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If I am not Busy, Than Who am I?

I acknowledge and recognize that being busy is a badge of honor that I have worn with great pride and great cost throughout many aspects of my life. I know that a large portion of my identity is tied up in being busy and keeping busy. I am also painfully aware that being busy is not sustainable. It is not something I wish to continue to be proud of. It is also not something I wish to carry shame around. So how to I change my relationship with being busy? More so, how can I re-establish my relationship with rest?

I know that moving away from busyness towards restfulness begins with acknowledging the different values I am assigning to various activities. I value time spent answering emails. The same cannot be said for my time spent doing Buzzfeed quizzes. It also involves changing my self-talk around certain activities (hellooooo, inner voice who loves to shame me for said Buzzfeed quizzes). Brené Brown notes the importance of finding activities that light you up, excite you, AND completely replenish you. There is importance in play and rest in counter-acting the costs of productivity and extreme busyness. I can intentionally choose to engage in activities that are fun, joyful, and re-charge me instead of continuing on in my whirlwind of busyness.


I know that I assign value to being busy and I see it as an accomplishment to work a sixty hour work week. I know that I do not value time spent in activities typically associated with resting. I acknowledge that when I say yes to activities that I label as productive and worthwhile, I say no to activities that I label as less important and unproductive that may benefit me, and my health, in the long run. But knowing this and acknowledging the value I am placing on these activities is not enough. This acknowledgement does not change my behaviours. Does not change my busyness. I must also change my self-talk when I engage in these behaviours.


I have a tendency to speak down to myself (this is a kind way of phrasing this) when I am doing an activity that I am considering leisurely when there is work to be done. And, in my world, there is always work to be done. And this is not exclusive to my world because in our world, there is always work to be done. This is the blessing and curse of technology. Each moment is the opportunity to do something “productive”-whatever the hell that means. Because what is productivity? It is technically defined as the state or quality of producing something or the effectiveness of a productive effort in industry but it has morphed into a measurement of a person’s capacity to do A LOT of work. Is it just the hours spent working on business related things that are productive? Does an activity that is beneficial for my mental health, like journaling, count as productive? Is an activity that is beneficial for my well-being and spiritual self, like meditation, considered productive? Could a nap be considered productive?


I have found that in order to shift my commitment to busyness, I need to shift my understanding of what is considered productive. This is where being aware of and changing my self-talk is important. When I am engaging in rest or doing activities that promote play, I need to talk to myself in a way that says that what I am doing with my time is valuable. I need to think of myself as doing something that is positive and good. If I think to myself that I am wasting my time, being lazy, or taking a break before moving on to the next task, I am creating feelings of guilt. I am allowing my inner voice to run wild in her critiques. And these thoughts are all supported by society around me. A society that values and applauds busyness and productivity.

These feelings of guilt trigger my need to justify my behaviour, take away from my enjoyment of the activity, elevate my levels of shame and stress, and take away from the benefits of doing the activity I am in engaging in in the first place. I have found that I as have begun to shift my self talk through a new definition of productivity-a definition that includes my own well-being as a holistic and complete experience, I experience more joy in rest. If I think to myself that I am investing in my health and well-being, this can create a sense of productivity, which decreases feelings of shame and stress and opens me up to the opportunity to receive the benefits of the activity.


Shifting my self talk when engaging in behaviours that promote rest is an important step towards disconnecting from busyness as an identity. I have also found that there needs to be a shift into intention when I am choosing activities. I cannot binge watch seasons of television on Netflix in my dark basement and expect to feel rested. I cannot lie in bed for hours and hours and expect to feel energized and recharged. I also cannot have a bath every night and expect to never get sick ever again. To move forward in my journey towards embracing rest, I have found that engaging in each activity of rest with an intention is incredibly important. This intention is an idea about what I hope the activity will offer me and, somewhat, of an explanation for why I am choosing this activity so that my rational brain shift my self-talk into my new definition of productivity. When I choose activities with intention, I am choosing activities that are in alignment with what I want to create, feel, and experience for me. I’ll say it again for those in the back-I am making these choices based on what I want to create, feel, and experience for ME. Not for society. Not for the voice inside my head that is subscribing to society’s ideas about what productivity is, but for ME.


If I choose to watch Brooklyn Nine Nine on Netflix, it is because I want to experience laughter. If I choose to read a memoir, it is because I want to experience inspiration. If I choose to attend a restorative yoga class, it is because I want to experience stillness. If I choose to attend a spin class, it is because I want to experience challenge. If I choose to listen to country music in my car with the windows down, it is because I want to experience joy. If I choose to jump in puddles when I walk the dog, it is because I want to experience being light hearted.

Thinking about rest and play makes me consider how I choose which activities to participate in when I am out of town. When I am out of town, I am more likely to wander the streets, observing the artwork and the character of the buildings surrounding me. When I am out of town, I am more likely to find myself in and make time in nature to explore and breathe fresh air. When I am out of town, I more likely to take a yoga class outside of my regular comfort zone and experience something new. When I am out of town, I am more likely to try new foods and taste new flavours. It is possible for me to bring this energy and this perspective into my daily life. Into my every day, instead of creating this divide between “real life” and “vacation”: busyness and restfulness.


Altering how I choose to engage in activities creates space to live in alignment with my values and creates space to value experiences that I have not typically valued. When I am being intentional with my activities, I am more aware of my values and this reminds me of the circular nature of my journey towards re-establishing my relationship with rest. It is more than knowing I need rest, it is more than recognizing the value I place on busyness, it is more than shifting my self-talk, it is moving intentionally into acts of rest, play, and joy. If I am not busy, I am resting. I am playing. I am laughing. I am enjoying. I am exploring. I am adventuring. I am growing. If I am not busy, I am on a journey and I continue onward.

In darkness and in light,


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