THE BLOG
01/09/2012 03:55 pm ET | Updated Mar 10, 2012

Being Busy in 2012 -- Two Tricks for Not Getting Overwhelmed

I'm not sure about you, but I have a lot going on. I always have to preface talking about feeling busy by stating that most people I know feel like they have a lot going on, especially in the major cities of America. It is no badge of honor, no mark of worth. I also don't have a family or children, which adds a whole level of "busy" to one's life, a realm of responsibility I only know about tangentially.

Still, the first few months of my 2012 look extremely "busy."

    My new book is coming out, and somehow I'm more proud of it than my first one, as well as much busier preparing for its release. I'm teaching in multiple cities on both coasts, including what we believe to be the first ever weekend of a Shambhala Training meditation retreat co-directed by a father and son. I'm working with Buddhist students, trying to stay up-to-date with friends, trying to keep the plants in my apartment from dying during my frequent absences, trying to take all the dietary advice my acupuncturist gives, trying to do my tiny personal part to help nonviolence and generosity overtake aggression and greed this century and most importantly... trying to find two hours a day for my meditation and yoga practices.

    I'm sure you have your own list of current activities. I'm sure it feels partially like a prideful resume and partially like a list of charges presented against you in a court of law. I'm sure that reviewing your to-do list sometimes provokes feeling overwhelmed.

    Yet I realized yesterday, right now, I don't feel stressed by my life at all. This seems to be a departure from the past, one worth sharing. It's not a radical, sudden departure, but rather a gradual one. I was trying to figure out why, as I get busier, I don't feel anxious or stressed. I think there are two simple reasons I want to share that have something to do with not losing my sanity when my schedule gets full. These two things have helped tremendously. The first is about body, the second is about mind/heart. After all, if we can take care of those two areas, we are all set. What else is there?

    1) No matter how busy I've been recently, I've found time to take care of my body, via yoga and diet and acupuncture, as well as committing to the practice of sleep. That's right, sleep is a practice. You have to get your head on the pillow just like you get your butt on the cushion or your feet on the yoga mat. If you take care of your body, balance, stretch and strengthen, eat well and sleep well, then you don't need to collapse as much in vegetative states of laziness, and you can accomplish more.

    2) In every activity, I try to find something I appreciate about the present moment. This may sound like a cliche, but try doing it in EVERY activity for a few moments so that it becomes a mindfulness practice. When I feel the familiar slap of the thought "I don't wanna do this!" I take literally two seconds to find something I appreciate. This helps me A) push through the subtle and not so subtle resistance that arises when life just becomes a huge list of to-dos to scroll through and B) to quickly discern which activities are actually meaningful, which are necessary, and which are just filler that I can let go of. Appreciation is different from desire, different from habit -- it makes you really see what has value, because it runs on the basis of mindfulness. And because your life feels valuable, because you have no choice but to live it, you don't resent it so much. Resentment is the fuel on which the anxiety of being "too busy" runs. Appreciation is how we stay just busy enough.

    So this is how I'm starting 2012, feeling surprisingly well. Busy, yes, but not too busy, free from extra anxiety and resentment towards life (the life I actually was lucky enough to choose for myself, no less). We'll see how long it lasts. If I actually keep practicing the two things I preached above, it might just last the whole year. Until the world ends, at which point I hopefully won't be busy at all.

    For more by Ethan Nichtern, click here.

    For more on mindfulness, click here.

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