I can’t speak for other places in the world, but among New Yorkers, the oft-uttered phrase, “I’m so busy,” is delivered as a simultaneous lament.
Bragging, one to be interpreted as both “I wish I could cut back” and “I’m in high demand.”
As eye-rolling as that may be, the truth is, for better or worse, we are busy.
This leads to burnouts down the road that wreak havoc on our life when we forget about ourselves.
I had never realized just how busy until a few months ago when I signed myself up for a ten-day mind-and-body cleanse that required me to stick to a few basic precepts: making all of my own meals, working out a few times during the prescribed period, taking one bath, and carving out ten minutes every morning and night to meditate.
Simple enough, but my initial reaction to each task was, “Who has the time?” Then, upon further consideration, actually feeling frightened by how little space in my schedule I allot for basic human needs: Feeding and bathing myself, getting enough sleep, and improving my health and my heart rate.
This is an even scarier realization when you take into account that I am a single woman with one job and no children—not even a house plant relies on me for life. How could I possibly be so busy?
And it’s not just me. Earlier this week on Instagram, Sean Diddy Combs responded to a commenter who told him he looked tired by saying, “That’s what work look like.”
Sure. But does it have to? Perhaps due to Instagram’s FOMO-inducing feed, smart phones making us available to our colleagues, clients, friends, and romantic interests around the clock, and the Internet’s ever-looming #ICYMI culture, an unspoken competition has arisen: Whoever does the most stuff wins. But in racing from event to exhibition, meeting to project, dinner party to date, I’m beginning to feel like I’m missing the point entirely.
This year, my resolution is to slow down, learn when to say no, and make time for myself.
“You need to undo the doing,” says Bob Roth, the executive director of the David Lynch Foundation, who, for more than 40 years, has found that 20 minutes of Transcendental Meditation—a simple act of sitting quietly with eyes closed and reflecting on a mantra—each morning is all it takes to reset the body and mind.
“It’s more restful than sleep,” he says, because aside from TM’s immediate centering and thought-quieting effects, research suggests that the practice, when repeated over time, reverses the harmful effects of chronic stress—the kind of stress that stockpiles when you’re running at top speed through a self-imposed calendar of appointments.
“When you feel anxious, your body produces cortisol which is disruptive to health,” explains Roth.
REM sleep is crucial for reducing cortisol levels, but studies have suggested a mere 20 minutes of TM may make up for hours lost.
“You learn early on that if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else,” says Donna Karan, the entrepreneurial powerhouse who balances her family life and yoga practice while helming a fashion empire.
Time has proven that it’s not sitting at a computer that ignites her best ideas: “I’ve designed whole collections while walking on the beach. When I’m relaxed and happy, I’m creatively much more open to new ideas.”
So how exactly does one make time to be relaxed and happy? “I have to schedule it in or it will never happen,” admits Karan of her daily hour of morning yoga. “It’s all but written in stone.” Of course, the irony is that when faced with an already packed calendar, Roth says, “There’s never any time.” Instead, you have to consider the payoff and make decisive cuts.
“I would never think of missing meditation for 20 minutes of sleep. TM is profoundly restful—the next eight to ten hours of my day, my energy levels will be clear, focused, and coherent,” says Roth.
“If I don’t have the energy to put ideas into place, what do I have?”
And with that, I’ve added to my 2015 calendar twice weekly can’t-be-missed morning workouts, and a once weekly evening block titled “Me” to be filled with whatever I want—be it reading, writing, trussing a rosemary chicken, taking a bath, practicing French (juste un peu), or going to sleep early.
Entire hours dedicated to making myself happy, reorganizing my thoughts, and realigning goals. When friends, coworkers, or other interested parties call, I’m learning how to reply: “Sorry, I’m busy.”