Community & RelationshipMore Everyday Joy

Ending Over-Capacity Living

By March 14, 2010 7 Comments

I know a lot of people who are running on over-drive. Somewhere along the way, life got too full, too busy, too cluttered, too rushed and frantic. The costs of this are high:

  • Everything in life starts to feel shallow and incomplete
  • We become short-tempered and unkind to spouses and children because “there is nothing left over” for the people we love most
  • We don’t take time out to replenish ourselves
  • Out of exhaustion and frustration, we waste time with activities that are neither rejuvenating or productive (i.e. bad TV)
  • We take up emotional eating, compulsive “retail therapy” and other unhealthy coping mechanisms

This becomes a vicious cycle. The more over-full and over-busy our lives, the harder it is to slow down — even when we have the time to do so. We are used to a frantic pace, used to the adrenalin flowing, so when we have five minutes, its more comfortable to use that time to do more, rather than to take a few deep breaths and check in with ourselves. Staying on the treadmill is easier than slowing down and stepping off.
When we live at this pace, we lose connection to our inner wisdom. We miss the joy we could find in the life right in front of us. We literally can’t see all that we have to be grateful for. We aren’t the people of generous and loving hearts that we want to be.
If you want to reduce over-fullness in your life and create space for your best self to come through, here are four steps to get started:
1. Identify the costs of over-fullness and over-busyness. What are the emotional, physical, and mental costs to you? What are the costs to your family or other important people in your life? Don’t beat yourself up, but do take an honest look at the costs.
2. Identify the symptoms and signs of over-fullness for you, so that you can recognize them when they arise. How do you know when things have become too full? Physical symptoms? Maybe your neck starts hurting or you have trouble sleeping. Or maybe you notice emotional changes such as feeling resentful or irritable. Perhaps over-fullness shows up for you in mental effects, such as being unable to concentrate.
3. Know your remedies. What restores you sanity when life gets over-full? What helps you get perspective on the little stuff? What restores your energy? What reconnects you to a sense of generosity and love toward the people in your life?
Some good places to look are: exercise; alone time; being in nature; heartfelt sharing with a friend, therapist or coach; journaling; doing the things you love and feel truly passionate about; and doing things that are immersive and creative.
In your toolkit, have some course correction strategies that take more time — i.e. going for a hike, and some that can be done in under ten minutes, for busy days when quick course correction is needed. That might be a short meditation, a quick set of stretches, a brief call to a dear friend, or a few minutes gazing out into the garden.
4. Address the underlying causes of over-fullness in your life. The truth is, despite how much we complain about it, many of us create over-fullness into our lives through:

  • Things we are doing to please other people
  • Things we are doing out of perfectionism or unrealistic expectations
  • Things we are doing solely out of habit
  • Things we are doing out of a sense of should
  • Things we are doing because we think we have-to, when in fact creative alternatives are available to us.
  • A fear of slowing down and being with ourselves

These are the deeper sources of over-fullness in our lives. Is one or more of the things above running your calendar? It doesn’t have to be that way.
As a coach, I’m constantly challenging clients who come into coaching sure that over-fullness and the chaos that follows is “just the way it is” or “the way it has to be.”
So far, I have yet to meet someone who does not have choice or flexibility around reducing the chaos in their lives, though few of them see it that way when they we first meet. Yes, what’s happening with your family, your kids, your workplace, your world, may be out of your control, but how you operate within it — how you take care of yourself and center yourself and adjust when you get off track — all of that is within your control.
I’m sure that like me, you know brilliant, loving, capable people reduced to unfocused, irritable individuals disconnected form their own brilliance and their own dreams, because they’ve long been living over-capacity. And no doubt, we have all been that person at different moments in our lives.
Certainly, external factors— lack of affordable, quality childcare; under-performing schools; unsafe neighborhoods; demanding jobs, financial stresses–all of these contribute to the prevalence of over-fullness in our lives, and that’s unfortunate.
Having traveled a lot this year, I’ve seen how people in many other developed, affluent countries don’t struggle with over-full lives as much, because of stronger support systems for busy working families. We can work for the changes to our communities that will make it easier for people to live manageable lives. That’s the outer work.
At the same time, we all have inner work to do — releasing the sources of over-fullness in our lives, being willing to slow down, learning to recognize when we’ve gotten over-capacity, and bringing ourselves back to our better selves when that occurs.
Is your life over-full? How do you know when you are overcapacity? What are the costs of that to you? What do you (or will you) do about it?

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • My life is definitely over-full. Exercise has been a great tonic because it gives me additional energy, strength, and self-confidence, reduces anxiety, and helps me figure out what I most need to accomplish.

  • Topi says:

    I absolutely know when I’m over-full – it’s when I find myself shouting at my beautiful children or being unkind to my wonderful husband because I’ve simply run out of patience. My solution is to go for a long walk in the fresh air, where I can be alone with my thoughts. However, I recognise that’s a short-term solution. It’s like taking painkillers for a headache – the discomfort goes, but you’re no closer to sorting out what cause the headache in the first place. So, I’m currently working on making my life less over-full. It’s like cleaning out my wardrobe; I want to work out what needs to go and what needs to stay to get my life back into balance. You’ve given some great tips on how to do that, thanks!

  • Wow, I needed to read this post! I have just gone through a two-month period of probably the most extreme busyness I’ve ever encountered (and I’m not quite out of the dark yet!). I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about the unpleasant ways being too busy impacts my life and the parts of me I like best. That was such an important thought process to go through. Now I need to start dipping into my tool kit and doing some course correction, as you suggest. I really fear the thought of getting into an unhealthy cycle, or even becoming addicted to this pace–I’m pretty sure I was meant to end up at your site this morning. Thank you.

  • Beautiful article!

    I’ve tended to overcome fullness by proactively scheduling unscheduled time or having rules about how densely I would schedule. For instance, while I was working a conventional corporate job schedule, I did not ever schedule activities more than two weeknights in a row, thus guaranteeing me built-in unscheduled time which I used for my own personal projects, chores, spontaneous fun things (which could be with friends but weren’t scheduled or committed to ahead of time), or evenings that involved nothing much but long bath and an early bedtime.

    Right now, my schedule is quite open so I am working on new ways to manage fullness. And, I’ll have to learn new ways yet again when my baby comes in May!

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