But the costs of this are high:
- Everything in life starts to feel shallow and incomplete
- We become short-tempered and unkind to spouses and children because “there is nothing left over” for the people we love most
- We never take time out to replenish ourselves
- Out of exhaustion and frustration, we waste time with activities that are neither rejuvenating nor productive (i.e., bad TV)
- We take up emotional eating, compulsive “retail therapy” and other unhealthy coping mechanisms
This becomes 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 and opportunity to do so. Because we are used to a frantic pace, operating with the adrenalin flowing when we have five minutes, we are more likely to use it to check email or glance at twitter than to take a few deep breaths and check in with ourselves.
I think we need a revolution of people committing to hit “stop” when their lives get over-full. When we don’t stop and course-correct, we become so much less than we could be. We lose connection to our inner wisdom. We lose connection to the joy we could find in the life right in front of us. And we aren’t the people of generous and loving hearts we want to be.
If you want to stop the over-fullness in your life, and create enough space for your best self to come through, here are four steps to get started:
Identify the costs of over-fullness and over-busyness. What are the emotional, physical, and mental costs to you? What are the costs to your family or other important people in your life? Don’t beat yourself up, but do take an honest look at the costs to help motivate you to make change.
Identify the symptoms and signs of over-fullness for you, so that you can recognize them when they arise. How do you know when things have become too full? This could take the form of physical symptoms, for example your neck starts hurting, or you have trouble sleeping. It could also take the form of emotional symptoms such as feeling resentful or irritable. Or, it may take the form of mental symptoms, such as being unable to concentrate or make clear decisions.
Know what course corrects over-fullness for you, and begin practicing those activities in your life. Busy people need strategies for replenishing and rejuvenating themselves so that we can course-correct when we start noticing the symptoms of over-fullness (those that you identified in #2).
What helps you get perspective on the little stuff, restore your energy, and return to a place of generosity and love with the people in your life? Every person has a different set of specific strategies, but some good places to look are: exercise that feels good; alone time; being in nature; heartfelt sharing with a friend, therapist or coach; journaling; doing activities you love and for which you feel truly passionate; and doing something immersive and creative.
In your toolkit, have some course correction strategies that take more time — i.e., activities that can be done in under ten minutes, for busy days when quick course correction is needed. This might be a short meditation, a quick set of stretches, a brief call to a dear friend, or a few still minutes gazing out into the garden.
Address the underlying causes of over-fullness in your life. As a coach, I’m constantly challenging clients who come into coaching sure that over-fullness and the chaos that follows is “just the way it is” or “the way it has to be.” So far, I have yet to meet someone who does not have choice or flexibility around reducing the chaos in their lives, though few of them see it that way when we first meet. Yes, what’s happening with your family, your kids, your workplace, your world may be out of your control, but how you operate within it — how you take care of yourself and center yourself and adjust when you get off track — all of this is within your control.
In addition, many of us are bringing over-fullness into our lives through:
* Things we are doing to please other people
* Things we are doing out of perfectionism or unrealistic expectations of ourselves
* Things we are doing solely out of habit
* Things we are doing out of a sense of should
* Things we are doing because we think we have-to, when in fact creative alternatives are available to us.
These are the deep sources of over-fullness in our lives, and we can eliminate many of the activities and commitments we’ve taken on for these reasons.
I’m sure that like me, you know brilliant, loving, capable people reduced to unfocused, irritable individuals disconnected from their own wisdom and their own dreams, because they’ve long been living over-capacity. And no doubt, we have all been that person at different moments in our lives.
Certainly, many of the social issues that surround us — lack of affordable, quality childcare; underperforming schools; unsafe neighborhoods; demanding jobs, financial stresses — all of these contribute to the prevalence of over-fullness in our lives, and this is unfortunate.
Having traveled a lot this year, I’ve watched how people in many other countries don’t struggle with these issues as much, because of stronger support systems for busy working families. We can work for social changes that make it easier for families to live manageable lives. This is the outer work.
At the same time, we all have inner work to do — releasing the sources of over-fullness in our lives, being willing to slow down, learning to recognize when we’ve gotten over-capacity, and bringing ourselves back to our better selves when it occurs.
I’m curious to hear from you: Is your life overfull? Was it formerly over-full and if so how did you change it? How do you know when you get to overcapacity and what will you do about it when you feel that happening?
Tara Sophia Mohr is a writer and life coach who blogs at Wise Living (www.wiselivingblog.com). You can sign up for her free unconventional guide, “Turning Goals Upside Down and Inside Out to Get What You Really Want” here. (http://bit.ly/bkw8Wm)