Do you know someone who can't sit still and is constantly working on something? Would you rather spend time thinking pleasant thoughts or spend time doing a solitary activity? A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology interviewed over 2500 college students from 11 different countries and found that thinking pleasant thoughts was less enjoyable than engaging in an activity. Not surprising that most people prefer activity to simply sitting and thinking. In fact, based on my clinical experience, many people prefer to engage in activity over facing their feelings. For some, busyness provides a convenient distraction from negative thoughts and/or feelings. It is possible to avoid dealing with emotional pain, conflict, and destructive thoughts when we remain overextended and incredibly busy. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being active, busy, and driven, unless it's excessive and interferes with our ability to connect with people and masks our negative feelings. Some of us are more human doing than human being. Why do we struggle to be still, reflect on life, and to find value in doing nothing?
For some, being still represents laziness and a lack of productivity which can elicit guilt and fear. We may define our worth based on our busyness and achievement even to the point of competing with others about who is the busiest. As mentioned, sometimes sitting still triggers thoughts and feelings that we prefer to avoid or deny. Often at bedtime when we have no choice but to be still, intrusive thoughts and feelings are experienced. Our sleep can be disturbed because we can't shut down our mind and relax our body. Although, some people prefer to stay busy and active right up until bedtime so that they exhaust themselves enough to sleep through the night, it may help to gradually wind down before bedtime and limit activity shortly before bed. We can write down our thoughts and feelings before bedtime in an effort to clear our mind.
Sometimes it takes a concerted effort to be still and inactive. I can relate. I love to be busy and active. However, the key is to find a healthy work-life balance and to take the time to reflect on our ability to focus on relationships, not just tasks. We need to be honest with ourselves about our motives for being busy and acknowledge the consequences on our loved ones. Being still allows us to reflect and be introspective about what's most important in our lives. Some would say that where you spend your time and money is where your heart lies. I sometimes recommend that people monitor and map out how they spend their time at work, in their relationships with family, and leisure activities. Take stock of how you live and reflect on your ability to connect with people instead of avoiding your feelings through busyness. Ultimately, I believe that spending the energy and time to "just be" and to purposely determine the importance our work and personal relationships will have the greatest impact on our legacy and our ability to find significance. Decide for yourself what's most important.