As usual, these final weeks of the year cause me to not only reflect on what I’ve learned throughout the year, but how I’d like to use that knowledge going forward, too. In today’s post, I’d like to offer a simple piece of advice that I hope will significantly improve your mental health in 2019, which is: stop assuming that you’re the busiest person in the world.
A Cultural Trend
Both within and outside of my therapy/nutrition practice, I’ve noticed that most people are completely and utterly convinced that they are the busiest person they know. Their job is the most tiring, their commute is the longest, their schedule is the most packed, their free time is the most limited. The result is that we seem to get into pissing contests about whose life is the hardest, the benefits of which I still have not found.
To be fair, I don’t think it’s entirely our fault that we do this. Take a gander through Chapter’s and you’ll notice shelves upon shelves of notebooks and day planners with phrases on the cover like, “I Am Very Busy” and “Good Things Come to Those Who Hustle” on the covers. Being busy, it seems, has become a badge of honour in Western society; the busier you are, the more important, respected, and competent you’re perceived to be.
The trouble is, there are a number of consequences when we engage in this “busy-ness bragging,” as I’ll call it. Firstly, our relationships suffer. Partners of busy-ness braggers often feel as though they’re being put second. And to be honest, most of the time they are. They’ll bring up the fact that they miss having quality time with their significant other only to hear a response like, “You know I’m drowning in work, Brian. People need me at this company.”
Busy-ness bragging not only affects our romantic relationships, but our friendships, too. Instead of being empathic and compassionate about the struggles our friends or family members are going through, we competitively run through a laundry list of the hardships that we’re experiencing, which disables us from being supportive. You think your commute’s bad? Try being on the DVP at 5:30pm ever day!
Last but not least, busy-ness bragging undoubtedly affects our own mental health and wellbeing. We start convincing ourselves that we simply don’t have any time whatsoever for self-care. What’s worse is that the moment we do stop to take a breather, we feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. I could be marking those papers right now. I could be going through those accounting documents. We’re also unlikely to set boundaries in this state, replying to work emails at 11pm and neglecting to be with our loved ones in the process.
A Change In Perspective
Here’s the thing: I’ve noticed that individuals who convince themselves that they’re the busiest person in the world tend to have an external locus of control—that is, they assume that outside forces are responsible for different outcomes. Conversely, those with an internal locus of control believe that they cause things to happen, not external circumstances. Someone with an external locus of control might say something like, “I’m always so busy because my boss piles too much on my plate!” rather than saying, “I’m always so busy because my work flow clearly isn’t effective.”
Interestingly, in a study of 7,500 British adults who were followed since birth, it was found that those who had an internal locus of control at age 10 were less likely to be overweight at age 30, have higher self esteem, and and be less likely to show high levels of psychological distress.
Finally, and most overlooked, I find that there’s an air of grandiosity that comes with busyness-bragging—an unrealistic sense of superiority or self-importance. Being a responsible, dependable employee is one thing. But most people talk like they’re the prime minister, thinking the world is going to fall to pieces if they take a lunch break or leave work at a reasonable hour. Sometimes we need to take a step back and realize that while our role in a company is important, so is tending to our mental health and relationships. We need to be able to stop and ask ourselves, “Am I over-estimating my importance? Am I acting grandiose right now?” If you’re being honest with yourself, you might find that 90% of the time, the answer is yes.
The Bottom Line
I think we can all benefit from reframing how we see “busy-ness” in our culture. Rather than seeing it as a sign that someone is important, needed, and competent, I’d invite us to consider the opposite. Maybe busyness-bragging is a sign that someone’s work flow needs attention, that their boundaries between their professional and personal life are clearly too flimsy, and that their priorities are a bit off kilter. Perhaps we need to start admiring the people who are able to relax without feeling guilty, who have figured out that being busy isn’t the ultimate life goal, and who are happy bragging about their ability to create balance. I’ll cheers to that!