Complaining about being busy and working all the time is a widespread phenomenon. So much so that according to research by Silvia Bellezza, a professor of marketing at Columbia Business School, “seeming busy and “a lack of leisure” has become a strange status symbol in today’s world.
The conditioning to work all the time is quite strong and people unconsciously fall into the pace of the masses. What the research found was that people think that the busier a person is, the higher the status. Thankfully, this is not necessarily true in cultures outside the United States which may tend in the opposite direction.
Working all the time is not physically, emotionally, or spiritually healthy. When we are constantly working, we cut ourselves off from simply being, resting, connecting, and creating. We lose touch with our humanity and the values that we want to live by. We are consumed by the urgent (e.g. email, phone calls, social media) and often sacrifice what is important. “For myself, I don’t want my gravestone to say “She really worked hard” but rather “She really lived well.”
This pressure to always be working has taken its toll on people and certainly shows up in my mindful eating classes. People feel so pulled to work that the only “good” excuse not to work is to eat. One participant said “I’ve noticed that when I get a break at work – either my meal break or a 15-minute break – my first inclination is to eat. When I’m home and I’m not work focused, I’m often snacking. It’s as if I have two choices for my time – snack/eat and work.”
Other people tell me that the only way that they will feel okay about not working is to eat. Eating seems to be an acceptable reason to get out from behind the computer or stop doing chores, but resting is not. Neither is engaging in self-care.
The antidote is mindfulness. When people begin to practice mindfulness, they often notice that they are not comfortable just being (instead of working and being busy). There is a lot of restlessness. This dis-ease is simply a product of the conditioning that tells you “should be working.” It is not true. And yet, the stopping and feeling into the body, heart, and mind can be unsettling at first.
We are not used to sitting with the space to feel our feelings and hear ourselves think. What we notice are the things we’ve been avoiding for a long time and that have been dampened down by the constant activity. This journey into mindfulness is best taken with a companion or a teacher who can help you through these particularly difficult times. The whole point of mindfulness is to teach you not to struggle with the present moment, no matter what it holds.
Moving from busy to being will probably show you how much you unconsciously and immediately reach for food when you are not doing anything. When you begin to reach for food, mindful eating teaches you to ask “what are you really hungry for?” It may be a cookie, but it may be a moment to rest and gaze out the window at the early spring delights, walk or stretch, connect with a friend, read something interesting, color, paint, or play some music. The list is endless of activities that could bring you rest and joy.
I want to add that there is nothing wrong with finding joy and meaning in your work and with eating. But, when they have become the primary activities in your life, plus maybe a dose of TV, then your repertoire for life activities is probably lacking some deliciousness. And, some clues to let you know if this applies to you is if you feel guilty for not working and eat as a way to fill the time you’re not working.
If you can relate to working and eating as your primary activities, perhaps it’s time to start cultivating other ways of being in the world. Here are my top ten things to do besides eating and work. What are yours? Make a list and start engaging in a life of greater meaning. Give yourself permission to do what brings you joy.
1. Do yoga (asana, pranayama, and meditation)
3. Play the piano
4. Garden or just gaze out the window at the flowers and trees
5. Read a good book
6. Call on friends or family members
7. Go for a walk and listen to the sounds of nature
8. Listen to music and maybe even dance to it!
9. Plan some travel
10. Rest – Take a Nap!!!
Take back your life from the culture of busyness. What do you want to do to get greater pleasure in your life?
For more ideas about mindful eating, moving, and living, check out my newest book, Savor Every Bite. Or this June join me for a workshop on the practices at Omega Institute.