Being productive really came into the spotlight as lockdown wore on. In the beginning, lots of very well meaning ideas started to appear on social media. We were encouraged to see this time as an opportunity that we might never have again. We had more time on our hands than ever before and the pressure to achieve something and be productive was really on. People said they were going to write a book, learn a new skill or get really fit. This all sounded very enticing to a lot of us and a great idea in principal, however, for a lot of us the reality was far away from this.
Lockdown has been completely unknown, we have never experienced outside-life just closing down before. The level of fear is huge, mostly from the unknown. In the beginning, none of us knew what was going to happen, we worried about our friends, family and no-one in authority seemed to agree on the best way forward, which still seems to be the case now as areas are put back into lockdown. It was in so many ways a frightening and isolating experience, even people who normally would choose to isolate felt panic because the choice had been taken away from them. We spent way more time checking news and reports to try to get some information or reassurance. When we acknowledge these factors, it really is a bit unrealistic to expect us to just shut all this out and throw ourselves into a new project. Fear just doesn’t allow this to happen, our alert system won’t be quiet and it becomes really hard to focus and stay attentive to anything.
Lockdown just made this harder, when it started easing a lot of us had a sense of guilt that we weren’t more productive and we wasted the opportunity. Carrying this added burden made it even harder to get motivated and start trying to be productive again. This is on top of what makes it hard in the first place to be motivated and productive.
Accomplishing a task is a process that has stages in it, for some people the enormity of what needs to get done is too overwhelming and it’s impossible to start. For others, there are different factors often stemming from our past experiences. When we were younger, if we received a lot of criticism, like being told we could have done it better or quicker. If the bar was always set higher than we could jump, just to make us try harder, then this can be crushing. If we were always pushed and our faults pointed out or we were compared to others, then it gradually erodes our motivation and sets up a belief system that says “there is no point” or “I’m never good enough.”
Once this belief system is firmly set, we live by it, often unconsciously, but it can play out in patterns and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy with each failure confirming our belief. It also stops us from being able to build on any positives and make progress. When we have been criticised we internalise that and it becomes our own voice, therefore we view everything we are doing through those eyes. We look for the fault or tell ourselves other people don’t struggle, that we should have done it weeks ago, or others would have done a better job. This takes away any positive and makes doing anything a waste of time. It also takes all the pleasure out of achieving anything and makes taking the next step seem pointless, anxiety inducing and filled with dread. This is light years away from being able to celebrate any achievement. If we are trying something new and taking little steps towards something, our inner critic will say it’s too slow, not enough and tell you it’s pointless.
Sometimes being able to look back, see how we were treated and thinking about the message given to us when we tried anything, can be quite revealing. If we realise we have taken on that role ourselves and are constantly putting down or finding fault, then we can get to know that inner critic so we can start to observe how it works and what it tells us.
We encourage people to get mindful, just begin to notice what your body is doing and then visualise yourself taking the first step in the task. We then ask you to notice what comes up, what thoughts, what sensations in your body and make a not of them. This way we get to know what we are up against and observe it, rather than be immersed in it and totally believe it. Sometimes knowing it’s a parents voice can be helpful, also knowing what we would be saying to others about taking on a task and what different support we would give them but not to ourselves. We can then begin to question what different message we would have liked back then, which is an unmet needs and the missing pieces. If we can remember doing something, trying our best and getting put down or ignored, we can try, from a mindful place giving a kinder, more encouraging message. If we then bring that to the present day, we can hear the negative thoughts and give ourselves a softer message, something like, ‘it doesn’t have to be perfect, we’re going to only do this bit and that’s enough the rest can wait.’
After we do one thing we can then, from a mindful place, hear the critic and observe how it tries to minimise or rubbish what we have just done. If we can find a way to give a different message, give some value to what we have just done, then we are building steps towards doing things differently. More importantly, we are developing a different relationship with ourselves, seeing the critic as a person from the past, who isn’t necessarily correct, and then growing a new, more curious voice inside. Allowing ourselves to sit with what we have just done and make it good enough, stopping the flood of all the other things that need to be done and having a more positive connection to what we have actually done.
We encourage people to start with deliberately small things, so you really get insight into what you are up against. When we can be ready and expect the negatives, we can be better prepared and see how repetitive they are. This way we can have things to build on, one step at a time and add value to our life instead of taking away all the time.
We wouldn’t expect to just run a marathon without first undertaking a training programme, these things are just the same. It’s never too late to start, if we want a better future it has to start somewhere.