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The Toxicity of Busy

In this picture, my son is taking time to observe and reflect.  He ended up sitting and sketching scenes from our backyard's landscape.

In this picture, my son is taking time to observe and reflect. He ended up sitting and sketching scenes from our backyard's landscape.

How do we get so busy? Why do we feel compelled and obligated to "do more" in spite of our body's begging us to stop, sit or lay down for a bit?

It comes from the power of habit. Addictions are habits, because of the amazing embodiment-ability of habit-formation within our nervous systems, we are able to adapt and operate from unhealthy habits without thought through the reinforcements of specific triggers, behaviors, and rewards*.

These habits are carried out from how we were raised at home; what we have been taught in our schools and communities; and how certain behavior continues to be reinforced by friends, peers or others in authority.

This can start in the seemingly innocuous directives we have received like: "now be a good boy and watch your brother for me" or "be my brave little girl and don't be sad" or "you have nothing to be nervous about so just think positively and go do X..." often our experiences and the emotions that arise are unknowingly invalidated or dismissed by those who we look up to or feel safe with.

Often and unconsciously we operate from and perpetuate these cultural reinforced stories that “doing more” and overriding our emotional experiences are what we need to do to be selfless. Being taught to serve others and to be selfless can send mixed messages & mixed acknowledgement from others that lead us down a path of sacrifice & burnout.

Taking care of ourselves gives us the capacity to take care of others. If that is selfish, sign me up! I want to be able to have the energy, optimism, and presence of body to be able to do that! This is also an ongoing practice for me because of my own cultural conditioning. When we’re not conscious of our body’s needs, the signals & the messages that our body sends us, that actually aid in recovery & self-healing, we reinforce cognitive rationalization of ignoring those signals & continue to push through. These messages come in the form of sadness, anger, as well as joy, and love. Each emotion has a corresponding body shape and breathing pattern. We often take for granted when we feel happy or connected and want more of that, yet fail to tune into the body (somatic) sensations of breath, body posture and the conversations we are in and the people we are with that produce these.

When sadness or anxiety or anger surface, we tend to distract ourselves from these emotions, rather than allowing the messages to flow through our body and instead busy ourselves or imbibe in substances to take the edge of or make the discomfort go away. This has detrimental impact to our health. Most often people fall into a story that being busy means we’re contributing more somehow. This can lead to eating, drinking, shopping, working more, etc as ways of taking the edge off. We say “I’m so busy!” as a badge of honor yet may suffer in resentment or judgement of others who “can’t handle as much”. Internal stories that may reflect this is “if they only knew what I was doing!” as if one way of being is better than the other. Riding adrenaline with shots of elevated cortisol can actually decrease our capacity for self (& outward) compassion & empathy. It can drive us toward an ego-centered state of feeling like we need to think of or do everything. That’s an unfair position to put others in if we’re doing rather than pausing to coordinate more effectively and/or ask others for help or support. This is reflected by internal stories “they ‘should know’”. When we have more space, less activity, more energy rooted down into our body, we can be more effective in our relationships with ourselves & others, regardless of age. This is what we bring to adolescents & educators Lead Yourself Youth (LY2) & what we bring to adults seeking lifelong learning for self care & relationship nurturing at The Institute for Generative Leadership (IGL). Although I’m in a leadership role in both organizations, I still bump up against old habits of adrenaline - thriving that has recently led to minor, but-if-left-ignored, serious health issues. I’ve found that getting clear on my priorities are and then scheduling my time to be in integrity what I say I am committed to is the first step in self-care.

Here is the fascinating part for me - priorities and commitments change. In my 20s, my priority was my new emerging family, that came first. In my 30s, it was career, getting clear on my public identity, and building teams to align with my life's mission. It doesn't mean my family was no longer a priority, it meant that I shift how I am taking action to take care of the things I care about. If we don't take the time to be intentional with the space we give ourselves to re-evaluate our commitments, we can get caught in the unconscious drift of reacting to life being thrown at us. This is something I’ll continue to assess & adjust every few months to find what works for my body. The point for me in all this is that we have a body that we can ignore and push. When we start to pay attention to our capacity to self heal & self-generate, we are contributing to a higher quality AND quantity of life. We can then be more present and connected to the others we want to align with. Read here for an interesting perspective & do join IGL or LY2 to learn how to amplify the organ of attention & energy:

And come visit us at for upcoming events that offer more intention and ease to life design and ongoing adult leadership learning.

What do you do to take care of you? Are you living out of obligation and sacrifice? What do you see is possible for you from reading this? Do share!

* is an amazing resource for how habits are learned and reinforced.

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