In our modern Western world, we are all striving to be more productive – to do more, to produce more, to create more. Very often we don’t even know why we want that – we are conditioned to feel that we should push harder and we don’t question it. An interesting thing, however, is that while so many people are trying to do more and more, very few are truly productive and the rest go through their lives stressed and drained.
Something doesn’t add up, right?
Could it be possible that there’s a fault in the “gotta push harder” attitude and that a more conscious approach to productivity could bring us the desired results faster?
What’s a Ying/Yang approach?
I bet you’ve seen a Ying/Yang symbol, which symbolizes perfect harmony between two opposites – material and spiritual, feminine and masculine, Earth and Heaven. What does this ancient Taoist symbol has to do with productivity in our hectic everyday lives?
It must remind us that the secret to productivity is a proper balance of work and rest, tension and relaxation.
What is a proper rest?
We all know that we need to get rest in order to function properly and that exhausting ourselves decreases our productivity. However, it often seems that our tasks drain us so much that we need loads of rest in order to recharge ourselves a little bit – who has time for that? This is how we get stuck – we don’t want to waste time doing nothing, but without getting rest we keep exhausting ourselves . How can we break out of this vicious cycle?
The problem lies in our understanding of proper rest. I loved the way Scott Young explained it, so I will use his analogy. Most people imagine their minds as a battery, which needs to be recharged every once in a while and then it is functional again. It’s not very accurate, though. Your mind is not a battery – it’s much more similar to your own body. Your body is a complex system made of many different muscles, so when you exercise one group of muscles, the other groups can rest. Therefore, in case your abs really hurt, you don’t have to lay in bed for three days – you can let it rest by working on your leg or arm muscles. Our minds work the same way – we don’t have to enter a mindless zombie-like state in order to get some rest. We just have to focus our attention on a different kind of activity.
Feel drained after doing mental work? Exercise!
This is a principle that my martial arts coaches taught me during my teenage years. They explained to me that when my mind works, my body gets rest and when my body works, my mind gets rest. Therefore the quickest way to refresh my mind after hours of preparing for a history exam is to do some push ups or to go jogging for half and hour. It might sound like an oversimplification, but it’s an extremely effective way to increase your productivity. Try it yourself – once you start feeling tired after doing loads of writing, programming, problem solving etc., don’t allow yourself to sit in front of a computer and feel drained. Don’t check your facebook and don’t watch TV – this won’t recharge you after already having spent hours in front of a screen and it will most likely drain you even more. Instead, get up and do some exercise to the point when you’re still comfortable, but you can already feel your muscles as well (try different things to see what works for you – for some it might be stretching, for others jogging, etc.). Believe me, it works like a charm.
What is the reason why combining mental and physical activities is such an effective strategy? It’s because engaging in physical activity which gives your body a healthy dose of stress switches your attention immediately and brings us back to present moment. Once we understand this principle, we can learn to consciously switch our attention when needed, which means that instead of passively waiting for our batteries to recharge, we can simply work on improving a different area of our lives. You’ve spent all day working on a business project? Then call up a friend in the evening and meet up with him or her – you’ll be improving your social life while your mind gets rest from business problems. It’s much easier to sit on the couch and feel drained, but once you’ll get into habit of combining different activities for maximum productivity, you won’t regret.
The Real Power Of Consciously Switching Attention
Once you’ll start practicing consciously switching your attention so your mind can get rest from particular activities while engaging in others you’ll notice once interesting pattern – when you completely forget about a particular problem for a certain period of time and then get back to it once again, you start seeing solutions you didn’t see before.
What usually happens is that once you’re doing something entirely different, for example, playing soccer, you suddenly get struck with an idea how to increase your website traffic dramatically. It’s not a one time thing, I can reassure you – this is reoccurring pattern and the more you learn to switch your focus, the more you get struck with an idea at the weirdest moments. Furthermore, there is a way to consciously take advantage of this strange process.
How? It’s very simple.
Consciously focus on a single goal by asking a question, for example, how can I increase my income? Then forget everything else and focus on it for a while – try to brainstorm as many ideas as possible. Once your mind gets tired, ask a question again and then forget it by engaging into something else. You can do this everyday – for example, on my way to gym I ask a question, brainstorm the ideas, ask the same question again and then go and exercise. It takes like five minutes, but magic happens.
There might be many different ways to use this method according to your beliefs. Some people might imagine that they ask God or their guardian angels to send them the answers, other might give an instruction to their own subconscious mind or ask the universe for help or talk to their guides. I say, do what works for you and your system of beliefs and see the results. And no, I don’t have any scientific explanation for that, but it’s not a problem to me since from my own experience I see that it works, therefore I keep practicing it. You don’t have to take my word, for it, though – try it for yourself, analyze the results and act accordingly.
The Importance Of Being Present
The idea of being here and now made sense too, but it seemed like a pretty Zen concept which sounds great in theory but there are not enough real-life benefits to make it a serious practice.
Boy, was I wrong.
The idea of Ying/Yang productivity is to constantly and consciously switch your attention so your mind can get rest from one thing while focusing on another. It shouldn’t be that hard once you discipline yourself to engage in a different activity instead of sitting and feeling drained, right? Apparently, it’s not that easy – you can get yourself to the gym and start exercising, but what to do when your mind is still buzzing with what you’ll have to do next, what you’ll eat for breakfast tomorrow, what will you do over the summer, what a jerk your ex was, what dress you should buy, etc. It kind of ruins the whole point of attention switching, because if your mind is used to running back and forth between past and future, never stopping at this present moment, there’s no Ying and Yang, there’s only a constant noise wherever you go.
Being present is a very difficult thing to do at first (especially if your mind is very stressed out), but the more you practice it, the easier it becomes. An ability to stay present is a very powerful skill which can not only increase your productivity, but also give you a competitive edge in anything you do, since most people are never present.
Applying the Ying/Yan approach to productivity might not only help you to get the results you want – it can help you to create a more peaceful and happier life for yourself. Don’t believe anything I say, though – give it a shot and decide for yourself.
|Written on 5/5/2011 by Agota Bialobzeskyte. Agota writes a blog, www.outsidethebox.lt about getting different results by using different approach. She writes on a wide range of topics, including productivity, emotional mastery and goal achievement. Agota has studied martial arts for almost ten years; it’s no surprise that her favourite topic is applying Eastern philosophies in our daily lives.||Photo Credit: MoochieFace93|