The Smarter Brain
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The last six months have been the most unproductive months of my life.

But I wasn’t always this lazy.

Like most productivity junkies, my default was to optimize every minute of my life.

I took pride in the stack of habits I’d built over the years: intermittent fasting, daily exercise, writing weekly articles, relationship building, and business development.

I was confident that this year would be even better, but I was humbled. My habit ‘stack’ fell like a house of cards.

I went from exercising five times each week to once a week, writing a new article twice each week to once a month and relationship-building to isolation. The list goes on and on.

Each day, my inner perfectionist would kick in and I’d beat myself up for not being as productive as I usually am.

I’d feel guilty for wasting time on unproductive things i.e. browsing social media and watching TV.

For months I struggled to break out of this vicious cycle of guilt, exhaustion, and procrastination. Until one day I had an epiphany.

Motivational Pressure

Since the virus outbreak, we’ve been trapped in a frenzy of panic, fear, and chaos. The future has never looked so uncertain and life has never been so exhausting.

The new reality of work from home and reliance on technology has also become a massive challenge.

For example, parents not only have to stay productive at work but also take care of their kids and keep the household from falling apart. That’s at least three full-time jobs.

Meanwhile, business owners are scrambling to keep their employees and businesses afloat. Others have filed bankruptcy, leaving millions of workers unemployed.

Despite these unprecedented challenges the pressure to be productive has increased tenfold.

Employees still fear that they’ll get fired from their jobs if they don’t work as hard as they did before.

The mass media and popular social media influencers are pushing a motivational narrative to kick us when we’re already down.

The message is simple: ‘If you don’t use any extra time to develop a new skill, grow your business, organize every room in your house, become a master chef or get in great shape, you don’t lack time, you lack discipline.’

It’s not uncommon for the media to be out of touch with reality, but in hard times like this, it’s a low blow.

Dr. Alaa Hijazi, a clinical psychologist specializing in trauma, has been one of the few brave voices to stand up against this new wave of motivational pressure. As she noted on her viral social media comment:

“As a trauma psychologist, I am utterly utterly horrified, enraged, and bewildered about how people can believe and spread this phrase in good conscience.

We are going through a collective trauma, that is bringing up profound grief, loss, panic over livelihoods, panic over loss of lives of loved ones. People’s nervous systems are barely coping with the sense of threat and vigilance for safety, or alternating with feeling numb and frozen and shutting down in response to it all.

People are trying to survive poverty, fear, retriggering of trauma, retriggering of other mental health difficulties. Yet, someone has the nerve to accuse someone of lack of discipline.”

Our hustle culture driven by capitalism and profit cares very little for our well being. We’re rewarded for busyness and overworking ourselves to death.

But we are first and foremost human ‘beings,’ not human ‘doings.’

Stop Trying to Be Productive

“Compassion is the basis of morality.”

― Arthur Schopenhauer

One morning, as I beat myself up for procrastinating on important work, two questions jumped into my mind: “Can you accept where you’re at right now? Can you cut yourself some slack in tough times like this?”

I leaned back in my chair, looked outside the window and threw my hands up. I gave up ‘trying to be productive.’ It was exhausting.

The next day I woke up and felt a lot better than I had in months. And since then I’ve had bursts of energy to get things done and clarity of thought to make better decisions.

Am I as productive as I was before? No. But my mental health is in a better place.

What matters most in uncertain times like this is our health and loved ones, not our productivity. Most of us try our best to get by each day without losing our sanity.

What we need right now is compassion and self-acceptance, not pressure to get things done.

It’s high time that we cut ourselves some slack, step back and take a moment to breathe.

 


Footnotes
 
1. Dr. Alaa Hijazi’s official page.
2. A new paper published in the British Journal of Psychiatry suggests that stressors caused by current events are likely to increase the risk of developing mental health disorders.
 

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