We've all been there. An incredible opportunity arises but instead of jumping on it, we say something akin to: "I'd love to, but I'm crazy busy right now." Or "I'd love to, but I'm drinking from the fire hose at the moment." It's a powerful rejection or deflection strategy in which we can comfortably say no to something we believe we should actually do.

It turns out, however, that being "crazy busy" has something going on that's deeper than we might realize.

I'm a huge fan of Bren Brown and her latest book, Daring Greatly. I've referenced her work in a few of my previous articles, including "The Scarcity Fallacy" and "Shame: The Secret Killer of Innovation, Creativity, and Change." What Brown discovered from her vulnerability research was that being crazy busy is "one of the most universal numbing strategies," she says, the concept being that "if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won't catch up with us."

That struck a huge chord with me, because as entrepreneurs, we spend so much of our lives in the zone. You know what I'm talking about--when the day just slips away from us as we go about building our company in an effort to change the world in some positive way.

The challenge we face, however, is that to many of the people we love the most, we are missing out on important experiences because of our near obsession with building a successful company. The act of being crazy busy means that we spend so much of our time focused on the business that we risk becoming numb to the really important experiences in life, experiences that require us to be vulnerable.

The truth of our lives

Could it be true? Is the act of staying crazy busy a numbing defense mechanism so that "the truth of our lives won't catch up with us"? If we tell ourselves that we're just workaholics, we can forgive ourselves for not being vulnerable, but as Brown points out, "numbing vulnerability is especially debilitating because it doesn't just deaden the pain of our difficult experiences; numbing vulnerability also dulls our experiences of love, joy, belonging, creativity, and empathy. We can't selectively numb emotion."

I don't think most of us consciously and deliberately use the crazy-busy excuse as a numbing strategy, but I have to admit that it's an effective way to "deaden the pain of difficult experiences." During the most painful and difficult parts of my career, I defaulted to becoming a workaholic. How could people blame me if they saw that I was on the job 80 to 120 hours a week? Sure, I reasoned, things weren't working out as I had expected them to, but clearly I'm putting in the hours, so the problem can't be me or my lack of effort.

Does that sound familiar? The more I think about it, the more I have to agree that there is a strong correlation between being crazy busy and putting up a self-preservation defense mechanism that most entrepreneurs have developed as a basic survival skill.

Crazy busy as a trigger

Here's the beautiful part of all this. You can use this crazy-busy defense mechanism as a trigger to help you think differently. The next time you feel crazy busy or are turning down an opportunity, because you are feeling crazy busy, to do something that you know you should do, use this crazy-busy sensation to take a step back and look at what's really going on.

Every moment of every day is a choice. When we find we are not making the right choices, the first step to solving that problem is to acknowledge that it exists. Not knowing that we are using the crazy-busy excuse as a defense or deflection means we are doomed to continue down that path. The more difficult things become, the more we want to hunker down and get busy.

Instead, if we use the sensation, and key words, of being crazy busy as a trigger, we can pivot. We can change our thinking, change our approach, and ultimately change our outcome. After all, isn't it true that what we really want is to be more intentional leaders who are keenly aware of our circumstances and thereby remain powerful and accountable in everything we do?

Published on: May 5, 2015
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