Why is it so hard to “be productive”?
The question isn’t so much why is it so hard to be productive, but why it is so hard for you to choose another set of decisions as to why you should be.
The Development of Habits
Habits are developed through years of training, reluctant or habitual. They’re developed while you’re young, based on what you see in your immediate environment. Were your parental figures hardworking around the house? Were your housemates always lazing about? Were you pushed to be industrious at home and/or at school? All these have a factor as to why your mindset is as it is, and there is no right or wrong way for you to have been made the way you are. You just are, and you couldn’t help it.
When you’re a little older and have developed a stronger sense of self-awareness, you may looked deeper into how you compare to your peers. Not only does this apply to the way you dress, the vices you choose, or even the places you frequent, but this also applies to how your choices are cemented and developed.
Some people develop a strong sense of (inter)dependence and have grown themselves through working with others. Others may have been pushed to be highly independent, learning how to make choices through their own will due to survival. Again, this is a question of your environment, but as you grow older, your capacity and ability to choose falls more and more on your shoulders (whereas while you were growing up, it may have fallen on your guardians’).
Decisions and Consequences
I believe that a lot of people in their twenties and up are at that stage wherein they cannot fall back on their guardians’ decisions and now have to create their own – and thus, receive full consequence for their actions. What used to be rewarded with star stickers and approbation from someone we admire had now been replaced by the cold reality that sometimes, nobody will even notice that you’ve done a good effort. Why bother when no one is there to approve of you?
It is the same for bad habits. Whereas you may have been punished before for getting caught doing a “bad” thing, you will not necessary, nor immediately, receive a punishment for something that may have been deemed untoward or, simply, “bad”. This is the modern-day concept of “adulting” in a nutshell: the freedom to make your own decisions and the responsibility of accepting the consequences for each of them.
So the question of why it is hard to be productive stems from a number of factors, and you shouldn’t really be faulting yourself for any of them. You may have grown up in a place where you weren’t taught to be responsible. You may been in the company of carefree individuals who encouraged you to do things you may not have wanted to do. And there’s nothing wrong with that, nor is there anything wrong with you. It’s just the way it is, and it’s just the way you are.
What is “Productivity”?
But before we go further, you should be clarifying what “productivity” means for you.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “productive” as follows (retrieved January 7, 2021):
1: having the quality or power of producing especially in abundance
2: effective in bringing about
3: a: yielding results, benefits, or profits
b: yielding or devoted to the satisfaction of wants or the creation of utilities
However, producing in abundance or being effective in bringing about a certain thing may differ in definition for each individual person. After all, what is “abundant” to one may not be abundant to another. For some, “productivity” may even just be a warped idea of overworking yourself, seeking perfection, and going after someone else’s ideas of a “better” you.
It is good to explore this angle and really look into what you believe productivity means for you, and whether or not the tasks that you believe would make you “productive” are truly what would satiate your need to be “productive.”
But the bigger question here is about what you’re going to do next. Are you going to sit by and let your learned habits prevent you from doing what you want to do? Are you going to keep going, doing an act that other people may think as “productive” when you yourself believe it is not?
The first thing I believe you should do is this: forgive yourself.
Forgive yourself for not being what you want to be. It’s okay. Life is plenty long, and while deadlines may hound you and people may run after you, you will have plenty of time to deal with them. But first off: forgive yourself. It’s not your fault.
The next thing I think you should do is this: start small.
Some of us may have a to-do list a mile long, while others may have incredibly huge projects to undertake. The idea is to begin somewhere, and sometimes it means starting with the smallest, inconsequential task, like sharpening a pencil, straightening up a desk, or clearing out a trash bin. No matter how small the task is, just do it. The trick is to begin.
After that, things will begin to flow, I assure you.
It’s Hard to be Productive
Of course, this doesn’t always work 100% of the time, and that’s normal. It’s normal to prefer the old ways of doing things, of leaning into old habits that we’ve carried and learned throughout the years. That’s all right. But if you want things to change somehow, you have to say thank you to the old you for getting you this far, forgive yourself for your flaws, and keep going. That’s really all there is to it.
So don’t worry too much about being “productive”. With some work, maybe you’ll get to the level you want to be in. But you don’t have to get there today, not right now. Forgive yourself, start small, and get moving.
First posted on the Potential Central Discord server.