Can we become addicted to lifestyles we abhor?

by Kristin on March 16, 2010

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by net_efekt

Almost exactly a month ago, I wrote a post about being far too busy. The post is actually about the unlikeable things that happen to me, and therefore in my life, when I reach this over-extended state.

I’m happy to report that there’s finally a glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel. I certainly won’t be sitting around twiddling my thumbs, but after this week is over, I think I will begin to relax, to enjoy the people I love, to work late nights only once or twice a week, and to go to bed at more reasonable hours (sleep better, too).

Just imagining this more relaxed version of me engulfs me in a wave of pure relief. But I can also sense the smallest prick of panic: What if I end up feeling restless and aimless? What if my life slows down so much that I feel little sense of purpose or accomplishment? What if I’ve become addicted to busyness?

I know—that probably sounds utterly ridiculous. This less busy state is what I’ve been longing for. Why wouldn’t I embrace it fully?

But I know myself. I even hinted at this problem I have in my “Busy” post:

There are definitely things I like about being busy. Being busy is a sign of success. It reminds me that I’m good at what I do, and I can make a living doing what I love. Being busy gives me a certain kind of high—I feel strong, capable, even invincible as I rush through the day, multitasking and making things happen. I’m efficient when I’m busy. I’m on.

The power of self-awareness

This morning, when I woke up an hour earlier than usual (even though we just pushed the clocks ahead an hour—don’t ask me what that’s about), I picked up my phone to read a few blog posts. One by Tara Mohr, a Halfway to Normal reader, caught my eye: Ending Over-Capacity Living.

In her post, Tara shares four steps to take if you want to start changing the pace of your life. The first two steps are “Identify the costs of over-fullness and over-busyness” and “Identify the symptoms and signs of over-fullness for you, so that you can recognize them when they arise.” They were both nicely affirming for me. That’s essentially what I was doing in my “Busy” post a month ago (patting self on back).

The third step, “Know your remedies,” was really helpful because it helped me bring together several ideas that have been on my mind lately: keeping a love list, learning about happiness theories, and my desire to be less busy. I’m pretty sure there are some remedies in that mix.

A wake up call

It was the fourth step that delivered the convicting jolt: “Address the underlying causes of over-fullness in your life.” It’s usually easy for me to just point the finger at the freelance lifestyle: I can’t count on steady projects and paychecks, so I have to take the work when it comes. Sometimes it comes all at once.

But that isn’t the sort of underlying cause Tara is talking about. She’s referring to the more subtle mindsets that can have strong cumulative effects—the things we do out of perfectionism and unrealistic expectations, or to please people, or out of “a fear of slowing down.” Running on over-drive, Tara says, can become “a vicious cycle. The more over-full and over-busy our lives, the harder it is to slow down—even when we have the time to do so. We are used to a frantic pace, used to the adrenalin flowing….”

Is that me? I don’t know, but it’s definitely something I’ll be thinking about as I transition out of  overly-busy into typically-busy. The last thing I want is to become so accustomed to a frantic pace that I forget how to relish all that’s leisurely and open-ended in my life—all of those things I love that would look completely out of place on a to-do list.

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  • Susan

    No, it’s not just you. I spent most of Sunday feeling a persistent anxiety because I was only tidying up the bathroom and only running errands and only tending to a project and only making travel plans. You know, instead of changing the course of my entire life and career, planning my future, and calling back friends I’ve been too busy to talk to.

    Even when I’m on vacation, I find myself wanting to think about work, my freelance projects, upcoming book work, a future family, blogging, a product launch, learning a musical instrument… I feel at home in the pressure to be over-abundant. In seemingly the wrong ways. I know I should focus on just one thing and do it well, but I’ve grown accustomed to the pace… the pace soon resembling that Type A friend you don’t really want to hang out with b/c she’s so annoying, but can’t help admiring her drive.

  • Bamboo Forest – PunIntended

    Your busy reference is interesting. Recently subscribed to your blog, enjoy your very clean writing style.

  • Kristin T.

    Susan, exactly! This line made me laugh: “You know, instead of changing the course of my entire life and career….” And I can completely relate to your approach to vacation. I wrote a post detailing the inner dialogue I have with myself when I’m on vacation and want to write blog posts and keep up with other work. In some ways I love this impulse, because it demonstrates that we love our work—we love thinking, writing, and tying it all into our day-to-day lives. But in other ways it seems very problematic and unhealthy. I guess it all comes down to balance, eh?

    Bamboo Forest, thanks for stopping by and subscribing! Thanks especially for calling my writing style “very clean.” :) As a copywriter by trade, this is hugely important to me, but sometimes here on my blog I feel bogged down in too much complexity. It’s good to know the ideas are coming across.

  • Tara Mohr


    Wow, I’m sure glad you picked up your phone to read a few posts!
    And its delightful for me to read about you trying on the four steps, and they were helpful for you!

    The more I talk to busy women (and men but particularly busy women) about this topic, the more I think there is something very real going on for us in us all sustaining the over-fullness in our lives. Not so much because we want it, but because we get used to it – there’s a momentum that develops, a sense of comfort that life is full, there’s the busywoman-martyr thing our culture rewards, and there is the distraction from sometimes uncomfortable now. All of those benefits are hard to let go of. Let alone the natural chemical high of adrenalin!

    Your post has inspired my next one….I’m thinking about the idea of “Braking without Breaking”….meaning….how do we slow down comfortable and smoothly – rather than by getting whiplash or just being stopped by a crash?

    Last but not least, I love your writing. Hugs to you,

  • Leslie

    Just found your blog and can see that there’s going to be plenty to check out! I’m in C-U as well, and have some similar interests to what I’m seeing here–cool! This piece resonates with me because of the appeal of busyness. Because of that, I feel like I have two modes–insane or comatose–and neither is sustainable.

    Looking forward to reading more!


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