nourishing foods. When my plate is full of experiences that feed my body, mind, and spirit, I feel healthy, happy, and complete. I needed to take the time this year to reassess what was filling my individual plate with meaning and happiness, and as a result I was naturally called to reprioritize tasks and activities. Letting go of the meaningless and harmful habits that were consuming my attention allowed more room for the most meaningful tasks to fill up more space in my life. And even though my days are full of action and commitments, I feel refreshed and balanced engaging in activities that give me meaning and joy. My plate is full--and I love it.
Sarah Kolman is the mom of three boys, a Registered Nurse, an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and has a master's degree in Contemplative Psychotherapy. Her private practice as a health coach blends her experience and career as a nurse with her passion for nutrition and holistic wellness. She is the author of Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family's Whole Health in a Busy World.