WHAT IS HURRY SICKNESS?

By: MIGHTY PURSUIT TEAM

After pressing snooze on your alarm clock three times, you wake up to a sobering reality. You're already late for work. Incidentally, this is not a work-from-home day and your boss is expecting you in the office. You hop out of bed and frantically put on your clothes. No time for the coffee machine today. Just enough time to send out that awkward message over text before you’re on your way out the door. I’m going to be pretty late this morning... Of course, this example is a caricature, but this situation feels erringly familiar to the daily realities of a modern-day city-dweller. We’re always feeling like we’re behind the eight-ball. Always in a rush. Always hurrying. Perhaps we're suffering from the latest illness ravaging our society. No, not Covid or the flu, but hurry sickness. Before you laugh, this is actually a serious issue. Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo defines hurry sickness as "a behavior pattern characterized by continual rushing and anxiousness; an overwhelming and continual sense of urgency.” He continues that it is: "a malaise in which a person feels chronically short of time, and so tends to perform every task faster." Harvard professor Leslie Perlow put her own spin on the condition, labeling it “time famine.” The anxiety comes from a huge sense that there isn't enough time to balance life's unending busyness, therefore you must compensate by picking up the pace. In other words, hurry sickness is like running an endless marathon without water or rest yet still clinging to a hope that you'll catch up with the rest of the pack. We might just be developing words for this phenomenon, but it’s fair to wonder, where did this come from? How did it become so hard to wait in line at the grocery store? For a coffee? For the train that’s coming in.. in 7 minutes?

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HURRY SICKNESS IS CONTAGIOUS

When you get sick, you might suspect someone gave it to you. You were perfectly fine yesterday, so the illness didn't just come out of nowhere. In a similar way, hurry sickness has an origin. Yet unlike an illness, hurry sickness is more of a byproduct of culture than it is biology. From a historical standpoint, hurry was not always the norm. Prior to Edison's invention of the light bulb, people got up at sunrise and went to bed when the sun went down. What else was there to do? However, as America (and the world) became more technologically advanced, so too did people's lifestyles. Ironically, companies began inventing "time saving" devices that actually ended up sucking up our time more by making it easier to do other stuff. Think about your smartphone. It saves you from having to pull out a map, do math in your head, or manually typing in someone's number every time, but it also sucks you into a litany of other tasks and distractions. The Industrial Revolution and rise of technology that enabled us to be working 24/7 (think: laptops that we can open at any time and be connected to our work email). But of course, technology alone does not force us to do anything. Often it is the mindset around it that does. Edward Bernays, known as the "father of public relations," had a big hand in shaping this mindset. Seizing an America that was already under the produce, produce, produce mindset of World War II, Bernays borrowed propaganda techniques from the Nazis that relied on manipulating human mindsets to attain a certain behavior. Bernays knew that an innate desire of American society (see: "The American Dream") was to be a self-made person who was successful, rich, and well-liked. However, there was a catch. In order to get there, one needed to squash the competition. One needed to be fast and out-perform his or her competitors. Bernays' advertising techniques appealed to those looking to get ahead. However, it was hardly Bernays alone who pushed this form of public propaganda. As he himself said: “we are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.” Point being: there are attitudes about how we can attain success being pushed all around us. We see TV ads about choosing the right investment, so you can be the richest. We hear politicians say "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." All these signs point to: do more, and you'll have success; and therefore be happy. But this hyper-fast pace has not always existed, and has not always been the gold standard. Knowing the root causes of hurry sickness helps us remember and understand that this is not something hardwired into us or biologically programmed. Of course, this isn’t to say work itself is bad. It’s not. In its proper context, work is a necessary and beautiful thing. Without it, we wouldn't have food, infrastructure, teachers, or banks. We wouldn't have some of the greatest inventions or pieces of art known to humanity. Which is to say, the issue isn't with working itself, but working for our sense of worth and working to try to fulfill a void of happiness. This is sure to put us in a constant state of hurry, furiously trying to check off every item on our never ending to-do lists. But as we’ve studied the phenomenon of hurry sickness ourselves, surprisingly we found that even productivity has its limits. As author John Mark Comer puts it in his recent work, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: “It’s been proven by study after study: there is zero correlation between hurry and productivity. In fact, once you work a certain number of hours in a week, your productivity plummets. Wanna know what the number is? Fifty hours. Ironic: that’s about a six-day workweek. One study found that there was zero difference in productivity between workers who logged seventy hours and those who logged fifty-five." In addition to this inevitable drop in productivity, hurry sickness also is taking a measured toll on our health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that cortisol (stress hormone) production increases when under a state of hurried panic, which further triggers and accentuates anxiety. According to the Cleveland Clinic, inflated levels of stress can lead to issues like under-eating or overeating, which affects your metabolism in the process. I'm sure all of us can relate to scarfing down a muffin or cup of coffee on the way out the door, but when that becomes the norm it has serious repercussions on your body. In some cases, this relentless, hurried drive towards productivity can even be fatal. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that 745,000 people died of overwork in 2016. Almost a million people. Moreover, living in a constant state of stress has been linked with increased hypertension (high blood pressure). Even beyond just social and productivity ramifications, science is consistently showing us that a lack of balance and rest in our lives can lead to severe health consequences. Given the stakes we're facing, let's look at some factors that perpetuate hurry sickness:

1) Trading boundaries & limits for recognition

In Season 8 of The Office, clueless and often misguided boss Andy Bernard tries to entice his fellow colleagues to work harder in exchange for prizes. "Basically, [if] you do your job better, you get points," he says. The office then sprints into a mad frenzy trying to rack up points and obtain the various prizes touted by Andy. While we may not always be working for a physical reward, we often work for a subconscious one. We take on extra projects or busywork to impress our coworkers or our boss, or we add items to our to-do list as a means of feeling more productive. But productivity is often only a secondary driver to the primary goal of gaining applause and validation. We have a misguided idea that our worth depends on others finding us likable, helpful, charming -- you fill in the blank. When we don't know our own limits, we put ourselves at risk of piling up a load that's ultimately too heavy to carry. When we don't ask for help or delegate responsibilities, we put the entirety of the pressure on ourselves and increase the chance of stress that comes with it if we fail.

2) Multitasking instead of doing deep work

Going off of the last point, if we try to navigate too many things at once, we rob the quality of one aspect of our work for an increased quantity. As a means of playing catch-up and managing our stress, we may try to couple things from our personal lives with our work lives, and the two end up becoming conflated. We try doing our taxes on our morning commute, our bills on our lunch break, and our Amazon shopping during that boringly long meeting. In a groundbreaking work on this subject, Deep Work author Cal Newport puts it this way: "Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction."

3) Coffee dependence

Dependency on caffeine and other stimulants has become so widespread that many people trade rest for coffee thinking that it can be a proper substitute for rest. The reality is that caffeine does not "add" energy to your life, it just further masks the need for sleep. While the amount of sleep needed to function varies from person to person, the general consensus is that Americans don't get enough sleep, which hampers their mood, mental health, and productivity. According to Gallup, Americans sleep an average of 6.8 hours a night, and that's an optimistic estimate.

4) Identity in Work

To some, the idea of putting your worth in your work is quite logical. If you go to college or a trade school, the most common questions are: what's your major? What do you do? Those questions don't stop once you become a young professional. Immediately after a handshake and exchange of names, the next logical topic to proceed to seems to be work. "I'm an engineer. I'm a doctor. I'm a social media specialist." Especially for those who have worked hard to attain a specific title or degree, it can often feel insulting when people don't recognize that doctorate you worked so hard for. But to clear, we’re not saying those accomplishments should be diminished. Rather, the issue comes when your identity is solely rooted in your accomplishments and your work. Because when we do, we start believing we’re only as good as our latest accomplishment. We’re left stuck on the human hamster wheel of approval, chronically perpetuating hurry sickness. This plays out in a very public way with athletes, actors and musicians, as they quite literally are judged for their latest accomplishments (or lack thereof). Even for those who have won Grammy awards, Super Bowls and Oscars.

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REMEDIES FOR HURRY SICKNESS

So, how do we "treat" this condition? By this point you may be feeling like any attempt to address it will hamper the goals and dreams you have. Maybe you agree with all of the above but still feel a sense that your specific situation demands an urgency of time beyond our understanding. We've all likely been in situations where we feel like we need to go into beast mode in order to meet the growing demands of our company or the monumental project at hand. Which goes to say, the goal is not to tone down the passion given to something, but rather turn up our focus on slowing and rest. These might not be sexy words, but what if there was a way to still achieve our intended goals without the stress, pain, and agony that we often believe comes with amped up productivity? To go along with our three aforementioned symptoms of hurry, here are three creative workarounds to help "treat" the hurry sickness we often face.

1) Speak up for yourself & create boundaries

This one can be intimidating, especially if you’re a newbie at work or don't have "clout" within the organization. That said, if you have an established rapport with your manager, boss, or supervisor, be honest about your expectations just as they are with their expectations of you. Ultimately, the job isn't worth it if your boss is pile driving you into the ground and trying to extract every drop of productivity from you. Quite frankly, that mentality is not looking out for your best interests or your emotional health. Whether self-inflicted or as a result of upper management, overload is a chronic problem in our culture. Author and deep work advocate Cal Newport explains: “Many knowledge workers end up toiling roughly 20% more than they have time to comfortably handle. This is, in some sense, the worst possible configuration, as it creates a background hum of stress, but is just sustainable enough that you can keep it up for years.” Some of us can relate to the feeling of constantly feeling behind the eight-ball, always treating water with the workload in front of us. Newport’s solution? “By thinking more intentionally about how work is identified, how it is prioritized, and how it is ultimately assigned, we can avoid some of the traps set by pure self-regulation. smarter and become more organized.”

2) Pick one task to focus on at a time

This not only comes down to prioritizing, but reevaluating the effectiveness of multi-tasking. If you have a laundry list of tasks in front of you, consider what’s most pressing. Even in the most demanding jobs, some items have sooner deadlines or urgencies than others. Author John Mark Comer, adds in The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: “I’ve come to realize the obvious: multitasking is a myth… multitasking is just sleight of hand for switching back and forth between a lot of different tasks so I can do them all poorly instead of doing one well.” In a culture that constantly is engaging our focus to be split in multiple directions, this might seem counterintuitive. But much of the science aligns with Comer, as Newport writes: “Something I’ve noticed is that many modern knowledge workers approach their work like a multi-threaded computer program. They’ve agreed to many, many different projects, investigations, queries and small tasks, and attempt, each day, to keep advancing them all in parallel by turning their attention rapidly from one to another — replying to an email here, dashing off a quick message there, and so on — like a CPU dividing its cycles between different pieces of code.” The problem here, as Newport explains, is that our brains are not like computer processors. “When you switch your brain to a new “thread,” a whole complicated mess of neural activity begins to activate the proper sub-networks and suppress others. This takes time. When you then rapidly switch to another “thread,” that work doesn’t clear instantaneously like electrons emptying from a circuit, but instead lingers, causing conflict with the new task.” In other words, multitasking actually makes you less productive, even though it gives you the illusion that you’re accomplishing more. If we are to begin eliminating hurry from our lives, we would do well to recognize our limitations and embrace single-tasking.

3) Get lots of rest & sleep

This one may seem the simplest but actually is the hardest. Go to bed! Yes, you may take work home with you or feel like you work best at night. That's fine. But whatever you do, don't let it rob your overall sleep time. Whether we like it or not, there is no replacement for sleep. Obviously, work isn't the only thing that keeps you up. Having young children, noisy neighbors, or anxious thoughts about life can often keep you up too. However, there are many bad habits that keep us from sleeping too. Mobile analytics company Flurry reports that 71% of people sleep with their phone by their side. This lends itself to being woken up by "pressing" things to do. In a way, separating from your phone or skimming work emails before bed is a form of creating boundaries too. It's showing that more of your time won't be robbed by distractions or an endless to-do list, because the very thing that beckons you to keep doing, doing, doing, is not in the room with you.

4) Intentionally inconvenience yourself

One of the most fascinating treatments for hurry sickness is what John Mark Comer calls slowing. The basic principle is if you slow down your body, you’ll slow down your life. In the Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, he advocates for driving the speed limit, intentionally getting in the slow lane, and coming to a full stop at stop signs. Each of these disciplines, yes disciplines, slowly train our bodies to un-hurry. Comer also suggests getting on the longest checkout line at the grocery store. Why would we do such a thing? “It’s wise to regularly deny ourselves from getting what we want, whether through a practice as intense as fasting or as minor as picking the longest checkout line. That way when somebody else denies us from getting what we want, we don’t respond with anger. We’re already acclimated,” Comer writes. By intentionally inconveniencing ourselves, we become more patient people. We learn to be satisfied when we don’t get what we want and also discover the beauty in delayed gratification.

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BECOMING INTERRUPTIBLE

Perhaps the O.G. of the unhurried life is none other than Jesus himself. For someone who became the most recognized figure in all of human history, we tend to forget he only spent three years in public ministry. That must have meant he had to hurry to get everything done, right? Nope. Time and time again, we read how Jesus was present to the person and moment at hand. He was the perfect model for what we would call being interruptible. Even if he was on his way to a monumental task or meeting, he still made time to attend to the people who stopped him along his journey. Frequently speaking of how we were to approach time, Jesus tells his followers "do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." What precedes that passage is Jesus famous' line: "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." In essence, if God is our provider and knows our needs better than us, we should go straight to the source instead of striving to figure out everything on our own. So what are some practical tips from Jesus? Let’s find out.

Jesus on boundaries & rhythm

Though Jesus often helped others, he also set boundaries and sustainable rhythms for his life. For all of his miracles, teaching, traveling, and shepherding others, there was a counterbalance of healthy rest and delight. Jesus dined with others, went to wedding celebrations, set aside breaks to pray, and even took naps in the middle of storms. He also said no to those who pressured him to perform or tempted him to do miracles, a.k.a., more work. One of the most boundary-setting statements Jesus made was: "Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’" (Mt. 5:3).

Jesus on priorities

Jesus said that no servant can serve two masters, or in our context, no person can fully be devoted to one thing if their mind is wrapped up in another. Jesus prioritized prayer and the most important relationships in his life. He put God and prayer first, and he wove together a group of stubbornly loyal followers that he was able to pour into because of his wellspring of care that wasn't maxed out to its limits. Far too often we increase our hurry sickness because we take too many things on, regret taking them on, but feel guilty if we don't complete them. Prioritizing like Jesus did will allow us to fully let our yes be yes, because the thing we say yes to in the first place isn't Mt. Everest. While it may seem like everything is pressing, if we really took a closer look, we would see that some things take precedence over others, and will bring a huge amount of stress relief if accomplished first.

CURING HURRY SICKNESS

Hurry sickness isn't a random accident, but rather a byproduct of choices we make in our lives.Which means it won’t be cured with a magic pill on the spot. It requires an intentional reordering of our lives, which pays off over time. We may not be able to get a different, more relaxing job, or we may not be able to dial down the intensity of our work. However, we can create better systems of accountability and sustainability in order to attain both excellent results and a healthy conscience. As a common saying in the business world goes: "every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets." Hurry sickness can be avoided, or at least managed, when we realize that we can have boundaries, we can say no to unnecessary or "extra" items on our plates, and prioritize what actually needs to get done. We're facing an uphill battle in our culture of instantaneous performance. However, we don't have to be casualties in a battle that's competing for our attention. Even simply being aware is a huge leg up in a fight for our time, purpose, and overall health. Lastly, do not forget the importance of rest. When you have an actual illness, everyone says to stay home, rest up, and recharge before going back to work, activities, and beyond. Why not treat hurry sickness the same way? As mentioned earlier, we often say we don't have time to rest, when in reality we just aren't placing an importance or a priority on it. Prioritize rest, and your other healthy disciplines will fall in line. And maybe you'll start to see those hurry sickness symptoms fade.

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