When my therapist first told me that my value wasn’t linked to how productive or accomplished I was, I actually laughed out loud. Not a little giggle either, but a full-on belly laugh like she had just told me the funniest joke I had ever heard. She repeated it again, with a straight face and I quieted down. We spent many months on this concept, and it is still something that I struggle with from time to time. I had not realized how deeply entrenched I was in the idea of productivity until we started to dismantle it. Upon reflection and discussion, I realized that I had lived most of my life tied to the notion that I wasn’t valuable or good or loveable unless I was productive. I had jumped through hoops to be the best and continuing to produce, regardless of my mental, emotional or physical health.
Productivity doesn’t equal worth, despite what this society would lead us to believe. Here are seven ways to undo the pressure to constantly perform.
The comparison game has always been dangerous, but social media has definitely kicked it into high gear. We see a carefully curated depiction of someone’s life and we see their new raises, perfect families and marriages, extravagant vacations, Pinterest dinners … and we look at our own lives and feel inadequate. We feel driven to keep up and outdo the other people in our timeline. However, this leads to the misconception that we have to prove ourselves in specific ways to be worthy of love or respect.
In reality, we never truly know what other people are facing and it is rarely as rosy as what we see pictured. When we stop comparing and realize that none of that really matters, we can be much more at peace and content.
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Be Mindful of Your Values
I recently saw a behavioral cognitive psychologist after being diagnosed with a chronic illness. We spoke about learning more flexibility in my thoughts around health and good days. The culture of productivity tells us that we need to keep advancing and crossing off most, if not all of our to-do lists every day to be valuable. I have been creating these lists, literally and figuratively since I was a little kid. The internal and external pressure to produce caused anxiety, insomnia and emotional strife for most of my life.
She spoke to me about the importance of having a solid understanding of the values you feel are important in life. We picked six different things that mattered to me. One value that is important to me is independence and I had been struggling with this value because of being ill. We discussed the necessity of moving away from inflexible thought and finding a new way of seeing independence. We talked about how accepting help and asking for help can be a sign of my strength not weakness. This change in thought has helped me move away from the fallacy that I am not valuable if I’m not producing a certain amount.
The societal norms around productivity have us believe that quantity outweighs quality, but this is not true. Try to focus on the positive intangible things that make you special. Focus on your kindness or what kind of friend you are. What do you contribute that isn’t easily measured, but important and meaningful?
Learn to be Still
I rested more this summer than I think I ever have in my entire life. Lots of early bedtimes and naps. I also was practically homebound after a small surgery for about a month. Even though I have worked on learning how to be mindful of my perfectionism in many ways, it is still very hard for me to be still and not feel bad about myself. That shame comes from not feeling productive and thinking I am not contributing enough. In hindsight, I appreciated having the quiet time to reflect, even though I struggled. Making space to just be is helpful in dismantling these feelings. Make peace with little to no production. Sometimes that is the best thing to do and the thing you need the most.
Multi-tasking is not Always Best
I used to never be able to sit still and just read or watch a movie. I would be on the computer, my phone, my iPad, writing in a journal and organizing something all at once. It spread me too thin and prevented me from being present in any of those activities. Sometimes I still have the TV on in the background when I’m working, or I listen to podcasts while I cook but often I will just focus on one thing and give it my full attention. Letting go of multi-tasking helps me to be better at what matters to me.
More Radical Reads: The Pressure of Productivity: What Unemployment Taught Me About Mental Health
Aim for Average
It is difficult to pull away from the high we get from productivity and perfectionism. When you are healing, you have to work hard to not work hard. Average was not something I ever thought I would aspire to, but it has its place in my life now, both personal and professional. Aiming for average means I am more conscious of where I put my energy. I could work 14-hour days, every day and never get everything finished and I would be a very miserable person. I have decided my health (mental, emotional and physical) matters more than how much I do every day.
As I have mentioned already, you don’t ever really know what anyone else is dealing with. Judging them as being more or less accomplished doesn’t serve us. Judging ourselves isn’t helping either. Learn kindness for yourself and cut yourself some slack. My therapist asked me once when I was still in grad school if I could just be? Could I just be me, without striving to be anything more, or different or better? Turns out, I can just be. I have and will continue to be valuable and loved. I have still managed to make a good life for myself, but on my own terms, not as a mouse on the wheel of productivity. I believe that you can too.
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