Why We’re Addicted to Doing (And What To Do About It!)

As I sit down to write this piece, I notice the quiet and powerful whisper in my mind attempting to pull me to the myriad of other things I ‘could’ or ’should’ be doing. I sit, notice and choose to continue with this piece.

It’s crazy. Maybe I’m on my yoga mat, maybe I’m sipping my Japanese tea; wherever I go, my mind seems to try nudging me elsewhere.

Why do we have this impulse to constantly be onto the ‘next,’ up to ‘more,’ or crafting the ‘better?’

Evolutionarily we had a strong limbic dominance, meaning we were wired for preparedness and survival. We had to be switched on, alert, ready at all times. We seem to have transcended the need for this level of vigilance, but have either carried this trance with us, or created other reasons for its existence.

Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield calls this our ‘Reducing Valve of Awareness.’ We’ve become heavily fixated on looking for short-term opportunities, quick-wins, quick spurts and looking out for the next threat.

To re-open our Valve of Awareness is to take time for the mind to travel, for your mind to be captivated by the night sky, for your attention to become global for just a moment.

In a culture that places such emphasis on the ‘work’ we do, and the identity we craft in doing such work, it makes sense that we orient more towards doing than, shall I say, being. Constantly looking for the next opportunity to improve – ourselves, our work, our relationships, our house – we end up in the hypnosis of ’never enough’ and ‘forever seeking.’

In our FOMO and concern for being left behind (in many senses), we manage ourselves so stringently throughout our lives. Perhaps the biggest loss and that which we miss out on most importantly, is life itself. Managing ourselves, trying to chase and gather everything in a neat bundle right up to our last breath, realising that we weren’t truly participating or engaging with that which was right there, in-front of us.

If there’s nothing to do in this moment, what’s here and who am I?
Can it be ok, to have nothing to do in this moment?

By now, you may be able to relate to one or two things I’ve spoken to in this piece. Of course, you’re not alone if you have – in fact, you’re among the many. It’s real, it’s rampant and it’s all-consuming. 

So, how do we catch ourselves in this pattern and work to re-balance?

Well, isn’t the title a little funny? “Why We’re Addicted to DOing (And What To DO About It!)” If we meet our habitual-doing with the attitude of doing, will this support us in our intention?

Yet, this is what many of us end up doing. We create another list of ‘musts,’ and a maybe even a regimented routine to try and restore calm, clarity and connection.

I’m going to suggest the opposite, and I’m going to suggest we give it a name; The Sacred Pause.

There is a story about a champion paraglider who was caught in a heat thermal and sucked up to a height greater than Mount Everest. She was encased in ice. Panic, paralysis, shock, distress! Now, of course this is an event when reducing your valve of awareness would serve the moment. 

Her body shut down, and she lost consciousness. All resources directed toward keeping the vital organs warm and the heart pumping. She was forced to pause. Amazingly, after an hour she descended back towards Earth, regained consciousness and was able to land safely with only sever frost bites.

It’s in this pause that another form of intelligence arises. It’s in this pause that we release ourselves from the possibly of reactive or haste-full actions we may regret later. 

Pausing allows the wisdom of the more-than-mind to arise. Pausing allows us to listen to the wisdom that does arise, we realise other options. 

There is another benefit to the Sacred Pause, we start to bring awareness to the drivers of our personal addiction to doing. We become aware of the deeper drivers to this impulse within ourselves. The gift of awareness is that with more awareness (and a sprinkle of self-compassion), we start to be able loosen the chains of the patterns we find ourselves in.

Taking pause though, can be hard. Our environment and culture doesn’t reflect this notion back to us in our everyday environment.

Make it easier for yourself by considering doing one of the following things:

  • Put a sticky note on your computer screen
  • Set a phone wallpaper that reminds you to take a pause
  • Set a phone reminder every 2 hours
  • Setup an accountability buddy so you start to welcome your environment to support you
  • Talk to your manager or lead at work, ask if there is something you can do as a team
  • Plus many, many more…play around, experiment, find what works for you!

As I reflect on often, the clarity, calm and connection really is in the space between. The space between the information we bring in from the outer world and the way we respond to it. The only way we can access that beautiful space between, is to create space between, a pause. 

Let us learn to be a little gentler with ourselves, to know that we are enough as we are and this moment is. To allow ourselves the gift of a pause, in knowing it will bring greater clarity, calm and connection.

I’d love to hear, what spoke to you loudest, felt most useful or resonant in this piece? Is there anything you take away that feels most beneficial? Let me know as a comment, or send me an email to al@aljeffery.com.

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Also published on Medium.