A few weeks ago, I went to visit my holistic doctor in Santa Monica, Dr. Patricia Fitzgerald, who also happens to be a dear friend and the HuffPost wellness editor. When I was at her office, she already had two patients in the rooms and I was waiting my turn. When she came out to greet me, I hugged her — a hug is a great way to start your session with your doctor — I said to her “Oh, you’re so busy!” In the most wonderful way, she said, “Not too busy for you! You know, I never like to use that word. It doesn’t mean anything to me. I live my life serving my patients as best as I can, giving everyone my full attention when they’re there. I encourage my patients to stop using that word as well, because it only makes you feel more overwhelmed and not in charge of your time.”
My experience with Dr. Patricia made me stop in my tracks. I said to her, “That is an amazing awareness for me — because I have a habit to use the word busy all the time, and I hear it from people every day.” When I ask people how they are, I so often receive the reply, “I’m soooooo busy!”
When we’re telling people that we’re busy, it’s like saying, “I’m talking to you, but I’m really not there.” Because you would never say to someone while you’re talking to them that you’re busy right now — because you’re talking to them.
So busy is what happens in our head and not necessarily what is happening in the moment.
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With Arianna’s new book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, which already hit #1 on The New York Times best-seller list, the message of how our society has glorified being busy, as if it’s a badge of honor, has really hit home with me. It is a collective cultural deficit. It’s not that we are not busy and we don’t have a lot to do, but it’s as if our whole selves — body, mind and spirit — are being wrapped up in our daily to-do list and we utterly lose perspective of the whole picture.
What is also wonderful about Dr. Patricia is that many times when I call her from my trips to talk to her, whether it is health-related or a personal matter, I never feel that she is overwhelmed or hurried. She always seems to be so present in her conversations — and when she has to go on to her next thing, she very graciously ends the conversation to move to what she needs to tend to next.
The way that Dr. Patricia behaves is a quality that I admire so much in people and I attempt to emulate. It’s as if people who operate that way seem to be in charge of their lives and in alignment with doing what they love to do. There is a sense of presence and calmness — and a certain joy in interacting with them.
I have started to course-correct and observe myself — especially when I get overwhelmed and start to go into that state of busyness. It is at that point that I need to put my devices down, or whatever else I’m doing — to breathe and exhale. I often find myself overwhelmed with the feeling of how would I get it all done? And often, if I’m tired, that feeling of overwhelm increases. As Arianna often says in her talks, “A good day starts the night before. Did I get enough sleep and did I get a good quality of sleep?”
I, too, am starting to practice all of the strategies of Thrive. What do I do to stay connected with myself? My doings, my conversations and interactions, even if they are very basic, such as being in the supermarket; getting a taxi; giving someone an address; depositing a check in the bank — I am present with myself and with the person I am interacting with. As my mother always used to say, “Don’t miss the moment.” It seems that’s all we really have — the moment! As this wave of mindfulness is being amplified in our culture, I wanted to bring to our attention how the use of words can actually send our brain signals of overwhelm.
Another phrase that people use a lot is “I’m crazzzzed!” What kind of a message are we giving ourselves when we are in the middle of our projects and we tell people it’s been crazy? Imagine the images the brain starts to form when you say you’re crazy. Your brain creates all sorts of chaotic images of things falling apart — the crazy kind of stuff!
Other phrases that we so often use to express how we are: it’s hectic; it’s insane; I haven’t had a moment to breathe; I haven’t had a moment to myself; it’s relentless, etc. When we use such phrases, we give ourselves signals of — to quote Thrive — time famine rather than time affluence. Yet we all know that time is a man-made concept.
So here are some of the words I have come up with to make me feel more time affluent: When people ask me for something and it is not a good time for me to engage, there are a few phrases I use:
“I can’t do that right now.”
“My plate is full for the next month.”
“My focus is handling xyz project at the moment, so there is not a lot of space and time to handle anything else.”
I find that when I use these phrases, I relax — and I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders.
I was recently asked to record the audio of Arianna’s new book. When I came to reading the passage about time:
As physicist Paul Davies wrote in Scientific American, though most of us feel time is something that flows — always coming at us and then rushing behind us — that’s not actually what happens: ‘physicists prefer to think of time as laid out in its entirety — a timescape, analogous to a landscape — with all past and future events located there together. It is a notion sometimes referred to as block time.’ I love this because ‘block time’ helps me see the big picture — there is literally both no time and all the time in the world. (147)
As I was reading this, I stopped and teared up. I realized how pressured I often feel about the imaginary time constrictions of our culture and also the ones we impose on ourselves.
When I was reading that passage — I realized there was a way out of the maze and the straightjacket that time puts us in. And that there is a creative way to step out of the boundaries of time — when we become fully aware that there is enough time to handle the essential things in our lives. One of my favorite quotes by Brian Andreas is “Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.”
I remember when I was with my father in Greece during the last days of his life. I would sit there with him — comforting him, praying and really being present there with him. I had a real sense that there was no time — because there was just the precious, present moment that stopped all time. In life and death matters, that’s all there is — the present moment. I often try to recreate that time in my daily life when I lose track of the precious moment of life and overwhelm myself with my to-do list.
So here is a toast to eliminating the words: busy, hectic, crazy, insane, etc., from our vocabulary in describing how we are during our day and replacing them with statements that empower us, energize us and assist us in taking mental dominion over not being present.
And here’s to the end of glorification for our culture’s busyness, getting things done on little sleep, and feeling like we have to catch up with the race — because ultimately there is no race except for the one we assign ourselves to.
Share with me what other ways you found to substitute these ‘bad’ words that make us all feel overwhelmed. I would love to know and find new ways to support ourselves in not just succeeding, but thriving.
* Originally published on The Huffington Post.
Agapi Stassinopoulos is the author of Unbinding the Heart: A Dose of Greek Wisdom, Generosity, and Unconditional Love (Hay House). While her sister, Arianna Huffington, was doing research for her book about Greek mythology, Agapi’s love for the gods and goddesses was ignited and led to two books of her own—Conversations with the Goddesses and Gods and Goddesses in Love—as well as a one-woman show and a PBS special. She also co-produced and co-hosted a documentary called “Quest for the Gods,” shot on location in Greece.
Image courtesy of Robin Benad via Unsplash.