Busy: A Small Word Sending a HUGE Distress Signal

Kristen Lamb, ghosting, relationships and ghosting, setting boundaries, self-awareness and success, psychology, how to set priorities, dealing with self-criticism, handling anxiety

Busy, busy, busy. Aside from ‘parsnip‘ I’m beginning to think my new trigger word is ‘busy.’ A couple posts ago, I took on the insidious lie about us being able to ‘find time’.

There’s this generally accepted delusion that time is something we can find. No, time isn’t lost. We are. We can’t find time, we can only make time.

I bring up this notion of finding time for good reason. We tell ourselves we’d do X, if only we could find the time. Oh, but why can’t we find the time? Because we’ve been so unbelievably…busy.

Busy is an excuse, a copout, and a socially acceptable LIE. When we claim we’re ‘too busy’ we are often lying to others, ourselves or both.

***I am not counting last Friday when all our plumbing backed up into the HOUSE. I really WAS too busy to do my edits.

Yet, most of the times we claim we’re way ‘too busy’ we really aren’t. And, before anyone gets their knickers in a twist, I do this stuff, too. I’ve simply made it a point to catch myself when I use this word.

The word ‘busy’ is a red flag I’m lying about something…something probably important.

Busy Signal

Kristen Lamb, ghosting, relationships and ghosting, setting boundaries, self-awareness and success, psychology, how to set priorities, dealing with self-criticism, handling anxiety

Remember in ancient times when people used landlines, before call-waiting? What did we do when we didn’t want to be bothered? We took the phone off the hook so anyone trying to reach us would get a ‘busy’ signal. We used this tactic to keep other people AWAY from us.

Maybe we needed a nap. Perhaps we required quiet uninterrupted time for other more important things like doing bills, studying, enjoying a date, or arguing with a ‘loved’ one 😀 .

We might have been trying to avoid facing someone or something we felt unable to handle. Bill collectors, deadbeat exes, family members with zero concept of boundaries.

Sometimes, we’d hit a limit, and simply couldn’t face life in general. We believed with some calm, quiet and rest we’d somehow rally back, find the answers, or muster the courage. More often than not, though, we wanted to hide.

Maybe just me.

If we look at all the reasons I just listed for ‘taking the phone off the hook’ this can offer incredible insight into our modern version of this evasive maneuver. The I’ve just been so BUSY feint.

We can look at ourselves and others more honestly, which is imperative if we yearn to live intentionally.

It Isn’t That Important

Kristen Lamb, ghosting, relationships and ghosting, setting boundaries, self-awareness and success, psychology, how to set priorities, dealing with self-criticism, handling anxiety

As humans, we’re always ranking what is important and what isn’t. The bugger is we do this no matter what. If we let ourselves drift along on auto-pilot, our subconscious (reptile brain) will do our ranking for us.

The problem is our subconscious mind is the part of the brain known to put our keys in the fridge or toss the banana while keeping the peel.

In a nutshell, our subconscious is a smidge flaky.

When Lizard Brain makes a list, it intends to keep us ‘safe.’ If we fail to consciously choose what matters, our lizard brains will do the choosing for us. Lizard brain is wired for survival. This means Lizard GPS is pretty much always the path of least resistance.

This is how we end up prioritizing laundry, dishes, Facebook, etc. ahead of actions that will yield real results. Then, when we’re threadbare and exhausted, all we have to say for our efforts is we’ve been…busy.

Contrast this with making a conscious ranking, and it’s easy to see why we’re so happy to hand the Lizard our keys. If we made a choice to prioritize exercise, quality family time, finishing our novel, cleaning out our garage, we’d be forced to be honest with ourselves and others.

An Example

Kristen Lamb, ghosting, relationships and ghosting, setting boundaries, self-awareness and success, psychology, how to set priorities, dealing with self-criticism, handling anxiety

Yesterday, I attended my eldest nephew’s high school graduation. I was particularly close with this nephew when he was young. Yet, over time I saw him less and less. Despite invitations, messages and calls, I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen my nephew in the past four years (because he lives an HOUR away, not down the block anymore).

His go-to line is, ‘Sorry, Tante. I’ve just been so busy.’

***Tante is German for aunt.

The truth he either is unaware of or afraid to say? I’m a teenager and my girlfriend, school, sports, fishing, etc. is way more fun than hanging out with my middle-aged aunt.

Granted, the truth hurts, but can I really blame him? Um, yeah maybe school, sports, girlfriend and being a teenager slightly higher priority and more fun than driving an hour to hang with the middle-aged auntie 😛 .

Of course, part of me wants to remind him exactly how UN-FUN playing hours of HALO with a six-year-old really was. A six-year-old who hoarded ammo and got me killed no less than fifty times an hour. NO. A hundred!

How burying stuff in the yard and drawing treasure maps for him? Sitting in triple-digit heat for his peewee soccer games?

Yeah…not fun.

But I don’t because MY priorities have nothing to do with HIS. I was older when I chose to rank quality time with a child over whatever I found fun in 2005.

If I can see past the ‘lack of time’ facade because he is ‘so busy’ then I’m not wounded when he isn’t scheduling me in. Why? It isn’t a TIME problem at all. Granted I miss him, but that doesn’t mean I have to feel slighted by him.

Though if he thinks I’m sharing my plasma grenades with him ever again? MISTAKEN 😛 .

Pretty Fictions & Pointy Truths

Kristen Lamb, ghosting, relationships and ghosting, setting boundaries, self-awareness and success, psychology, how to set priorities, dealing with self-criticism, handling anxiety

Meh, your little brother still thinks I am COOL.

Truth frees me to not take this personally. Instead of grieving ‘my nephew ignores me’ *sniff sniff*, it’s simply I’m not high on his list (likely not on it at all). This liberates me from chasing someone who doesn’t rank our relationship on the list of priorities.

***Leaves me more time to work on the younger one who always loved me MORE 😛 .

Seriously, my eldest nephew’s young and maturity hopefully will change his priorities. Make hanging out with me ‘cool’ again.

Overall, the point is that it isn’t personal.

My nephew tells me he’s busy because that’s easier, kinder, more polite than the truth. Control is not love. His priorities don’t have to be the same as mine.

Sure, I could use the guilt card (*cough* Remember HALO?) but then I’m forcing MY way. I’m juking the relational algorithm, which is known as manipulation.

FYI: Nothing good really ever comes out of manipulation.

Why families, friendships, relationships, etc. end up in drama is when we accept ‘busy’ at face value. We try harder because we cling to a lack of time being the core issue instead of the truth…we aren’t a priority.

Remember Dating?

Kristen Lamb, ghosting, relationships and ghosting, setting boundaries, self-awareness and success, psychology, how to set priorities, dealing with self-criticism, handling anxiety

How I wish I’d have understood all this when I was young. I remember going on a date, believing it went well because he said he’d call tomorrow.

Then days would pass with no call, no plans for another date. If I ran into this person, usually there was some rambling talk about so much work and blah blah blah and being busy.

It wasn’t me AT ALL, just they were BUSY. They would totally call…soon.

No, they had no intention of calling. Some were simply too chicken to say, Was real, was fun, but not real fun. Ghosting me was easier (Reptile move for sure) and ‘busy’ an easy out when forced into confrontation.

For others, ‘busy’ was a solid tactic to keep me hopeful. If the ‘busy’ hook worked, then the guy could always keep me in the wings as a backup. In case the girl he really liked said no to going out, Kristen would be waiting on that call.

As I matured and began to recognize the ‘busy’ feint, I moved on. This kept me from chasing guys who were too chicken or too selfish/greedy to be honest. I finally gained enough confidence (and wisdom) to grasp that, if a guy was really into me, he’d move heaven and earth to MAKE time.

And this is how I met my wonderful husband! Because I stopped filling my time with guys who weren’t that wild about me, I made room for the one guy who was completely crazy about me (and still is 10 years later) 😉 .

Busy is no excuse.

Yet, beyond dating, how many of us invite unnecessary pain by accepting ‘busy’? The boss who is ‘too busy’ to look at your ideas, the friend who is ‘too busy’ to call, the partner who is ‘too busy’ to help?

Deep down we know the truth (but are afraid of it) and this is why we end up defeated, wounded, anxious, neurotic, etc. If we got honest, we might change jobs, change friends, or change habits, but that’s a lot of work and kinda scary.

Okay, a LOT scary.

Willing vs. Unwilling

Kristen Lamb, ghosting, relationships and ghosting, setting boundaries, self-awareness and success, psychology, how to set priorities, dealing with self-criticism, handling anxiety

Thus far, Lizard has been making the lists. Time to take control. First of all, allowing others to use the ‘busy’ card, gives us a pass on confrontation. Our culture has made confrontation to be some horrible thing to be avoided at all costs. Confrontation has been made synonymous with fighting and anger.

Patently FALSE.

Confrontation really is a matter of willing versus unwilling.

If others are ‘too busy’ then let them be busy. Move on. If things change, and they truly value ‘whatever’ they’ll call. Yet, if they don’t, we’ve already let it go (along with all the feelings of rejection).

So far we’ve talked a lot about others. Now, what about us? When we consciously rank what is a priority and what isn’t, expect pain. We will have to choose the pain of what we want later over the thrill of what’s easy NOW.

Oh, and we’ll need to learn to invoke the NO.

Consciously choosing what is important keeps us out of the spiral of ‘I Suck.’ I don’t have six-pack abs and 12% body fat because I am unwilling to live in a gym and measure all my food. Thus, if I am UNWILLING to do these things, then I need to be okay with my relatively fit but fluffy self.

If I claim I’m WILLING to do all it takes to be a successful author (meaning actually sell books), then the ‘I’m too busy’ to write, take classes, build a platform, etc. doesn’t fly anymore.

Are You Willing?

Kristen Lamb, ghosting, relationships and ghosting, setting boundaries, self-awareness and success, psychology, how to set priorities, dealing with self-criticism, handling anxiety

My approach to building a brand and platform is not sexy, exciting and doesn’t magically sell a bazillion books overnight. I created a system that worked with what I was willing and UNWILLING to do.

I am WILLING to be patient and invest long-term building relationships. Totally willing to strengthen my writing skills (via blogging and books).

Conversely, I’m unwilling to hustle harder than an multi-level marketer crossed with a Jehovah’s Witness. I’m also unwilling to build my platform’s FOUNDATION anywhere I am not fully in control (ergo why I’m a fan of the blog and don’t trust Facebook).

I’m unwilling to automate, because I don’t like spam and am unwilling to serve it to others. I choose not to focus on promotions and ads and marketing because if it means even MORE work?

Kristen Lamb, ghosting, relationships and ghosting, setting boundaries, self-awareness and success, psychology, how to set priorities, dealing with self-criticism, handling anxiety

In life, I’m willing to be relentless, work hard, and do my best. I’m unwilling to do this at the expense of my integrity, my peace, my family and my friends.

This might mean I won’t have an immaculate home.

*heavy sigh*

But now, instead of whirling down the ‘I Suck’ spiral, I can be more at ease. I’m unwilling to give up choice writing time and make my family a neurotic mess…all to have a Good Housekeeping picture-perfect house.

I’m not lazy or a slob or not trying hard enough and I am certainly NOT too ‘busy.’ I simply have decided what I’m willing and unwilling to pursue. For me? Reading and taking more classes and writing and honing my skills is more important than having a Martha Stewart house or being a 44-year-old fitness model.

So, yoga pants covered in cat fur it is!

In the End

Kristen Lamb, ghosting, relationships and ghosting, setting boundaries, self-awareness and success, psychology, how to set priorities, dealing with self-criticism, handling anxiety

Really? Can I come out then?

Once we face the truth (or fiction) of busy, we can let go of a lot of needless baggage. Life crises aside, generally we aren’t too busy to finish the novel, have buns of steel, or a shabby-chic perfect house if we truly want those things.

We aren’t too busy to call that old friend, we’re simply unwilling to get sucked into drama. We’re now willing to see we were never too busy. We were too sad, afraid, ashamed to face this person we care about is actually toxic.

Obviously the list could go on and on. What I hope to impress on y’all is we all can fall for the ‘busy’ without asking the next question. Are we really too busy, or do we suck at saying no and setting boundaries?

Do we really WANT that promotion, new car, hot body, Pinterest-worthy home, or best-selling book?

Kristen Lamb, ghosting, relationships and ghosting, setting boundaries, self-awareness and success, psychology, how to set priorities, dealing with self-criticism, handling anxiety

If we stopped and asked the next logical questions, we might realize we don’t want what we claim we do. Not really. And that is okay.

Once we let that go, we can stop the incessant inner narrative that tells us how much we suck. When I hear myself use the ‘busy’ feint, this is a HUGE road flare to stop and evaluate.

Am I ACTUALLY too busy? Or have I let Lizard do too much driving? Am I afraid, tired, failing to set and enforce boundaries, not being honest about what I want and don’t want?

Are there people, problems, hardships I need to confront but can’t because I lack courage, will, wisdom? Am I ‘taking life off the hook’ and giving the ‘busy signal’ to buy time? Is this a warning I need more rest?

It’s okay, we’re all (mostly) human here 😉 .

Frankly, life is too short to be busy.

I don’t know about y’all but who wants THIS headstone?

‘Here Lies Kristen: She Was Busy’

What Are Your Thoughts?

Do you see ‘busy’ in a new way? Guilty of taking life off the hook to buy time so you could DEAL? *raises hand here* Have you wasted time chasing people, dreams, goals when a nice long pause might have saved a ton of grief?

Have you taken time to ask what you want and why? And do you really want it?

Does the idea of willing and unwilling help clarify? Maybe we aren’t as lazy, untalented, slow, etc. as we thought? Perhaps, when viewed through a different lens, we aren’t doing all too shabby.

Sure, my house is covered in cat fur, but my kid is fun and loving and kind!

I love hearing from you!

What do you WIN? For the month of JUNE, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

May’s winner announced next post!

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    • Kimberly Lamb on June 4, 2018 at 3:06 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, I would love to leave you a nice, long comment…but, I’m super busy, lol. I will say that your nephews love spending time with you and planning ahead would go a long way. Summer is much easier than during the school year, especially with work, sports and chess.

    1. LOL. I know they do. Been biding time for summer break *evil laugh*.

  1. A few things…
    First: brilliant brilliant article!
    Second: I want John Cleese as my conscience ‘angel’
    Third: finally! I am validated on my life of being told ‘you’re so weird’ because I simply won’t do something unless I’m willing to put out the effort to do it. Don’t care how romantic, exciting or sure I am I can do it, if I won’t do it — I won’t do it.
    In the past, I’ve been willing to spend money on something I wished I would/could do, but KNEW I never would be willing to do. Then, my spare room called out to me one day, being chock full of ‘projects’, and I closed the door — too ‘busy’ to make decisions about all that crap I’d sent off for…
    Fourth: brilliant, brilliant article! Thanks! :o))

    1. oh wait…
      Fifth: Please write a book on Lizard brain… thank you :o)

      1. I need to *pondering face*.

    • Amyah on June 4, 2018 at 3:39 pm
    • Reply

    … and tante is also the French word for aunt 🙂 Interesting article… thank you <3

  2. Busy is indeed a lie. It means whatever “this” is it’s not a priority. I used to work with someone who always said, “Do you know anyone who has more than 24 hours in a day? Do you know anyone who has less?” Enough said.

    1. In fairness, sometimes a person is busy and we aren’t in the top ten priorities. Last Friday, after the plumbing backed up, I WAS BUSY. My child, his unschooling, my writing were NOT a priority at that time, either. It’s all about being honest without a value judgement. Just because a friend is slammed because she just got a new job, has two kids, her husband left her and she doesn’t call anymore doesn’t mean she doesn’t like you anymore. She MAY be busy and hanging out NOT a priority.

      However, if your friend’s life is the same as always and there are always pictures of her doing this, this, this and this, she might have time and you might need to look for another friend. It’s recognizing the truth of whatever problem so we can act accordingly. Sometimes, there isn’t a reason to feel hurt. Other times? Yeah, feel hurt and move on and find a better friend, colleague, person to date, whatever.

    • Stephanie Scott on June 4, 2018 at 4:26 pm
    • Reply

    This is what is helpful: If others are ‘too busy’ then let them be busy. Move on. If things change, and they truly value ‘whatever’ they’ll call. Yet, if they don’t, we’ve already let it go (along with all the feelings of rejection).

    Great point. A loved one in my life is frequently busy. Most holidays are rescheduled after the fact because they are busy. Recently, the hubs and I spent time with them and they went on and on about how great it was (and it was! True quality time). I know lives are hectic, but I believe you’re right that we priortize what we choose to focus on. I have a hard time letting go of friendships, but have done this a few times for those too busy. They are not the ones who call back.

    • Victoria on June 4, 2018 at 6:02 pm
    • Reply

    This was a brilliant piece that seemed as if it was really meant for me. I have used busy so many times, so as not to hurt feelings instead of just saying no. I totally agree with everything you said. Now I will go on my merry way and breathe a sigh of relief and be happy to get on with the things that are important for my own well being and to follow my dreams without guilt. My family always has priority, but like you, I have a wonderful husband who encourages me. So, off I go into my wonderful and crazy world of writing. ??

  3. I love this analysis, Kristen. I gave a talk last year on writer’s block that touched on this issue of busyness as one of the lies to demolish in order to tackle writer’s block effectively.

    In this context I actually skimmed over the “willing to make writing a priority” part, because there’s another very insidious aspect to busyness that I felt was important to tackle. IMO, feeling too busy can be an excuse even if you are both willing and able to make the time. It can be avoidance plain and simple … avoiding the fear of facing the blank page and not knowing what to write!

    • Kendolyn Fisher on June 4, 2018 at 6:24 pm
    • Reply

    Your comments are ever so lively and the imagery of getting sucked into the whirlwind of ‘I suck’ was masterful. Great article on actually looking at what is behind our ‘busy’ reasoning, and even realizing that it doesn’t have to just be ‘busy’ that we look at.

    • Dominique Blessing on June 4, 2018 at 9:09 pm
    • Reply

    As always, spot on, and bracing as a double-espresso (or shot of bourbon, depending on time of day). I struggle with busyness, wasting time fretting over my casual housekeeping and being guilt-ridden about my disinterest in achieving a size 8 body at 50. Great perspective. Thank you.

  4. I have definitely used that excuse – I’ve just been so busy lately! And now I’m asking myself: what have I been busy doing? Being sick and disorganized, apparently!
    I always thought I was an organized person but I’ve just recently realized I’m not. I’m not 100% sure what to do about it, either, since most books on organization I’ve come across seem to be based on the idea that you’re an overworked exec who needs to cram that much more into their day – and that’s not me. I need to figure out how to be organized without an external structure (e.g. employment) to work everything around.

  5. Kristen, this is spot-on and helpful. I am constantly “busy” and feeling guilt over what isn’t getting done. This article helps me to see that I need to let go of some things (and the idea of some people). Choosing priorities and living them. Thanks!

  6. Brutal, but necessary truth.

    I’m trying to take a good long look at my life lately. What am I spending time on? How do I rank it in terms of getting published?

    I think it might be time.for another Facebook Sabbatical.

  7. I’ve been saying for a very long time, we all do what we choose to do. It’s about want not busy. We busy our lives with the events and people that matter most to us. Sometimes it’s the food shopping and sometimes it’s simply putting your feet up on the couch and watching bad tv. Other times it’s writing the book, learning the piano, calling the friend. When someone tells me they’re sorry they haven’t been present in our relationship because they’ve been busy I want to ask if they think the have market cornered on busy? Who isn’t busy?????

    People have often made comments to me about my getting up at 5 am. First it was to write when my children were too little for preschool. Then when the did go to school all day I still got up at that time to exercise so I could write while they were in school. Now they are in high school and my son is about to graduate. I still get up at 5. Sometimes I go to the gym with my daughter. Sometimes I work out alone. Sometimes I write and sometimes I sit with a cup of tea before the day explodes and I get too busy.

    I’ve published five books with three more coming out this year. I go to the workshops, I read, I write, and I fill my time with the things and people that bring value to me.

    Everything else I’m too busy for. 😉

    1. Well said, Stacey. As a friend of mine once pointed out, “I’m too busy” (or “I don’t have time for that”) is often code for That’s not a priority for me right now. So, rather than offering up the old I’m too busy excuse, I try to recognize my half-hearted reaction for what it is: a subconscious acknowledgment that what’s being asked of me simply isn’t a priority at that moment. That not only alleviates a certain degree of guilt, I’ve discovered, but it brings my actual priorities into sharper focus, compelling me to keep my eye on the prize.

      1. And the thing is, ‘not being a priority’ isn’t always personal. We had a stretch here where I was taking care of a dying grandmother, an aging mother, running a business, homeschooling Spawn, etc. etc. Trust me, there were friends, activities, etc. that had been a priority before that I just COULD NOT fit in without killing myself. I simply had to table some things to get through seasons where a lot of UNfun things HAD to be the priority.

        And I get this is the same with others.

        Like my nephew. He lives an hour away. He was working two jobs to save for education after high school, playing sports, finishing a senior year and also had/has a very lovely girlfriend and who can blame him for wanting to spend free time with a pretty girlfriend instead of an auntie? LOL.

        To come and see me is a logistical nightmare for him at this juncture. Now, I can get all butt hurt he doesn’t love me or just relax and know that priorities change. I didn’t do anything wrong, he still loves me, and I can focus on other priorities (without one of them making a voodoo doll of my nephew because *sniff* he doesn’t hang out with me).

        Some folks, yeah, we let go for good because they’re blowing us off and we need to stop chasing them. Others? Life can be a beating and if we push OUR will, we can also push them away because we are guilting them into relationship instead of recognizing they have their stuff, too.

        Like that old saying, ‘If you love someone let them go. If they love you they’ll return.’ It’s true. Control is NOT love.

        When dust settles, those folks will either miss us or they won’t and if they do? YAY! If not? Then we already moved on to more meaningful activities and fruitful relationships.

        And, when we use the word ‘busy’ sometimes it IS a fact. Other times? We need to reevaluate our priorities, focus on meaningful actions instead of constant reaction, set some boundaries, and ask the hard questions about what we want and what we are willing and unwilling to do.

      2. If someone asks me to do something for them be it spend time together or read their pages, if I don’t want to put them above something else I give them a time period when I can. If that works for them, great. If not, I’m not your gal.

        However, for those people who love to share how busy they are complete with heavy sigh and hands to the temple, I tell them how busy I am back. I can keep up with the best of them. Yes, juvenile, I realize, but sometimes I revert to my seventh grade self. Ha ha.

  8. Hi Kristen!

    I love your blog, have been reading for years, am a little shy in the comment zone.
    This was a very powerful post. I have been going through the question asking, evaluating, etc. and am about to embark on a new life.
    Hopefully, I’ll be taking some of your classes soon!

  9. Exactly right. “Busy” is either a euphemism for “The actual stuff I’d rather do than you” or that someone’s let their prioritizing be overrun with trivia. So we deal with how other people choose, and make sure ours really are choices.

  10. A lot of your articles speak to me, but this one has spoken the loudest. I’ve been thinking about it for days and applying the concept to every aspect of my life. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve not consciously decided to do a great many things. I’ve drifted and avoided instead. I wasn’t willing to give up comfort in exchange for intentional action.

    Thank you for giving me so very much to think about.

  1. […] Busy: A Small Word Sending a HUGE Distress Signal […]

  2. […] is a polite way to say, “I have something else to do that’s more important.” I recommend you read her post. You’ll feel less judgmental when someone drops the b-word on […]

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