We all know that productivity and mental health are connected, but how? And if that's the case, what we can do to become stronger in our mindset and approach productivity in a healthier way?
In this post, I talk about:
- positive and negative anxiety
- flow states
If you prefer to watch the video, click below:
When it comes to performance anxiety, we can consider that there are two types of anxiety:
Positive anxiety and negative anxiety
When we face a new challenge, the brain will scan all possible scenarios for how that challenge will turn out.
If we have a positive approach and we feel that we're able to overcome the challenge with our skills and methods, we believe that the odds are on our side. So we experience positive anxiety around that event. Because we believe that it is possible, and that things will turn out well with enough effort.
Note: This positive anxiety, we can also call "excitement". It was noticed that top athletes used to answer the question "how do you feel?" before their performances with: "I feel excited", instead of "I feel nervous" or "I feel anxious".
What happens most often is that instead of having a positive approach, our brain looks for what can go wrong. In this case, we see the challenge as a real threat and as something dreadful that is difficult to overcome. Perhaps we don't feel like we have the skills or the right methods. Which makes the challenge become this huge and complicated thing, and creates negative anxiety.
So what can you do when you're feeling in this way?
Having a good plan is always helpful, since anxiety loves uncertainty. So everything that can help you become clearer about how you're going to overcome an obstacle will ease your anxious feelings.
In the same way, it's also good to understand if you have the right skills and the methods to do it. Will you need to learn something new, or perhaps invest in a new tools? It's a good idea to investigate that.
Another thing that you can do is to become aware of how you are approaching the challenge in your mind. Because it's good to understand what kind of self-talk you're having around this particular situation. So, if you're telling yourself: "oh, I can't do this" or "this is too hard, and I'll never be able to do it", this kind of self-talk will only build up feelings of negative anxiety.
While you can instead say things like "I will learn how to do this" or "I might not be able to do this now, but I will in the future" or even "other people have done it, so I can do it too". You know, any supportive self-talk will also ease your performance anxiety.
It's also good to know and understand what kind of mindset you have in towards failure, because you might find out that you're used to taking failures harshly. So you can start to see that you can look at the failure as a personal thing, so when you fail, you feel like you are a failure, or you can have a different kind of mindset and kinder approach to challenges.
An alternative to taking failure personally is to see failure as a learning experience. So, when facing failure, you could say something like:
Here, the research tells us that we enter a flow state when we're doing something that we feel is just the right amount of challenge. Meaning that, when we're doing something that meets our skill level, we enter an optimal zone. And in these flow states, we see that it's possible to be much more productive.
So how do we reach these flow states?
Adjust the level of difficulty
Well, first, you need to see if the level of the challenge you're setting yourself up to is adequate. Because if it's too low, you'll feel bored with the task. But if it's too difficult, you'll feel too anxious and frustrated because you're not being able to achieve what you believe you should be achieving.
create the space
Another way in which you can reach a flow state is to create space for it to happen. So, suppose when you're preparing yourself to work, you allow multiple distractions (family members around you, phone sounds on, or desktop notifications). In that case, this will disturb your flow state (or make it impossible for you to reach it).
For a flow state to happen, it's crucial to manage all external distractions and create an environment where you can set yourself some time to be distraction-free.
watch for mind space too
The interesting thing is that distractions don't come just from the external world. They can also come from within your mind. And that is linked to what I mentioned before, which is: you might be setting yourself to work, but when you're distracted by your thoughts, it's essential also to catch yourself in this moment. So you can influence how you approach the work or influence how you allow your mind to speak about it.
A good approach to when you're working is to keep your mind clear of any judgments about how the work is going so that when an unhelpful thought comes up, you can gently dismiss it and switch it for a more positive one and keep the focus.
don't over do it
When you set yourself to be in that productive state, it's also important that you don't overdo these periods because the truth is that we can't stay in a flow state for too long.
That takes us to our next point, which is:
Rest is still highly underestimated, and I would say it is because we live in a society that constantly bombards us with unrealistic images of unrealistic lives, which makes us think that:
1) our life is not good enough because we are far from what we see in other people, on social media, etc., and
2) we develop an unrealistic standard for ourselves, in which rest then becomes a sort of self-sabotage.
This is a very unhealthy mindset around achievement and rest. Not only our entire bodies need to rest by having, for example, a good night sleep, but also our brain needs rest regularly.
This means that, when you're going on a walk, perhaps instead of listening to another podcast, you can listen to calm music or even experience the "boredom" of just walking and being present with the sounds around you and the feelings of your body moving.
The most significant difference here is that you're not trying to achieve something with that time. In other words, you're not putting effort into that moment to make something out of it. You're instead giving yourself the chance of being and letting your energy be refilled.
Note: Did you know that your brain doesn't distinguish between fiction and reality when you watch a violent series on Netflix? So you might be putting your brain under a lot of pressure and feelings of real danger when you're just "relaxing" on the couch.
Here are some questions to reflect upon if you want to start paying more attention to how things affect you:
How do you feel when you listen to upbeat music as opposed to soothing music?
Are there any go-to songs that always get you in a good mood?
Are there any other that always bring you down?
How often and in which situations do you play them? Are they helpful or unhelpful?
How do you feel when you watch the news?
And much of your time do you give to watching the news?
How do you feel when you scroll through social media:
What kind of positive emotions do you feel?
And what kind of negative emotions do you feel?
What does boredom mean to do?
When do you experience positive anxiety?
Can you give yourself 1 or 2 minutes of stillness without feeling restless?
How often do you give yourself a moment of non-active peace during the day?