In this day and age it’s hard to not be busy, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to slow down and appreciate the moment in the times that we are able to. Being too busy is a bad thing and can really bring a person down in more ways than most are aware of.
While you might not hear much about the effects of being too busy or overworking yourself, that doesn’t mean they are lacking. Research from several years ago posted in the Annual Review of Psychology actually noted that being too busy could and does reduce our creativity and even makes it harder for us to be as conscious as we should be. They note that ‘mind wandering’ in itself might have more benefits than we tend to think, and that being too busy really causes a decline in just that.
The more cluttered your mind is, the less imaginative and able to show your true colors you will become. We tend to be extreme on the scale in one way or the other, and that could really be causing harm to our overall quality of life when you think about it. Too busy isn’t good, and neither is having nothing but free time.
In general, there is a tension in our brains between exploration and exploitation. When we are exploratory, we attend to things with a wide scope, curious and desiring to learn. Other times, we rely on, or “exploit,” what we already know, leaning on our expectations, trusting the comfort of a predictable environment. We tend to be more exploratory when traveling to a new country, whereas we are more inclined toward exploitation when returning home after a hard day at work.
Much of our lives are spent somewhere between those extremes. There are functional benefits to both modes: If we were not exploratory, we would never have ventured out of the caves; if we did not exploit the certainty of the familiar, we would have taken too many risks and gone extinct. But there needs to be a healthy balance. Our study suggests that your internal exploration is too often diminished by an overly occupied mind, much as is the case with your experience of your external environment.
In everyday life, you may find yourself “loading” your mind in various ways: memorizing a list of groceries to buy later at the supermarket, rehearsing the name of someone you just met so you don’t forget it, practicing your pitch before entering an important meeting. There are also, of course, the ever-present wanderings of a normal mind. And there are more pathological, or at least more chronic, sources of mental loads, such as the ruminative thought patterns characteristic of stress, anxiety, and depression. All these loads can consume mental capacity, leading to dull thought and anhedonia — a flattened ability to experience a pleasure.
It’s also important to note that research has shown that being too busy makes a person unhappy as well. When we are overly busy we are unable to relax and without relaxation comes a lack of happiness in most. If you really want to be creative and happy, you need to be able to let your mind relax and be unfocused from time to time. Overworking doesn’t allow much time to daydream or even express yourself.
The problem is that many of us can go entire days without putting our brains on idle. At work, we’re intensely analyzing problems, organizing data, writing—all activities that require focus. During downtime, we immerse ourselves in our phones while standing in line at the store or lose ourselves in Netflix after hours.
We need to find ways to give our brains a break. If our minds are constantly processing information, we never get a chance to let our thoughts roam and our imagination drift. Luckily, there are several research-backed changes you can make to boost your creativity.
How do you live your life, and should you be slowing down? I, for one, think that letting your creativity die for the sake of being too busy is truly a shame. We all need to take a moment to relax from time to time.