The Truth About Choices, Martyrdom & Being Too Busy


When our lives feel overloaded, it can seem like we don’t have much room to be flexible. We can feel like we don’t have much choice.

Sometimes we really don’t have much choice. After all, somebody’s got to feed and change the baby, right? Somebody’s got to bring home the paycheck, pick up the groceries, take the car in for an oil change…. You get the idea.

But, sometimes I think we say “I can’t do that” before we even consider what our choices are. It feels impossible. As if it’s out of our hands. We sometimes feel stuck.

This is something I see in my office or with the groups I facilitate quite a lot. There’s always at least one mom that says “I’d love to have the time to do _________, but I just can’t right now. I don’t have much choice.”

You can fill in the blank there. Whether it’s time for exercise, time for friends, time for couples therapy, time for their passion project or hobby…. We moms tend to put things that matter to us on the back burner.

Same goes for money. We’d love to hire a babysitter and have more consistent date nights. We’d love to join that gym. We’d love to do a workshop on self-care or book an appointment at that salon or sign up for a dance class. But, in the scheme of things, it just doesn’t seem justifiable financially when we also have to pick up a new pack of diapers before they run out, make another car payment--oh and we keep forgetting to cancel those app subscriptions we don’t use anymore.


I get it.  We’re all overburdened.

But today, I’ve got a little tough love for you.  

There are a lot of little choices we make every single day. And they all add up. They can either consume our time and money, little by little, or they can free some of it up.

So, no more excuses. Let’s figure out how you can make a little room for the things that you say matter to you.

Check out the video and transcript below for some ways to make it happen.




When someone asks how you're doing, how do you respond? Is your default response to say that you're busy?

Hi, I'm Catherine O'brien at  We often say we're busy, and really, busy a sort of relative. One person's overload might be within another person's comfort zone and depending on how we tolerate stress and how we like to get things done.

The thing is, we're all busy. And for those who have a list a mile long (like me) of all the things we want to do someday, this might sting a little bit, but whether we like it or not, we make time for what really matters to us.

Of course, there are caveats to that, right. Like new motherhood being a huge, but temporary one. And in the greater scheme of things, if we don't come around to the things we say we want sooner or later, we didn't give those things importance they should have warranted or simply, as they say, we just didn't want it enough. And in the end it's really the same thing.

So ask yourself: Why am I so busy?

Okay, here's an exercise I really want you to take at least five to ten minutes to do:

I want you to find a piece of paper and a pen and make a list of all the things you have to do or are actually doing this week. Be really honest with yourself and think of the things that maybe we don't often think about when we're writing to do lists, like checking social media or showering.

When you're done with that list, I want you to make another list of the things you really want to do this week. And it's okay to get a little dreamy about those things on the second list and it doesn't have to be this stuff, but it does have to be stuff you could actually accomplish in a week's time. For example, pack up and move to Fiji for the winter might not be doable this week (or if it is I really would love your life), but maybe sleeping in till 10:00 every day or at least three days a week, or taking a weekend staycation with your partner, or just making to yoga class feels just dreamy enough and also somewhat within reach.

It's okay to press pause on this video to do this. I really want you to do it. I think it's really important, so I'll wait.

Do you have your two lists? Let's look at them side-by-side. If the two lists seem completely at odds with each other, then your to-do lists are out of alignment with your values.

Now there are some things we absolutely cannot wiggle out of, like some of us have to go to work, some of us have to stay home and cluster feed and change our baby's diapers all day. But often it can be easy to misconstrue feeling busy with feeling productive.

I want you to ask these questions when looking at your list: Why don't you have time for the things you say you want? What are you doing in your life that doesn't provide anything good for you or what are you doing that is maybe even making things worse? And what do you truly have control over and what don't you?

For example, how much time do you actually spend on social media each day? I know I'm guilty of spending too much time and I've recently downloaded an app that proves this.

So if you have the apps on your phone, it can be hard to even know the answer to that because they make it so easy to check your alerts or scroll through your feed in those in between moments throughout the day.

Remember back before cell phones when you actually had to wait in line at the grocery store and just be bored or make small talk with a person in line next to you until it was your time to check out? We can't even be bored anymore. Our phones automatically come out in all these in-between moments.

I clearly remember this time--this was several years back, my daughter was a little baby at the time and we are on vacation in Tahoe, which if you've ever been to Tahoe, it's beautiful. And we're having dinner at this restaurant. It was a beautiful restaurant and the view overlooked Lake Tahoe and it was right before sunset and we could see it perfectly. And this family came in right next to us and they sat at the table in front of us. And all four of them got out different devices. One had a book--nook type book. They had a cell phone, an iPad, and something else. And the whole time, the four of them just sat there looking at their phones and missed this beautiful, gorgeous sunset. And I knew at that time that I wanted to make sure not to miss any more of those moments.

So study after study is also showing that social media actually makes us unhappier. Not only that, but it's totally a time suck. 10 minutes, here 20 minutes there. They all add up.

But how can you choose a different way? Consider what you truly have control over, like social media, and what you don't.

So here's a crazy example that a friend of a friend told me about (and she did give me permission to tell this story). So she was always saying that she wanted to read more books, right, and I know that's something that can be really hard as parents to find time to do. So like many of us, it was just too hard--she was just finding it too hard to find the time and she was too tired to read in the evenings and the daytime was already full of so many other things.

But then she realized she was spending a lot of time on social media or staring at her phone, so she did a little experiment with herself and she decided that she was no longer going to allow herself to take her phone into the bathroom with her. So instead, she left a book on the back of the toilet and for her to read and--you know because so many of us parents like to escape away for a little break in the bathroom--so just by changing that one rule, she managed to read three books in one month. Priorities, right?

Now I know this isn't the answer for everyone, but if you're really curious about how much time you're spending on social media or just on your phone, try tracking yourself just for a day and logging your time either on a piece of paper or there's time tracking apps on your phone that you can download (total irony, right?). So I really want you to try it. You might be surprised by what you find.

But the thing is, social media is really just a symptom of the problem. One of the deeper issues is that many of us feel like if we're not busy, we're not being useful and when we're not useful, then we don't really value ourselves or ever we fear others aren't gonna see our worth. But the problem is when we're so busy and we can't enjoy all the little things because we're not fully being present and then there's blame and shame that follow along with that for the things that you have to get done.

Find the things that you really feel competent in and stop doing the rest. Get help from your partner, from a family member, from a friend, a neighbor, whatever it takes.

And speaking of getting help, martyrdom is a choice. No one is doing that to you. And at the end of the day, there are no awards given for doing it all. If you need help, please ask for it. And if you think you don't need help, really I want you to think again.

Something I often hear from moms in my practice here in Sacramento (because usually it is the moms) is that they feel like they have to ask their partner things that they feel like their partner should already know. And whether they should or they shouldn't is really irrelevant because the end the result is that mom is both frustrated and unsupported.

But if this is you, here is your wake-up call: if you're not getting the help you need and you're also not explicitly asking for it because you think you shouldn't have to, that's on you. It is your choice to ask or not to ask for help.

Your partner is probably not a mind-reader, so you can do one of two things: 1. You can not ask for help and hope that he picks up on the cues that you're sending or not sending and see how that goes for you. Or 2. You can't ask for help and improve your chances or at least absolve yourself from blame.

So the moms I work with who opt for number two always come back to me into my office and say "It's so amazing. I told him what I need it and he actually started doing it. It's like magic."

So how can you choose a different way for your life? What's one thing you can drop from your life and one thing you can ask for this week?

So I hope you--if you haven't already--I hope you take time for this exercise. Make those two lists. Let me know how it goes. Let me know what you dropped from your life and what you asked for because I really want to know.  

And until next time, take care.

Is your crazy busy life filling you up?

(Or weighting you down?)

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