When was the last time you spontaneously met a friend for coffee? If you’re anything like I used to be, you probably can’t remember when. You’re likely rushing from appointment to appointment, digital calendar and planner in hand… and you’re looking at least three months ahead if you want to squeeze a friend in. Am I right?
If I was to make a guess, I’d say you also probably aren’t working toward the goals and achievements that are highest on your bucket list, either. Somehow you haven’t found time between your job (your boss can’t do without you), your volunteer work (if you don’t do it, it probably won’t get done!) and everything else you’re supposed to be doing.
Being busy makes us feel important and needed. But by saying “yes” to everything, we are also actively sabotaging ourselves, our dreams, and our goals—damaging our mental and physical wellbeing and distracting ourselves from what we really, truly want.
What is self-sabotage?
Self-sabotage manifests as any thought or behaviour that keeps you from achieving your goals and reaching your vision of success.
For many of us, being busy and focusing on checking off items from those to-do lists pumps up our feelings of self-worth while also distracting us from engaging in meaningful self-care practices. We block ourselves from achieving authentic success by committing to senseless, unfulfilling distractions, day in and day out. This often results in physical symptoms and exhaustion that don’t seem to have a direct cause.
I used to be one of those people who were so booked up I had to schedule coffee dates three months out. I was always rushing from A to B to Z, crashing hard at night, and then doing it all over again the next day. I tried to be everything to everyone and I defined how good my day was by the number of tasks crossed off on my to-do list.
Although my bosses loved my proactive “get-stuff-done” attitude and I thought my behaviour made me super successful, eventually my body began to suffer. I experienced chronic migraines that derailed my life for days at a time. I was perpetually tired, and I was sick from nausea nearly every day.
The final straw came when I was eating my third dinner in a row in my car. Surrounded by crushed-up napkins and nauseous with indigestion, I decided something really needed to change. Enough was enough.
“It is not enough to be busy. The question is: what are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau
Ditching Your Self-Sabotaging Behavior
Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that we are engaging in destructive patterns. This isn’t surprising, as often it’s our subconscious brain running the show. Although our conscious brain may identify a want or need, there is often a deep-seated subconscious barrier telling us, “This isn’t safe and I don’t like it. Retreat! Retreat!”
But by becoming aware of this thought pattern and making a few fundamental shifts, we can break through this resistance and change our unproductive behaviour.
1. Schedule fewer events and stop rushing from one thing to the next
I know, I know, this is so obvious, but if you are an overscheduler like I used to be, you need to consciously figure out where you can leave gaps in your schedule. Actress Kate Walsh (of Grey’s Anatomy fame) refers to this as a “ventilated schedule” and I love that term. This practice is essential and yet it’s also not easy.
Make room for downtime in your calendar to recalibrate and reflect (Sundays work well for me), and then—most importantly—do not schedule anything during those times! If anyone asks you to do something or go somewhere, you can tell them that you have a prior commitment (which you do—to yourself!).
2. Only say “Yes” to things in alignment with your goals and values
Take one of those newly unscheduled gaps in your schedule and sit with yourself for a moment. What do you really, truly want out of your life? What goals do you want to accomplish? Are you taking on tasks because they are important to you, personally? Or are you taking on tasks because you want to make other people happy? With this new knowledge in mind, start saying no to the things that don’t push you along your chosen path.
When we say yes to everything that comes along, we are actually saying no to the things that we do want. We are dividing and diluting our energy instead of focusing it on our true goals. We can’t be our best selves and reach real, sustainable success. And being tired and overbooked ensures we are too busy to celebrate any successes we do achieve. You can help eliminate this problem for yourself by carefully considering where you want to invest your time and energy.
3. Recognize that being “busy” is a cultural problem, not your problem
Our society glorifies being so busy we can’t see straight. We celebrate endless checklists and exhaustion in the hope of being seen as productive and reliable employees, friends, volunteers, and parents. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and change starts with you.
Yes, people will push back on your new-found priorities, and you may even second guess yourself when faced with something that you’d normally say yes to. Trust me—unlearning our old habits takes time. I’ve been working on this for quite a while, and even I fail miserably sometimes! But I also know how to get myself back on track ASAP, and you can do that too.
From Self-Sabotaging to Self-Supporting
The truth is that we have to be our own biggest fans and supporters. Stepping back and slowing down is a life-changing exercise that will be your ticket to more fulfillment, happiness, and career success. And although you’ll still face plenty of roadblocks while working toward your chosen goals, you’ll feel more confident knowing that you’re not the one who put them there.