3 Lessons 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. Here are my reflections from my first week.

Lesson 1: I can feel good and NOT feel generous

Part of my process involves frequent mood check-ins in the app, Daylio and journaling food, exercise and awareness of my emotional/physiological state and self-talk in MyFitnessPal. One element of this tracking is to rate feelings of generosity on a scale of 1–10. Serving others has always brought me joy and I’m doing less and less of this as the years go by as I get busier checking boxes on my to do list.

Through my journaling, I noticed that I often feel good but not generous. I’ve spent so much time overwhelmed that I have trained Lizard to expect to be overwhelmed all the time. That means it will push me to conserve energy because it’s UNSAFE to be generous with another crisis on the way.

At first, this seemed incongruous with my compulsive volunteerism and project launching. When Lizard’s desire to belong meets Ego’s desire to move up the hierarchy — there’s no project I won’t lead the charge on!

But this is not an act of generosity, because I don’t FEEL generous when I do it. I feel ambition, martyrdom and resentment that others aren’t as productive as I am.

This realization was like cutting open the most beautiful, perfect apple to find it rotten inside. I gotta stop eating those apples.

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Lesson 2: Just because I don’t think mean things about myself doesn’t mean I don’t feel them

One of my wellness activities is walking in the morning with a spiritual audiobook in my ears (and a cup of coffee in my hands — only Martha Stewart gets up at 5am without drugs).

An audiobook I often replay is a live workshop Buddhist nun Pema Chodron did on “shenpa.” Shenpa is the deep emotional foundation of a triggering emotional experience (positive or negative).

If someone insults you, you have lots of thoughts and surface feelings about it and underneath those waves is a deep sense of “not okay” or “not enough.” If your boss gives you a bonus, you think about how great you are and feel proud. Beneath that is the relief that someone has told you that “you are okay” and “you are enough” because there’s still a part of you that feels insecure and craves that validation.

This week, I had the revelation that although I would NEVER say to myself that I wasn’t good enough for not being productive, I FEEL it all the time!

I’ve cleaned up my self-talk but I am no Zen master. I will not be ascending in this lifetime. That means that this “not okay” shenpa is still swimming around in me. Anything not in awareness generally works against healthy decisions and a balanced life.

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. (Who am I kidding — we’re drinking wine.)

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Lesson 3: I have been confusing the means with the ends

I was listening to an audiobook for what I thought was down time and fun. Turns out it was for this project. It’s Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last. (Youtube video I haven’t watch but looks good.)

Somewhere in the middle third of the book he smacked the crap outta my nerd button. He went over some of our neurochemicals and how they influence our behavior and vice versa.

Here’s the short version:

-Endorphins: The Painkiller…so you can run down that gazelle

-Dopamine: The Checklist Drug. You get little shots for each small task and a big one once you finish the big task. Of course, you also get a shot when you make progress watching your unwatched Netflix shows and each successive level of Angry Birds.

-Serotonin: The Team Pride Drug. We get a hit when we think about the people who supported us in an accomplishment and those folks get it as they see us succeed. Think kid graduating + parents in the audience. Your boss + your work team when you land the next big account. Go team!

-Oxytocin: The Bond-Maker. This is the mama and baby neurochemical. This flows when you hug someone for longer than just hello. This also gets fired up when someone is generous with us or we are generous with them.

In my previous career, I was a mental health counselor. Most of my job was not about “doing.” That was the client’s job. It was about creating and holding the space emotionally; it was about being. At the time, I knew I couldn’t counsel forty hours a week. I like DOING too much. Now it’s all doing and I’m becoming the bad apples I’ve been eating. As usual, the answer is in the middle.

Dopamine is there to serve a purpose, not to BE the purpose.

Putting down the dopamine crack pipe now…

What purpose I want to direct my dopamine to serve requires more reflection and is scheduled for reflection in week 3. I will add to that prompt the following question: What clues will I have to cue me that dopamine is in the driver’s seat?

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

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