Overcoming Our Addiction To Doing

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By Stephane Leblanc, Founder and CEO, International Centre for Conscious Leadership

Many of us in organizations where performance matters a lot, have made it up the corporate ladder due in large part to our ability to get things done. I have worked as a senior executive in large international organizations for a few decades in very intense industries and I have achieved a lot as I led several large organizational transformations and delivered on expected results quarter after quarter for more than 20 years. 

While having dinner with a friend yesterday, I realized that I am addicted to doing. After all these years of working extremely hard to achieve impossible goals and sacrificing my well being and family life to meet the demands of the companies I worked for, I now realized that although I left the traditional corporate world more than two years ago to create an organization to help leaders and organizations transform, I still have not found a balance between being and doing as my default mode when I meet challenges is to do more.

I realize how well I was trained to be a master of doing as when I was a senior executive in an aerospace company, where there were never any real breaks as even during weekends and family vacations, I would still be connected to the office to ensure we would deliver on the expected quarterly results. It was also common for the President of our group to call me during off hours to check on my team's progress.

As an entrepreneur, this focus on getting things done is still very present as I am fully responsible to generate sales for my organization and provide for my family, so the pressure is often quite intense.

As proven by science, action addiction is a deep-rooted human condition caused by imbalances in the chemicals of our brain, mostly due to dopamine. Dopamine is a highly addictive, naturally produced reward-drug that, when released in the brain, provides us a short-term sense of enjoyment, relaxation, and gratification. Dopamine is the main driver behind our constant busyness.

For many of us, this materializes in our intense focus on social media and our addiction to getting likes on our posts. We often check our Facebook, Linked In or Instagram accounts to check how many likes we have and this releases dopamine, which makes us feel good, for a moment. Then, just like a drug addict, our brain craves another kick. We get even more things done, to get more rewards and over time we are caught in a vicious circle of action and reward. We have become addicted to doing. This focus on doing prevents us from the joy of being.

With all our actions and our focus on working harder and harder, we feel we are making progress towards our goals, but often we realize we are progressing in the wrong direction, just like climbing to the top of a ladder to realize the ladder is lying on the wrong wall.

As leaders, sometimes we climb to the top of the corporate ladder and realize we have sacrificed too much for the prize as we have health issues, a broken marriage or missed so many of our kid's events. And then we have regrets.

What if our addiction to doing is not serving us well? What if busyness is a choice? What if having a better balance between being and doing will actually allow us to have a more meaningful life?

Once we realize this, the challenge is to overcome our addiction to doing which is well engrained in our mind and body. We must commit to some drastic actions to overcome this addiction and it requires a lot of discipline as we still face deadlines, activities, and expectations. We have to make a conscious choice from a clear mind, free from our addiction to doing, especially since being busy is part of our identity.

We have to learn the art of slowing down. We have to establish a routine with moments where we allow ourselves to just be. It could be a morning routine where we walk, meditate or a weekend hike in the forest. It could be daily moments where we leave our electronic devices aside to just focus on being present and learn live without an agenda, for a short while.

Most probably, through this process, we will learn to do the right things and not a lot of things. We will learn to have more discernment about how we use our time.

By slowing down momentarily and letting go of doing things, we allow our brain to let go of the immediate urge for dopamine and we can focus and choose our actions out of clarity and freedom, rather than impulses.

Are you ready to overcome your addiction to doing?