2 Mind-Blowing Changes from Deep Reflection on my Productivity Addiction

I am currently taking four weeks for structured reflection on the way I work. I am examining the roles Lizard Brain, Ego and my physiology play. The ultimate goal is to find a new way of working that will allow me to do less and do it better; a way of working that does not have me putting my body and my relationships second in line behind productivity. Week 1, I reflected on implicit and explicit drives to be productive. This week I am reflecting on the causes of my stress and its impact on my physiology.

When your batteries run low, only Lizard can see in the dark

This past week, as my stress level has continued to ease up, I have started to naturally do more yoga and meditating. I have a diminished craving for alcohol. Fewer food temptations are cropping up. I even woke up in the middle of the night stressed out because I had put too much on my plate. I wasn’t stressed out about how I might get it all done — I was upset that I had allowed those new projects to land on my plate. I made a commitment to do one and delay two and slept through the rest of the night like a baby. Holy sh*t. Who am I?!?!

What is going on here? And why can’t I do yoga when I’m stressed out?

When I am incredibly stressed out, cortisol (stress hormone) is high and dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin are low. I feel bad. I feel tired. I feel drained. My body desperately wants to boost feel-good neurochemicals while expending the least amount of energy.

Lizard says: “Eat bread and cookies, drink wine, imagine a plan that makes you king of the world, watch crappy tv, think about how much better you are than that coworker of yours and let’s go buy something online. Instant dopamine!!”

New Brain says: “Cook a healthy meal, do some yoga, meditate, snuggle up with your man, vent to a loved one, do that thing you’re procrastinating and get rid of the stress! It will take a bit of energy to get started but the rewards are great!”

Since the lizard brain evolved first, it’s the most fuel efficient. The new brain (prefrontal cortex), where willpower lives, is an energy guzzler. If my energy charge is at .001%, my New Brain can’t even throw a spark. Lizard ends up in charge. If I’m at maybe 25–30% charged, New Brain has a chance!

Once I am so stressed that I hit “survival mode,” it’s unreasonable for me to expect myself to be able to do the New Brain activities to recharge. Not until I get out of survival mode. That means:

1. Permission to do Lizard activities (within reason — too much wine does no one any good) to get from .001% to 25%. No mean self-talk about how weak I am and I just need to try harder.

2. Monitor the CRAP out of my stress level. Do anything I can to keep my batteries charged at 25% or higher. Intervene sooner!

Digging into a pile of sh*t to find a diamond…then calling the whole thing fertilizer

In last week’s post, I talked about the unpleasant feeling of “not okay” or “not enough” that lies below all our emotional experiences. I stated:

From now on, I’m on the hunt for that feeling. I’m going to sit it down in my living room and bring it a cup of tea. I’m going to get used to having it in the room, not run from room to room to avoid it.

I have not done a great job of this but I have started. Already it’s been hugely rewarding. MAN is it hard to do…but only for a little bit. When I face up to those feelings and just allow myself to sit with them, they ease up. I also got a surprise — there are good feelings mixed in there too! Love and pride and empowerment. Here’s an example.

I chose my best friend over my partner needlessly and unfairly. He expressed his hurt feelings to me and I saw the bigger picture and apologized.

And I felt shame and pain. I felt mean and stupid.

And I sat with those feelings.

As I felt those uncomfortable emotions, I also noticed the love and protectiveness I felt for my partner — the reason I felt shame and pain. If I felt no love for him, I would feel no shame or pain. I noticed pride creeping in for having the courage to face these difficult emotions. If I ignored them and distracted myself with work, I would not have had the opportunity to learn that I am strong enough to sit with the feelings and capable enough to learn from them. I felt empowered.

A lot of emotional labor! It is SO WORTH IT. (Side note: if Lizard is in charge, NO WAY I have the energy and presence to do this work. This is how relationships and self-actualization efforts suffer when we drown in stress.)

Part of the change I want to make is to continue to lean into my unpleasant feelings. The other half is to start to relabel them. When I feel the pain of sore muscles from working out, I LIKE it. When I feel my heart racing with nervousness before giving a presentation to a room full of people, I EMBRACE it and use that energy in my presentation.

Uncomfortable feelings get that label from the Lizard who is freaked out that I will be judged as “not okay” and exiled from my community. A lovely protective message to keep me safe. Now Lizard and I are going to evolve together. I want to redefine those feelings as an opportunity to learn how to belong and connect more deeply.

I want to feel the uncomfortable feelings and relabel them as just feelings. And all feelings have the capacity to build connection and intimacy.

Productivity/mastermind nerd, coach in Seth Godin’s Akimbo community, inbound digital marketer, former mental health professional, Hasher & Airbnb owner.

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