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43. The Dark Side of Productivity

In this current era that we find ourselves living in, we are surrounded by so much external stimuli. There are so many things to see, to do, and to accomplish. The options of things to dedicate yourself to and things to experience are at an all time high. It can often feel fucking overwhelming. We are in a constant state of connectivity; the stimuli that we are not even first-hand meeting, we meet virtually through screens.

Have you ever heard of the paradox of choice? Barry Schwartz - an American researcher, author, and psychologist - proposes this theory to the world, suggesting that too many choices limit one's freedom. Let me set the scene team (sorry not sorry for spitting those terrible bars). Imagine this, you're at a restaurant where the menu is virtually a damn novel. You know those restaurants I am talking about where it takes actual effort to hold the menu because of its staggering weightiness. Its pages seem endless and options limitless. Choosing what you are going to consume is a difficult endeavour because of all of the things that you are not going to consume; you're going to miss out on so much. But wouldn't you think that in having so many choices you would feel more free? Wouldn't you consequently encounter more freedom from more choice? Well, Schwartz contests otherwise. If there was a set menu, one where you don't have to choose anything at all, you would feel more free because you don't have to think. Basically Schwartz proclaims that in this modern world, with the multitude of choices that we face everyday, we face mass amounts of unnecessary stresses. Stresses that lead us to a "trapped sense of unhappiness".

How does this "paradox of choice" relate to productivity? I have not referenced my bestie the Oxford English Dictionary for some time now, so it is with great pleasure that I welcome her back as she defines productivity for me and for you readers out there. Productivity is the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input. So ultimately it is the efficiency of production; productivity, that makes sense. And amongst our modern day society, would it be so bizarre for me to declare productivity as the cornerstone of most people's goals? I would not dare it to be a stretch in saying that productivity is in fact the "mutual goal". The common ground - one could say - that connects us all. Western culture prides itself in being a non-stop money making machine; a vessel of productivity that is a never ending stream of content production and dollar dollar bills. Consumerism and capitalism my dudes! But let's not get ourselves into that mess for now, I'll reserve that one for when I'm feeling more spicy later.

This crazy world that we live in has this debilitating intimidation of choice. Choice even in what we choose to be productive in, this is. Being productive is relative to each individual and different things trigger this productive feeling between individuals; because productivity is essentially a feeling gathered from whatever action makes an individual feel accomplished. A lot of pressure naturally arises from this because in our world where connection is more accessible than ever before, relativity of productivity has manipulated our gaze. We now judge our own "productivity" based on the showing of what everyone else deems as "productive". Everybody wants to be doing the most, maximising their productive output and making sure that they are working harder than the person next to them. So when you broaden the horizons of connectivity accessibility, you broaden the horizons of comparison. I can follow Instagram accounts that "inspire" me, accounts that "motivate" my own productivity and "spark" my creativity. And that is honestly a great thing... when those intentions achieve their desired effect.

The other day, however, that desired effect did not occur. I found myself bed-ridden and caught up with a stomach bug that compromised my Sunday's entire 24 hours. I was rostered on to work at the caf, so I consequently called in sick: guilt point one. It was scorchingly warm outside: guilt point two attained as I was unable to take even the slightest bit of advantage of the rare Christchurch sun. My flatties said goodbye as they pranced off to work and whatever other endeavours that would approach them on that Sunday: guilt point three accumulated as my relative house-hold beings were able to progress themselves in society, unlike myself. Three whole guilt points people! That's a fat load of a guilt secured! I felt downright useless. The feeling of physically being incapable to be productive was crippling me into a terribly ugly headspace. I went on my phone in attempt to distract myself from the howling coming from my bow (too much information, you tell me) and that did not make anything better. I was met with everyone else's productivity. Grand. I had just catapulted myself into the guilt pit that was social media. Nice one, Ella.

It genuinely got me thinking, and I came to this one monumental realisation that I have no fucking idea how to relax. If I am not pursuing a project, writing, doing exercise, bettering my social circle, networking, or anything of the such, cue the guilt train! And there goes Ella Gibson, boarding that steam train with all her luggage and a one way ticket. There's no turning back now! I even took to the blog's Instagram and found that I was not the only unfortunate individual who experiences this feeling. When I declared this feeling in an Instagram poll, asking whether y'all felt the same, 86% of you guys answered 'yes'.

But this is something that I am truely going to start focusing on: learning how to be with myself, without stimuli and learning how to relax! I am taking inspiration from Italians, because they are the best relaxers on this very earth if you didn't know. La Dolce Far Niente, they say, which means "the sweetness of doing nothing". I learnt about this concept in Elizabeth Gilbert's 'Eat, Pray, Love' novel. When she ventures to Italy, she quickly observed how Italians can be oh so comfortably with themselves and do so effortlessly. Italians breathe in the sweetness of doing nothing. Gilbert explains how Italians embody this concept so beautifully: "The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life's achievement." Well, if that isn't a contradiction to our Western culture, I don't know what is. Where we relax to work, Italians work to relax. Our ends are their means.

I think the Italians are right. The embodiment of relaxation is one that I have yet been able to accomplish. Rather than getting another blog post out defining my success, my productivity needs to be judged in a different manner. For the next time that I find myself totally bed-ridden, it would be grand if I didn't devour myself in self-hatred for not being productive. Productivity can be grand, and its accompanied feeling makes one feel unstoppable. But the pressure of being the most productive and having more output than the person sitting next to you can take a horrendous toll on one's mental health and mindset. So tune out for a bit, because down time is not wasted time. The recharge period gives you upper hand when it comes to the productive push. Be Italian; taste the sweetness of doing nothing!

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