“All the mistakes I ever made in my life were when I wanted to say no, and said yes.” ~Moss Hart
Do you ever feel like you’re always too busy to truly enjoy life?
I know the feeling.
I work multiple jobs to care for my family and have many responsibilities at work and at home. My to-do list never seems to end, leaving precious little time for leisure and rest.
But here’s the funny thing: whenever I do have some downtime, my anxiety kicks in because I’m thinking about all the things I “should” do to help move my life and career forward.
Some days, I become so overwhelmed with all the things I “need” to do that I struggle to be present with my family and those I love. I struggle to find contentment in simply doing nothing.
As I’ve reflected on these struggles, I’ve learned that my need to keep busy has been driven in large part by six subconscious fears. I’ve learned that by facing them, I can begin to let go of my busyness so that I can enjoy my life in the moment.
If you’re always swamped and struggling to enjoy your life, consider if any of the following fears are the cause of your need to keep busy as well:
1. The fear of missing out.
So pervasive is the fear of missing out that it’s referred to simply as FOMO. This fear is based on the overwhelming feeling that something more exciting is happening elsewhere or that there are more attractive options than the one chosen.
This fear is behind my compulsion to multitask while I work—most notably, switching between multiple tabs on my browser or even viewing multiple computer screens at once.
It’s the force behind my need to purchase the next breakthrough product or program, or chase down every opportunity that comes my way.
Worst of all, it’s the fear behind my mindless web surfing or constant email checking when I could be spending time with my family.
FOMO drives us to be busier (or appear to be busier) than we need to be.
Fortunately, we don’t have to let our FOMO control us. You can face your FOMO by accepting the fact that it is impossible to pursue every great opportunity.
By acknowledging and accepting that you cannot have everything, you can focus your limited time and energy on the few things that truly matter. That way, you’ll never miss out.
2. The fear of being bored.
Kids are famous for how quickly they become bored, but adults get bored too, especially with the daily grind of life. This boredom is constantly tempting us to take on the new and the novel.
I took a while to realize that I struggle with the fear of being bored. I become bored fairly quickly. I actually enjoy working in multiple settings because it keeps me from being in one place or doing one set of tasks all day long.
But working in multiple settings means that I always have something to do and sometimes I get overwhelmed.
To counteract the effects of the busy life I’ve created for myself, I frequently set aside time for prayer, meditation, and reflection. And as I began to reflect on my fear of boredom, I began to see that:
Boredom is a privilege.
It is not something to run from but something to enter into. Boredom means that all my basic needs are met. I’ve never heard the hungry, the poor, or the person in danger say they were bored. I can, so I give thanks when I’m bored.
You, too, can begin to face your fear of boredom by expressing gratitude for all the comforts you enjoy.
3. The fear of facing difficult tasks.
Do you dread working on your taxes, your marriage, or that year-end report? Most of us in a similar situation would instinctively busy ourselves with the trivial and the meaningless to avoid facing the difficult stuff now.
This busywork is simply a form of procrastination. But it can be hard to spot if we’ve thoroughly convinced ourselves that the busywork is important. In doing so, we manage to not do the things that are truly important.
Avoiding difficult tasks may work in the short-term but may also have disastrous effects in the long-term. In my own life, I’ve found that this behavior only leads to prolonged and magnified pain.
Facing this fear means learning to reframe how you think about the unpleasant and difficult tasks we all must deal with from time to time. Instead of seeing them as burdens to avoid, we can view them as opportunities for breakthroughs in our finances, our relationships, and our work.
4. The fear of looking lazy or unaccomplished.
It’s no secret that being busy, or looking busy, has become a sign of accomplishment in our culture.
Sometimes, this fear manifests itself in my own life. I may feel insecure if the person I’m speaking with gets interrupted with a phone call or text – I’ve responded to such interruptions before by surfing the web on my phone (or checking my empty email inbox) to appear just as busy.
Or I might feel inadequate by comparing my life to a busy professional who travels every week for work.
I remember once feeling small compared to an acquaintance who frequently traveled for work. Somehow, I felt less important because my work did not take me to interesting locations across the country.
I began to change my thinking about this when I later learned that this person eventually lost his marriage. The news caused me to re-examine my priorities. Instead of feeling inadequate, I began to be thankful that I could go home to my family every day after work.
Facing this fear means giving up your insecurities about appearing lazy or unaccomplished so that you can focus on what truly matters.
5. The fear of being alone.
Is your busyness driven by the fear of being alone? We often think that to enjoy life, we must constantly be in the company of others.
We learn from a young age that being alone is undesirable. If you’ve been labeled a loner at some point in your life, people may think you’re a loser, a weirdo, or even dangerous.
We may fear being alone because we fear being labeled, we’re afraid to be with our own thoughts, or we’re afraid of being lonely.
Always-having-somewhere-to-be is an effective strategy to deploy when we’re afraid to be alone, but it also robs us of the ability to enjoy our own company. In her book Between Dark and Daylight, Sr. Joan Chittister writes:
“We love to be told that we are social beings, yes, but we also know deep in the core of us that we are not frantically social beings.”
Facing the fear of being alone means embracing the moments we get to ourselves in order to rest, recharge, enjoy a good book, or enjoy your own company.
6. The fear of not being well-liked.
We all want to be liked, but sometimes this need drives us to say yes to every request that comes our way. We’re afraid that saying no will cause people not to like us.
This fear has also been a big driver of my busyness. As a recovering people pleaser, I know what it’s like to suddenly find myself caught in a hectic schedule filled with the priorities of other people. It’s utterly exhausting and demoralizing.
Whenever I’ve said yes to win the approval of others, I almost always emerge from the experience feeling resentful toward the person and myself. Furthermore, instead of winning the admiration of that person, I become an easy target for future requests, and their estimation of me may actually decrease.
Giving up this fear means accepting the risk of being disliked by deciding to set (and stick to) clear boundaries. Once I learned to say no—with kindness—I began to feel happier for gaining control of my time again. And people rarely reacted as negatively as I imagined for politely declining their requests.
Stop Keeping Yourself Busy and Enjoy Your Life Instead
If you’ve always wondered why you can’t seem to stop being busy, one or more of these fears may be driving your busyness.
You may have fallen for the myth that being busy means having social status and prestige.
But you also know that all the status and prestige in the world is no good if it prevents you from enjoying your life.
Yes, these six fears are powerful, but you have what it takes to overcome them.
You have the power to drop these illusions right now.
Acknowledge the fears. And release them today so that you can regain control of your time and enjoy your life.