I am chemically wired for anxiety: I am Jewish and from New York. Right now, I’m juggling a number of different projects. Logically it seems impossible for me to do everything on my plate. But I’m trying a new approach—rather than indulge in stress and anxiety, I’m keeping my priority relaxing as deeply as possible, while continuing to act. Although I tend to think stress and anxiety make me more productive, in fact, they zap my energy, make me less efficient, and besides, make me crazy.
What creates my stress? The stories in my head that change a simple task into a token of self-worth, the way my work becomes my identity, the heightened expectations I have of myself, beating myself up at the thought of failure, and so forth. It is all entirely fiction. And ridiculous. The only thing I can ever do is my best effort, and if my best is not enough, clearly the task belongs with someone more qualified.
When I am stressed, I am living inside my head, the nasty ball of thoughts circling around the same core anxieties. Getting out of my head is to go into my body. When I feel my thoughts starting to get amped, spending a few minutes simply moving and stretching my body in ways that feel good, uncontrived, and slow, relaxes me into living with more sensation. When my mind is spinning, my body is numb. When my body is sensate, my mind is pliable. When I am aware of my body, I’m also aware of my physical needs. Hungry? Thirsty? Tired? It turns out, when my body is functioning well, I am better able to think and perform. If I’m trying to do my best, why handicap myself by not taking care of my body in basic ways? Life is hard enough, why insist on pushing my body beyond its limit? Caffeine is overrated.
If I am completely honest, I only have a few hours of full and complete focus in a day. I’ve been trying to be aware lately of how I use that precious time. If I prioritize my time, I can later, when I’m spacey or tired do things that take less energy and focus.
Another thing I’ve been practicing is the fine art of delegating, saying no to things, and sometimes even letting things fall apart a bit—letting go of the need to keep everything in order. I just found a post-it I wrote to myself in retreat that reads, “You can’t gain mastery and stay in control at the same time.”
My best effort is put forth when I am relaxed. I am not only far more productive when I’m relaxed, but I also enjoy the process. I am not hurrying to the next task, but fully present, curious, patient. When I am stressed, I try multi-tasking or forcing and end up tired and resentful. Also, the things I’m trying to do don’t go so well.
It is ridiculous to do things in hopes that only once things are finished can I relax and feel good. Why not skip the middleman, and simply relax right now in the doing? The doing never ends. I will never finish everything in a shiny package of congratulations. I might as well enjoy everything right now.
So I invite you for an experiment: take more breaks, move your body more, listen more to your internal state, and see—how does that affect your productivity and the quality of your life?Photo by Gentlegiant, UK.
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