Have you been busy?

If you answered that question with a fatigued laugh, a big sigh, an eye roll, or maybe a blank stare, you’re not alone.

Everyone around me reports being Busy. Overwhelmed. Stressed. Here in fall 2021, much of life and work has attempted to return to “normal,” in spite of the ongoing nature of the pandemic, and many of us have learned just how unrealistically busy “normal” used to be.

Perhaps you have considered the demands of your life, your work, the lives of your family members, and the world around you, and have you found yourself saying: “How did we used to do this?!”

The Disease of Being Busy

I’m fairly sure we were just this busy back then, too. I often find myself returning to a blog post written by Omid Safi in 2014, “The Disease of Being Busy.” He writes:

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

Other writers have noticed these trends over the last several years as well, evidenced by the pile of books on my desk with titles like “Burnout,” “Overwhelmed,” and most recently, “Subtract.”

As you look at your life — perhaps your busy, full, wonderful, overwhelming life — do you see anything extra that you could subtract, that you could say “no” to? Or is there something you could add that would decrease your load overall?

How to Add a Positive Negative

“Add?,” you may ask. “I don’t have time to add a single thing!” (Stay with me for a minute, and keep reading to the end for three easy, practical tips.) I remember, back when learning algebra, that I was fascinated by the idea that you can add a negative number to a positive number, which (in practice) subtracts it. What would it mean to add “less” to your life?

At the core of the Alexander Technique process, we learn the practice of “inhibition.” In the AT sense (and not in the Freudian sense) inhibition is the power of a “positive no.” It’s a pause, a way of choosing to not respond to the stimulus we are faced with. It’s a way of learning to preserve our own energy by not reacting willy-nilly to every stimulus, but only to the ones we decide are important, and in a way that we choose constructively.

It is a “negative” we can add to our lives, that can help us decrease our load overall.

Stress and Ease are Cumulative

I describe my work teaching the Alexander Technique in a number of different ways. Recently I’ve been playing with the phrase “wellness and stress relief professional.” I’m a teacher, and I teach people how to change their responses to their habits. All of us have habits about how we respond to stress, whether mental, physical, or (usually) both. The changes you learn in study of the Alexander Technique help us increase our own wellbeing by taking away our habitual stress responses. We discover relief from stress.

Do you engage with stress in a way that causes it to build up on top of itself, piling you with heavier and heavier loads? Stress can be cumulative.

Did you know that ease is cumulative, too? When you choose to redirect your own energy by not reacting to stress with tension and strain, you give your nervous system a chance to calm, even if only a little bit. A calmer nervous system is more able to respond to the next stressful event with gentleness and artistry, moment by moment, creating space, reducing strain, and supporting you with resilience and clarity in your thinking. Those things, again, allow you to be even more easy in your future decision making. That’s the kind of positive negative I like!

The trees are about to teach us how beautiful it is to let things go (author unknown).

Three Easy Practices for a Powerful Pause

In their incredible book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Dr. Emily Nagoski and Dr. Amelia Nagoski write:

“Wellness” is the freedom to move fluidly through the cycles of being human. Wellness is thus not a state of being; it is a state of action.

Inhibition is that kind of action. It is a positive negative, something you can add that will decrease your load overall. Here are three easy ways to practice inhibition, or a pause… a powerful positive negative.

  • You can start with a practice that is a favorite among my private students and workshop participants. Tell yourself: I have time. Even if all the time you seem to “have” is half a second, that pause gives your nervous system a chance to calm. Try it!
  • You can add a few minutes of Constructive Rest, another impactful way to practice a pause.
  • You can go for a walk instead of continuing to drill down into your work. Leave the headphones at home and don’t look at your phone. Just walk, and maybe notice some fall leaves beginning to change.

Bonus Experiment!

Speaking of phones, you can even practice by pausing when you look at your phone! If you like, you’re welcome to download a phone wallpaper I made with the words “I have time.”

As an experiment, try setting your phone wallpaper with this image for a day, or a week, or longer. What will happen when you repeated tell yourself that you don’t have to rush to the next thing, and that you have time to make a choice?

I would love to hear what you discover! Please connect with me and share what you’ve noticed. 

"I have Time" phone wallpaper!