Our drive to be “productive” here in the west is rooted in the Industrial Revolution and Capitalism, both of which mandated that if you aren’t adding to GDP, ie. you aren’t doing something that either makes money or creates a good or service to be consumed by others, you haven’t specialized in one field, you are a leech on ‘the system’, you have no real value, you are undesireable.
Although we don’t all (visibly) work on a factory assembly line anymore, our work habits and relationship to “production” were formed in the school system (unless you were one of those lucky home schooled kids, who, in my mind, got to sit around eating carrot sticks and contemplate the meaning of life while learning how to talk to dolphins telepathically on the weekends) which was modelled on assembly line input-and-output ideology. WE were the goods and services being “produced” on the assembly line of school, all of us supposedly needing to produce the same things at the same pace, regardless of our own individual needs, goals, backgrounds and abilities. For a fuller picture of how the school system is modelled on factory-lines, check out this talk by Sir Ken Robinson .
Many of us after school will end up working for a company that also models itself on industrial ideology and expectation. And although we are starting to shake things up in terms of what work looks like (just check out this or this article), proving our worth through how “productive” we are permeates many of the things we do and the way we spend time each day.
And because only we know how we spend our time all day every day, one of the ways that we can showcase to the rest of the world how very “productive” and therefore worthwhile we are is to appear BUSY and STRESSED! We have made intrinsic links between our stress levels and how productive we are being, partly in order to showcase the “symptoms of productivity” to others, and partly to prove to ourselves that what we are doing is obviously very very important and therefore we must suffer in order to achieve, in order to PRODUCE!
But could productivity look different? Could being productive also go hand in hand with being stress free? Could we possibly conceive of activities like taking care of our bodies and our mental health as also being “productive” ie. “worthwhile” activities?
Just yesterday, I was literally feeling stressed about NOT being stressed, so sure was I that even though I had completed all my tasks for the day that I must be missing something. I felt guilty about the free time that I had to do other things that I enjoy, things that are not typically considered “productive”, but nonetheless add fullness and richness to my life and make me a happier, more balanced person (full disclosure, I made cookies and worked on a playlist for a dance party I’m hosting with my partner soon. RICHNESS!).
I had to fight the urge to try and go over the other work I had completed, the work that the world would consider “productive”. I allowed myself to disassociate my desire to feel stressed from the reality that I accomplished all my “productive tasks” for that day and now could focus on other things, and that those things mattered just as much to my wellbeing and sense of self in the world as any of those other tasks.
My challenge to you dear reader is to pull yourself away from the need to be stressed to prove yourself, either to yourself or to anyone else. There are many things we do each day that we do in flurries of stress that could be done with mindfulness and maybe, just maybe, even could be pleasureable?
There is DEFINITELY a time and a purpose to being stressed, (mainly if you are being chased by a leopard or encounter a snake in a tree- the original reasons our stress hormones exist, to help our feeble little human legs and bodies get the fuck outta there!) But maybe think about adding a little hedonism back into your life and stop relying on feeling stressed to know that you are a worthy human being in this strange world of ours.
Remember: BUSY & STRESSED does not equal PRODUCTIVE. In fact, it could even be the opposite! Could you conceive of feeling productive without stress? Try it this week and see how it might feel. I dare you!
And if you’re finding this task impossible or totally daunting, here’s a cheesy tip: smile more. Yep, I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but smiling LITERALLY releases dopamine into your system and can battle those stressy hormones your coddling way down deep. MAGIC!
Finally, here’s something else to keep in mind: