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How your mindset can help you create an unbusy life

July, 15th, 2019
Unbusy mindset

What does an ‘unbusy’ life mean to you? Is it about free time? A lack of obligations? A life that includes only the things you value or want to do?

I hear a lot of people talking about it as a goal to achieve or a place to get to.

  • If I declutter enough things, I won’t be busy with housework
  • If I simplify my job, I won’t feel stressed
  • If I reduce my social and community commitments, I won’t have as long a to-do list

And to some extent, these strategies can work.

We declutter the house and we feel good. There is less ‘stuff’ to assault the eye and less to do. But the housework remains. We still have to wash clothes, cook dinner, paint the fence etc. And then we wonder whether we need to get rid of more things.

We simplify our job and the pressure is lifted momentarily. Then other anxieties and stresses come in. Maybe money worries, maybe life worries, maybe issues we hadn’t noticed before when our mind was occupied with other things. So then we wonder what other commitments we need to offload to soothe our anxiety.

It all starts to sound very like the hedonic tread mill we’re trying to hop off in the first place. That machine that keeps us in a cycle of wanting something, putting in work to achieving it, feeling good fleetingly when we achieve it and then seeking something new to aim for, because the good feeling has worn off.

In this mindset, ‘unbusy’ becomes something to ‘do’, rather than something to ‘be’.

Mindfulness gives us the opportunity to ask better questions of ourselves, so rather than asking how can we create an unbusy life, it says how can we nurture an unbusy state of mind?

That nurturing might take the form of many small decisions every day, that seem unimportant at the time, but add up to create the sum total of the day.

Last weekend I went into the garden with the intention of sorting out the tangle of weeds that had sprouted up overnight. My girls were playing with bikes but then they discovered the cricket set and wanted to play. My eldest is pretty good at throwing, catching and batting but the youngest doesn’t quite have the motor skills to do that yet. I noticed them struggling to get any game going between them and getting frustrated. I put down my tools and joined them. We managed to get a game going with me bowling and them taking turns to field and bat. We were all smiling and my eldest was feeling particularly proud of the 18 runs she’d accumulated so far when my husband called. He asked what we were up to and said “Oh, I’m supposed to be weeding but actually we’re all playing cricket. Sorry.” He said “Why are you sorry? In 10 years’ time they probably won’t want to play cricket with you, but the weeding will still be there. Just enjoy it.”

And he’s right. That small decision to play cricket rather do the weeding in that moment was a good decision. An unbusy decision. Giving ourselves permission to decide what is the most valuable thing we can do in each moment, without feeling guilt, is the essence of the unbusy mindset. And yes, we might make those decisions easier by decluttering, changing jobs or curating our social lives, but those actions alone won’t do it. Unbusy is a state of mind or a way of life. It is the journey, not the destination.

Here are some ideas I think are crucial to the unbusy mindset. What would you add?

  • The absence of work is not always a healthy expression of unbusy. Humans are designed to be productive and contribute in meaningful ways. When we approach chores/work without resentment and a willingness to find the good in each moment, they cease to be draining. Feeling the sun and the breeze as we hang out washing. Reading a good book on our commute. “The feeling that any task is a nuisance will soon disappear if it is done in mindfulness” – Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Decluttering will only take you so far. I’m a big fan of decluttering and love Marie Kondo’s method, but decluttering won’t solve all of your problems. Changing our whole mindset to consumption (and what we accumulate) as we as expressing gratitude for the things we own can help us make better, unbusy decisions.
  • Question what really matters in this moment. Allow this to change from moment to moment and day to day. Sometimes the weeding will win and sometimes the cricket will win. Trust your judgement.
  • Own your decisions. If you’ve decided that cricket is more valuable than weeding, or your body needs to rest more than it does going out for the evening, own that decision. Notice any guilt you’re feeling and know that you can let it pass. Decisions aren’t without consequences and none of us are perfect. Sometimes we’ll make the wrong decision and that’s ok too.
  • Be gracious to others. Being unbusy doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be gracious or accommodating towards other people. Helping other people, sharing the burden and offering our services are part of living a fulfilled life. Getting the balance right between looking after ourselves and looking after others is a careful balance, but one we can navigate by making mindful decisions. We can set boundaries and still be compassionate to the needs of others.

Being unbusy starts with one breath and one moment. Feel what matters and follow that.

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