The results of this study will now be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
This new research was conducted at the global business school INSEAD, which has campuses located in France, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi.
Prof. Amitava Chattopadhyay, of INSEAD, led the study.
Monica Wadhwa, at the Fox School of Business at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, and Jeehye Christine Kim, at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in Clear Water Bay, also worked on the study.
Together, the team conducted a series of studies designed to put participants into a busy mindset.
Busy mindsets can have positive results
For the study participants to feel busy, the scientists exposed them to quiet, subtle messages that suggested that they were actually busy people.
Some participants were asked to write down what had been keeping them busy lately. There was also a control group that was not exposed to busy lifestyle-inducing activities.
Once all the participants were in a suitably busy mindset, the researchers then asked them to make a series of decisions. These choices would tell the study authors about their self-control and how that related to their state of mind — in other words, how busy they felt.
These decisions were on topics such as food, working out, and the participants’ retirement savings. They were not life-or-death decisions, but choices many people make on a daily basis that can definitely impact their health.
People who felt that they were busy (due to the suggestions or reminders of how busy they really were) tended to make better, more healthful choices than their counterparts who had no such mentions or reminders prior to the testing.
“Every day,” says Prof. Chattopadhyay, “we make many decisions that involve choosing between our immediate and future well-being. When we perceive ourselves to be busy, it boosts our self- esteem, tipping the balance in favor of the more virtuous choice.”
This study also discovered, however, that feeling busy may not always be a positive thing. It can have the opposite effect in some cases.
The authors point out that busyness coupled with time constraints can lead to stress and anxiety. So, if you have a lot to do but not a lot of time to do it in, it can result in impulsive decisions that may be more unhealthful, such as eating quick but less nutritious food and doing less physical activity.
Busyness and self-esteem
The authors also explain that being busy can create higher self-esteem, noting that being busy can be self-perceived as a badge of honor, and to maintain it, the participants were driven to make more healthful choices than those who were not quite so busy.
Self-esteem, in general, has an enormous impact on the human psyche, as well as overall general health. Low self-esteem can cause anxiety and stress, negatively impact relationships, school, or job performance, and lead to increased chances of drug or alcohol abuse.
It is no wonder, then, that having higher self-esteem (even because of something as seemingly simple as “feeling busy”) can help us make more healthful lifestyle choices.
As long as time constraints don’t become a factor, being active and busy can help us maintain quality self-esteem, and, by extension, a more healthful lifestyle.