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How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

-Annie Dillard

“Busy” and “tired” might be the most frequently used adjectives by people when asked how they’re doing. Think about how many times you’ve used those words in the past week. It’s common in our society to want to convey how busy, productive, and accomplished we are. While there is nothing wrong with being productive or accomplished, we often give in to unrelenting busyness without pausing to evaluate whether what’s keeping us busy is what we truly value. Are your busy days and weeks helping build the life you want?

Most people like being “busy.” We often define significance from being busy and having full schedules. Our identity gets wrapped up in what we do, leaving us feeling restless and sometimes worthless if we have nothing to do.  Comparison also contributes to the busyness epidemic: we think everyone else seems busy and talks about being busy. So if I’m not, there must be something wrong with me. We fear failure and insignificance- so we take on more commitments and tasks in order to fight this fear. Busyness is not the key to satisfaction and fulfillment in life. In fact, overloaded schedules can lead to burnout and dissatisfaction.

Take some time to reflect on your own busyness. What things fill up your time? Are you busy with the things helping you build a meaningful life? It’s easy to say yes, but perhaps saying no to some things will give you space and energy to invest in what truly matter to you. Like in the Annie Dillard quote above, what fills your days will ultimately fill your life.  When you look back 10, 20, 50 years from now, what will you think of how you spent your time? What do you want to be true of your life looking back?

This is where identifying your values is crucial. Rather than being busy for busyness sake, what if you built your days and weeks around what really mattered to you? You would likely feel more fulfilled, more satisfied, and more content. You would be pursuing what reflects who you are and care about, rather than pursuing someone else’s idea of what success and happiness look like.

Identifying your values can be a process but it is a worthwhile one. You can have values around relationships, work, personal growth, and faith, among other things. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • What kind of person do you want to be?
  • What do you want to pass on to the next generation?
  • What do you want to stand for?
  • What do you want to be remembered for?
  • What strengths or characteristics do you want to develop?

Once you’ve identified your values, then you can take a look at your life, schedule, rhythms and evaluate if they line up with your values. For example, if you value connection with others, does your schedule reflect that? If you value faith, do you have rhythms in place to grow spiritually? If you find that your commitments and your values don’t line up, decide what you want to change and whether you can make that change at this time. What are some things you need to say no to in order to better align with your values? Some things you can start saying no to immediately, but other things you need to make a plan to slowly transition out.

When your time is filled with things that move you closer to your values, you will in turn be more filled up, rather than drained. You might find that you are still busy, but you’ll be busy doing what you enjoy and what helps you build a more meaningful life. If you want help with identifying your values and learning to say no more, I’d love to help. Call me today!

Written by therapist Ndunge Marquardt

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