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How to unlink your productivity from your self-worth for more happiness and peace in your life.
I’ve always been a hard worker. I studied hard in school and got good grades. I bring my best effort to my career and usually have good results at work. And doing well in both areas usually comes with some amount of positive feedback. It’s easy then to equate hard work to positive feedback to self-worthiness. And then one can start to think, “as long as I work hard, I can be successful and will be accepted and loved”.
The problem with this thought is that it makes my sense of self-worth unstable. Sure, it is fine when everything is going well, but what if I’m not able to work hard on something? Or what if despite my best efforts, I’m just not good at something? If I rely on my hard work and achievements to define my self-worth, I’m consistently at risk of something falling through or not going as planned. And that’s not a great way to live.
So, while I’m passionate about planning and optimizing your time and life, I do not believe that your productivity defines your self-worth. You are valuable as a human being whether you’re being productive or not. Productivity isn’t a tool to prove your self-worth, it’s a tool to help you live a meaningful life, however you define that. Despite this belief, there are times when I’m tempted to measure myself against how productive I’ve been or how much I’ve achieved. When this happens, here are some strategies that I use to counter this:
Focus on how you want to feel in your life, not just the results that you want
In the book The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte, there’s an exercise to determine the top five feelings that you want to feel in your life. Completing this exercise was a huge shift for me. Before reading this book, I had often measured success by my accomplishments. This gave me a new rubric to measure by. And the rubric of how often I was feeling my desired feelings was very different than measuring accomplishments.
Creating those feelings on a daily basis was solely in my control and solely on my shoulders to determine if I was “successful” or not. And the actions and behaviors to help create those feelings weren’t random goalposts put in front of me, they were linked directly to my core values and how I envisioned the best version of my life.
Now, when I start to feel overwhelmed or disappointed in my level of productivity, I pause and ask myself if that feeling of overwhelm and stress is how I really want to be feeling. Because when I’m stuck in those feelings, I’m missing out on all of the other better feelings that I love to feel. So I relax the pressure and prioritize enjoying my time, instead of using my time as effectively as possible.
Remember that a lot of things don’t really matter in the bigger picture
Achieving things feels super important in the moment. You MUST complete that project. You HAVE TO get that job. But when you zoom out to a bigger picture, many of the day-to-day things we accomplish aren’t absolutely essential to a happy and fulfilling life. Taking your foot off the pressure can sometimes help you see the situation with more perspective. The thought “I’d like to get that done if I am able to” is much more empowering than “I must get that done or else everything will be terrible” (learn more about changing your thinking in this article). When you can see that life has ups and downs and a lot of value beyond the tasks you’re accomplishing, the importance of every individual action is minimized, and that can be a good thing.
Surround yourself with family and friends
If you’re starting to feel stuck in the productivity/self-worth trap, it can be helpful to spend some time with family and friends. It’s especially helpful when you spend time with folks who love you and don’t really understand or care about what you do for work. Sometimes this can be humbling. You might have an important powerful job at work, but you’re still the girl who was scared of the dark when you’re around your family.
It’s good to do this in both times that you feel really good about your work and when you feel really bad about your work. You’ll see that even if you’re starting to overidentify with your work product, there are people who see you as the same person, despite the ups and downs you might be feeling. This is super reassuring and can help encourage you to see yourself the same way as well.
Focus on your why
More important than the what of your work is the why. The why doesn’t change when you have a slow day and can’t seem to get anything done. The why also doesn’t change when you really nail a project and feel like a rockstar. The why is your constant. It also helps you to remember that you aren’t working hard because you want to show how great you are at working hard, you are working hard because there is something greater than yourself that you believe in.
A word of warning – your brain can sometimes manipulate this idea and use it to guilt you into doing more work. It might make you think “If you really cared about this thing, you would work harder towards it”. Don’t listen to that. Big whys are never accomplished in the short term. Use your why to connect to a deeper sense of meaning, but don’t let it become a source of unnecessary pressure.
Being productive can be an amazing and empowering thing. I truly believe it’s one of the keys to living life on your own terms. But it’s not the endgame. Your inner sense of self-worth is more important than any external achievements you can check off a list. Focus on finding a strong and unwavering sense of self-worth, and all the rest is a bonus on top of that.