Have you ever noticed how often people use the word “busy” when you ask them how they are?

You run into someone you know at the grocery store, the bank or the post office and inevitably the word “busy” emerges almost immediately when you ask the simple question “how are you?”

  • “Busy”
  • “Super busy”
  • “I’ve been so busy”
  • “It’s just so busy right now”
  • “Crazy busy”

It’s seems to be a badge of honor. If you’re not “busy”, you’re not trying hard enough, or achieving enough, or working enough. It seems you have to be busy to show your life is worth something.

It doesn’t seem to be a red flag for most people, but it should be.

We’re filling our lives with busy-ness, with constant doing, constant thinking, constant running around. And all that busy-ness is not translating into more meaningful, more rewarding lives.

The unbearable “busy-ness” of the personal growth world

Unfortunately, much of personal growth advice leads people to MORE busy-ness rather than less. So much advice in this genre is filled with what what you’re supposed to DO to live a better life, achieve your goals, be successful, simplify. 

The list of suggestions is positively dizzying. Here are a few examples from popular online articles:

  • Wake up an hour early every day
  • Meditate
  • Write down your goals/intentions
  • Visualize your goals and to-do’s
  • Write down 5 things you’re grateful for
  • Journal 
  • Create a mantra or affirmation and repeat it to yourself every day
  • Streamline your routine/spend less time dithering, more time being productive
  • Write down your reflections on your day before bed every night
  • Write down your dreams every morning when you wake up
  • Practice Yoga
  • Make a five year plan to achieve your goals
  • Read a lot
  • Immediately apply what you learn

These lists go on and on. And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

Just reading this long list of advice will lead most people to feel exhausted and busy-minded. For those who fall into the trap of believing that a long list of “doing” stands between them and wellbeing or success, all this advice creates an increased feeling of needing to constantly be doing and striving, an increase in mental speed as they try to make sense of all that they’re supposed to do and how on earth to fit it all in.

What if this is barking up the wrong tree?

Seeing with new eyes: Laser-focus vs soft-focus

“The real voyage of discovery consists of not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

In my equine coaching practice. one of the things I coach my clients to explore is the idea of experiencing or exploring a more horse-like way of seeing the world, of moving through the world.

Humans are predators. We therefore tend to have a “laser-focused” way of seeing the world around us, with our focus mostly in front of us. We tend to focus on what is straight ahead, what we’re trying to “catch.” (read: accomplish, attain, achieve). This laser-focus requires us to tune out all the possible “distractions” around us that might derail us from our goal.

Horses, on the other hand, are prey animals. They see nearly 360 degrees around them and have a “soft” focus rather than a “laser” focus. They have a broad awareness of their environment and are able to take in all of what’s around them rather than staying focused only on the narrow slice straight ahead of them.

They would never fail to notice a hiker walking in the distance, a coyote ambling across the pasture, the bird pecking at the ground in the corner of the corral, or the change of weather on the horizon. They can remain aware of all these things at once, staying in a full state of awareness of the whole world around them.

The really wonderful thing is that we humans are flexible and can see and experience the world in different ways. While a horse is only going to see like a horse, we humans have options. We too can have a broader, softer way of seeing the world, or moving through our environment.

But this can only happen if we slow down. And I don’t mean physically slow down (although that helps). What I’m suggesting is that we can only foster a soft, broad way of seeing our world if we slow way down mentally.

But why would we want to? What’s so great about a broader, soft focus and awareness and why would we want to cultivate it?

The answer lies in the huge difference in the quality of our experience when we’re busy-minded/laser-focused versus quiet-minded/soft-focused.

The busy-minded experience vs the Quiet-minded experience

A quiet mind is more important than a positive mind. ~ Deepak Chopra

The word “busy” is just another way of saying “moving fast” or “sped up.” When I hear people describe themselves as “super busy” or “crazy busy,” what I hear is that their mind is likely “crazy busy” as well. Inevitably, when our mind is really busy, our way of seeing and experiencing the world inevitably leans more towards the laser-focused. In that laser-focused state, we are likely missing opportunities for meaningful moments and rich insights that are a possibility for us any time we slow down enough to allow them in.

Having laser-focused vision is not a problem. It allows us to accomplish, create and achieve great things.The problem is when it’s our only mode of seeing or moving through our world. If we stay in a laser-focused way of seeing much of the time (or all of the time) we miss out on much of the richness and wonder of what might be all around us. All the “distractions” around us may well be the richest, most joyful parts of our day.

It’s when we slow down that we allow for serendipity, chance encounters, unexpected gifts, little daily miracles that take our breath away.

It’s when we slow down that we notice the beautiful little details of the world around us, both natural and human-made. The intense yellow of an aspen leaf in the fall. The beautiful angles and reflections of a glass skyscraper on a bright sunny day.

It’s when we slow down that we allow new ideas, new insights to emerge. It’s when a new possibility emerges about a problem that moments ago seemed completely impossible. It’s when a new thought comes about how to tackle a tough conversation. It’s when a loving feeling reemerges towards a loved-one after a stretch of anger or frustration.

It’s only in the slowness, the spaces between doing, the mental quiet between noisy stretches that life’s greatest insights, meaning and joy emerge. And the most wonderful news is that the good stuff will bubble up even through the smallest gaps in your mental busy-ness. You don’t need to wait for your yoga class or that run you planned for the end of the day. No matter what you’re doing, just a simple pause to notice your inner busy-ness and let it settle, however briefly, will make a difference in the quality of your day.

Over time, that pause will become a part of life, and you’ll find yourself falling out of your thinking more and more often throughout the day. Without it being a goal, without a list of 5 ways to achieve “the pause,”  without giving it a name and a method, without writing anything down or planning to make it happen for often. Awareness alone will be enough.

We cultivate a joyful, meaningful life by stitching together one mundane, everyday miracle after another, until they come together in a rich tapestry of a life well-lived.

But we can’t do that if our mind is too “busy” to notice those miracles along the way.

It is only in a very quiet mind that great things are born. And  a quiet mind does not come about through effort, through discipline, through control. ~ Krishnamurti