Over the last month, I’ve noticed I’ve filled my life up with stuff. My diary has been full of client appointments, CPD workshops, concerts, DIY, time with family and friends. There’s hardly been a space in my day (or night) when something wasn’t booked in!
It felt good, I was in the busy zone – I kept on telling myself that my energy levels were well and truly topped. Yet something really important to me had been put aside.
Sometimes busyness, even when it is highly productive, can be a symptom of wanting to avoid something difficult or awkward that we don’t feel prepared for emotionally.
This was brought to my attention during a CPD workshop a short while ago. Part of the long list of dates in my diary, I saw this as an opportunity to spend time with my peers and focus on myself for a change. Little did I know it was going to make me realise I needed to make the emotional space for others, too.
In the workshop, we talked about the left and the right brains. The left brain, focused on logic and reason, will tend to take over if there are emotions we don’t want to deal with. With the help of the left brain, we’ll close down our hearts and avoid connection. The left brain takes over with logic, creating reasons for tasks that keep us away from the discomfort we fear.
The workshop invited us to expand our right brains, open our hearts, be present and connect. We were invited to notice the constriction we experience when we protect ourselves out of fear. In my case, I knew my son was going away the following day (he had been home for 4 weeks over the summer) yet I had chosen to fill my diary with stuff. When he left home for the first time last year, I felt a painful sense of loss as it changed my role as a mum, and this time I was overwhelming myself with tasks and appointments to avoid feeling that loss again.
Reflecting on what I’d learnt in the workshop, this phrase came to mind: when you feel anxious, that’s the moment to share. I explained to my family what I’d learnt and cancelled my appointments for the next day. What I really wanted was to open my heart and be with my son. I wanted him to know how much I love him even though it hurt to see him going away.
I was so pleased I recognised and acknowledged how my busyness was based on my fear of ‘loss’ and how I had constricted myself - shut down my feelings - as a form of protection from pain. The time I had with my son was amazing, and what was even more incredible was my choice to be present and enjoy the moment.
What struck me was, even though this was very personal for me, how this also applies to work settings. Many of my clients find themselves without enough time to have difficult conversations with a member of staff, for example, or their overly-full diaries keep them so busy there’s no time to be present and connect with their teams. Instead they squeeze in short, transactional meetings and there’s no time to have the deeper conversations they need.
How much of your busyness is actually self-protection? Realising this can help you make the decision to become a better leader, family member or friend. Will you choose to stay with your fear; or choose to open your heart?
I have no doubt that moving from the avoidance tactic of being constantly busy and always having something to ‘do’, to opening your heart and being present with another person will create a safe space to engage in honest conversations and bring a positive change.