How I Stopped Being Busy and Started Being Happy
My to do list could make a grown man cry (and it almost has a few times.) I’ve woken up mornings to find my head spinning with all I need to do. And I’ve spent many nights feeling more worn out then accomplished.
I’ve used habit tracking aps, productivity tools, and focusing techniques. Yet, none of these things created the tiniest bit of space between myself and the feeling of being too busy.
But it wasn’t until recently that I realized this was a problem.
I was talking to a good friend of mine who happens to be a Zen priest. He was asking about my business and I kept saying, I should do this and I should be doing that, but I’m just so busy.
After a few minutes of listening to this he asked, “Why are you so busy?” And I replied, “Because I have to be.” He smiled back and asked, “And who decided you need to be so busy?” It was one of those moments that makes me love and hate having him as a friend.
The question put me on my ass. I reeled for a several minutes trying to justify my previous position, but he kept bringing me back to this basic assumption.
I watched as I connected busyness with almost anything I could think of. Being busy means being successful. Being busy means being productive. Being busy means being competent.
And each time I discovered that none of these things justified or explained why I was busy. Until I finally realized that being busy was just an excuse.
Why we think we should be busy?
1. We think we should be responsible
We think that responsible people are busy. Maybe our parents were this way or maybe we know someone who we admire who is always busy. So, in an attempt to be like them we fill our lives with things to do.
But being responsible isn’t about being busy. It’s about taking responsibility for our lives and following what brings us joy.
You may wonder why anyone would take out the garbage or do their taxes if they only focused on what’s joyful. If garbage fills my house or the IRS audits me that won’t bring me a lot of joy.
So, even though those things are hard I can still face them. And in fact when I focus on what’s alive for me I find have more energy to deal with the challenges that life has to offer.
2. We think we are working hard
I used to write, “I will work hard” as part of my daily vows. But I realized that working hard wouldn’t get me to where I wanted to go. Don’t get me wrong working hard and being determined is important, but if I work hard at being busy, my life doesn’t blossom, it withers.
So instead, I write I will work for joy. This doesn’t mean I’ll feel blissed out all the time, but it does mean that my aim is different. I don’t work just to say I’m working hard. I work hard find the joy in everything I do.
3. We think we should
We are a shoulding society. We should all over ourselves all the time. You should be working out more, you should be reading the classics, you should be eating more protein, you should have a six pack, you should be busy, etc.
But shoulding ourselves doesn’t actually lead to joy. It only leads to increased pressure and anxiety. So, I’ve tried to stop telling myself what I should do. Instead, I try to follow what my heart is calling me to do.
4. We are afraid to stop
For a long time I wondered what would happen if I stopped being busy? And the thought is a little scary. Who would I be? What would I do?
I realized that if I stopped being busy I’d have to face myself. I have to see what really going on in my mind. I’d have to feel the fear of failure, the pain of loneliness, the ache in my heart for a more compassionate world. And if I felt these things, I’d have to deal with them.
So instead of dealing with them I just kept moving, trying to stay one step ahead of the demons in my heart. But I realized if I was really going to embody my life I needed to give myself the space to feel all these things. I had to face myself if I was ever going to become who I wanted to be.
How to stop
Once I saw all of this I was stuck with the question of how to stop. I knew I didn’t want to waste my time watching TV all day. But I also knew that just doing for the sake of doing wouldn’t work either. So I came up with 5 Simple Rules to help me live a less busy and more full life.
1. Know What You Are Called to Do and Do It
Knowing what you are called to do is different then knowing what you want to do. What I want to do changes by the second, but what I’m called to do is different. My calling doesn’t change moment to moment it evolves slowly overtime.
The mistake I made for a long time was thinking that a calling was like a destiny. I thought that I was destined for some role, but I had no idea what that was. So I searched and searched and could never find something that fit. Eventually I realized that a calling isn’t a destiny it’s a beckoning, it’s an invitation. It’s not the destination it’s the journey.
The key to finding and following your calling is to let go of how it looks and follow how it feels. Make a list of the five to ten most important things in your life. That list is what your life is calling you to focus on. If it sings in harmony with that list, follow it. If it clashes, find a way to let it go.
2. Let Go of Should
If you are doing something only out of obligation, stop. This doesn’t mean abandon your responsibilities. It just means stop investing time into things that make you unhappy.
If it makes you happy and it’s not hurting someone do more of it. If it’s hard, but it’s helping you grow then keep at it. If it’s something you have to do, but it feels like a should, find a way to turn that should into a connection with your best self.
I don’t try to tell the truth because I should. I do it because care about integrity. I don’t write because I should post three times a week. I write because I love creating and helping other people.
3. Face your fears
If it feels safe, you probably aren’t growing. That doesn’t mean you should be running through your day screaming. It just means that you have to find your edge and push it.
I know that if something scares me I’m on the right track. So, I try to do one thing everyday that scares me. It’s usually not something huge like fighting of a pack of rabid baboons. Instead, I do things like contact people I admire or tell someone how much I care about them.
These small acts help me trust my self to face what I have to do. And it also teaches me the world isn’t as scary as I thought.
4. Follow your heart
Your brain is awesome at paying your bills but it sucks are running your life. Whenever I have to make a big choice, I let my heart lead the way and let my brain fill out the details.
Your brain has evolved to keep you alive, which is great if you are being hunted by rabid baboons, but bad if you want to find joy.
Your heart on the other hand aches for you to be connected. It longs for you to be generous, and to appreciate your life. Your heart wants you to find joy.
When it comes to the choices, give yourself the time and space to listen to your heart. If it doesn’t come alive or calls you to do something else, paying attention to it could save you a lot of time and pain.
5. Have Deep Faith
Letting go of being busy can feel a little like stepping into the abyss. The comfort of my endless to do list was that I could map out my whole life on based on what it contained.
I often make myself busy when I’m terrified I’m going to fail. I’m afraid that if I don’t keep going it will all fall apart. And when I stop, it feels like anything could happen.
But what amazes me again and again is that in the space after busy lives a deep faith that things will be ok. Maybe they won’t look how I thought they would. And usually things don’t go according to plan. But part of being alive is accepting the unknown.
I’ve found is that deep faith is there when ever I look for it. No matter what the situation is. The key is to be willing to stop and feel it.
I invite you to join me and make a promise to stop being busy. We can take these few simple rules and start putting them into action in our lives today. We can let go of the things that fill the day and instead fill our days with joy.
I know it may not be easy, but in the end, I think it will be worth it.
10 thoughts on “How I Stopped Being Busy and Started Being Happy”
Great article and advice Sam!
This has been one of the best articles I have read. My head is constantly swimming in the “must do’s” that I find it hard to enjoy daily life. Thank you for this article. I will referring to it for a while!!
Thanks Cassie. I know just what you mean. I’m the exact same way.
It is hard to get those shoulds out of your head or decide what things you have turned into shoulds when they’re really things that are part of who we want to be. Great article as usual. My lists can make me cry too.
Nice article! We can get quite busy, but what real value do we have to show for it?
I love this post! I am totally the person that is weirded out when I stumble upon some free time. For me I often try to fill it up with seeing people/friends. But sometimes I do end up on the coach wondering what to do next… or sometimes I just need to sit on the coach and breathe! Thanks for the perspective!
i have an idea for an article kinda related to this one. can i guest blog on ur site?
I stumbled upon your blog while researching how over-productivity interferes with our happiness. Thanks so much for this, Toku. You’re an inspiration to me!
Thanks for your lovely words Laurette. I’m glad my words helped. I’m interested to check out your blog as well.
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