I was recently asked a gnarly question early on in a workshop about why we would want to slow down when being busy means getting so much more done. It really threw me and I didn’t answer it well at the time. Since it’s the crux of what I talk about and a key message I want to get across, I realised I needed to go away and reflect.
Here’s my reply: Yes, we do get a lot done when we are busy, however, our pre-frontal cortex, the smart part of the brain needed for focusing and sustaining attention, problem-solving, decision making, and self-regulation (so we don’t react blindly and regret it but can respond purposely) is powered down by being constantly busy without adequate downtime. We’re stressed and when we are stressed, we often don’t know we are stressed, so we can’t see the impact…
It’s not that we don’t get a lot done – we do – but when our attention is scattered everything feels less satisfying, and the excess energy burned from multitasking leaves us without much left over for self-care and real connection with the important people in our lives (partner, family, friends etc.).
Plus, busy is addictive, giving us a shot of dopamine reward chemistry, keeping us habituated with our busy behaviours and an uncontrollable urge to ‘do something!’ anything but be still, which is why ‘busy’ people often struggle to meditate – it just feels really wrong!
But mindfulness is not just meditating, it’s about building mini-pauses into our day to interrupt the ‘busy-mind’ churn so we can access the purpose-driven PFC and stay focused on what is important, versus what feels urgent. Without this ability, you will get a lot done, but not necessarily the right things.
We plough on through, thinking if we just work harder, we’ll get more done. But busy is the new stupid! We have to work smarter, and people who work smarter know how to stop.
In a nutshell, it’s really about pausing regularly and training your mind to ask yourself, “what’s really important” and when we do that, we can better align with our longer-term purpose, and who we really want to be. We can walk our talk.
Without access to our higher brain functions, we are just spinning our wheels, ploughing on through, and getting lots of stuff done, constantly dissatisfied and exhausted.
But don’t believe me, try it out for yourself. Experience what it feels like to focus on one thing at a time, pause and take a couple of deep breaths, feel your feet on the floor, look out the window briefly, get up from your desk, go for a short walk. And if you’re really brave, take 5 mins and focus your attention on your breath.
I’d be very surprised if you don’t feel better about stopping. And as my dear friend Andy would say “when you learn how to stop, everything you do, you’ll do so much better!”