I wonder what you call it when you’re doing too much and your frenetic mind takes over. My mom uses the term over-functioning. I once heard a therapist name it the monkey brain. Me? I like to describe as it as kicking into machine mode. Whatever your words, I hope the experience happens once in a while and hasn’t become your lifestyle.
Sure, we’re all busy, but I’m referring to a specific phenomenon here. It’s the one where your task list becomes so important you positively cannot stop. Not even for a meal, or god forbid, a bathroom break. When you work so steadily, guilt creeps in whenever you happen to pause.
Five years ago, I lived thoroughly entrenched in this state. I’d been there so long I thought fixing everything was up to me. At home, at work. Wherever I went. (Doesn’t everyone show up as a first-timer to a group activity, then walk out having agreed to run the next meeting? Ummm, no.) I had my reasons, of course. My circumstances asked a lot of me, and I had to step up.
Seeeee the path. You can do it. You know you want to. Goooo outside.
Guess what I learned, though? Keep at the frenzied state long enough, and it’ll turn on you. You’ll be reminded you’re still human when your body or mind opts for some downtime. (In my case it turned out to be a little of both.) And when this happens, you’ll need to learn a new way.
You’ll have no choice but to find a new sense of timing, a new set of habits, a new way to look at your world, and–most importantly–a new way to care for yourself. Now, I’m grateful to say I’m better at all this. The monkey still plays in my head sometimes, but when it starts talking, I’ve learned how to dampen its sound.
There’s no single cure for over-functioners like me. But last weekend I used a favorite trick: getting out of my head and onto a walk. I’d been working on a project for hours, maximizing productivity time. It’d gone well, but I sensed a shift into machine mode. Effectiveness was growing surly. It was time for a break. “I know,” I thought. “I’ll take a walk. Perfect chance to catch up on my podcasts.” I’m slowly building a side gig, and my Stitcher feed’s filled with entrepreneurship ones (like the well-executed Fuel to Launch).
Still, as I prepped for this walk, my grumpiness grew. I’d suited up, but my podcast wouldn’t download. Not the one I wanted, anyway. Not fast enough. Dangit, I wanted to hear that one, not this one. Why couldn’t I get it to work? Why was it being so SLOW? I needed that podcast, and I needed it NOW. Rhar! What’s wrong with this thing, anyway?
I felt the monkey brain taking over. I’d gone from seeking a break to forcing a project. To jamming more learning into an already-full head. Not wanting to waste another minute, I capitulated. I settled on a podcast I wasn’t in the mood for, but that was already downloaded on my device. I sulked a little, then hit the local trail. Fifteen minutes later, I was still tense. The second-choice podcast had annoyed me at every step.
And that’s when it happened. Somehow I wised up. A tiny voice said, “Turn off the iPod.” “But it’s attached to my arm,” I countered.” “How can I possibly be outside with this thing, and not even listen to it?” “Turn it off,” repeated the voice. And so I did. Pressing pause felt blasphemous somehow, but I did it anyway.
I resumed my walk. After a few quiet minutes, I began to look around. Leaves rustled, and I started hearing songbirds. I noticed the scent of earth, awakened by recent rain. Before long, my body relaxed. No longer consumed by the need to strategize every second, I spotted beauty all around me.
Artistry was everywhere, and I wanted to stop and capture it. And that’s just it. I had to STOP to capture it. Stop the rushing. Stop the sound. Stop the planning. Even stop the learning, beneficial as it may be. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop and let the world come in.
Soon I lost myself in the experience. All that mattered was each scene in front of me. That, and capturing the light. A droplet of water, perched just so, took on new importance. For the first time all day, moments replaced minutes. Enjoying the scenery, without any agenda or goal, brought peace.
In the end, I don’t know how long I spent taking photos. And you want to know what? I’m proud to say I don’t care.
Are you an over-functioner, too? In what ways do you take care of yourself?