Productivity |

April 01, 2020

Sensational Productivity

by: Peter McEwen

I know this is a grand statement, but I possess knowledge of the ultimate productivity hack.

Here goes: Return to the sensation level of your embodied experience.

That’s it.

Over and over, turn your attention to the sensations in your body. Attune to the lively sensations in the abdomen and the throb of the vascular system.

The human thinking mind is fluid and elastic so using it as a focal point to rest attention can be a real challenge! Awareness of bodily sensation, however, might be the most reliable location for attention.

Human awareness is the wellspring of creativity and emotional balance. Creativity originates in mystery and returns to a mysterious repository of innovation. Whether we are enjoying inner peace or the survival-level trigger of the limbic system, awareness is always operating and our body is always pulsing with energy.

When we focus awareness at the sensation-level of our experience, there is no evidence of a problem.

Sensations offer no interpretation nor an evaluation of our personal worth. Sensation is direct experience of the dynamic field of life energy.

Returning to physical sensation may initially feel awkward. Typically, we are more intuitively drawn to the field of fleeting mental impressions.Those beautiful phantasms that offer quick interpretation of complex phenomena.

The streaming confluence of thinking and fantasy can offer amazing solutions in certain contexts but more often our thoughts provide generic, survival-level feedback.

One of the shortcomings of internal verbal & visual explorations is that they can distract us from the task at hand. If thinking issues forth a red flag that danger is night, then we swiftly get consumed by identity dramas or meandering efforts to escape from vaporous spasms of anxiousness.

To some degree our instinctual practice of examining and trying to solve an issue by addressing the spontaneously arising problem-solving habit can entrench us in cycles of using rumination as a placeholder for existential intensity.

A counter-instinctual practice would be to return to our immediate experience. The wisdom of the whole body.

Human beings are host to contradictory feelings about almost everything. When we feel distracted or unproductive, we immediately become aggressive toward that impression. We then concretize our distaste for our human frailties via convenient explanations. Narratives that seem to accurately account for why we feel the way we do.

By the time we reach adulthood, we have learned to employ a spectrum of stories that distract us from the disturbances of being a human being.

My personal productivity nightmare is when I wait until the last minute to meet a deadline. When in danger of blowing the deadline, I experience disturbing sensations of anger or anxiety. I often go for relief from that disturbance into a story. Perhaps a tale about how the client didn’t give me the requisite amount of time to do the job right. If I am in a passive mood, I become self-aggressive and blame myself for not skillfully negotiating the timeline. These ruminations snowball into an effective substitute for experiencing the temporary state of panic that would likely steel my resolve to meet the deadline.

A counter-intuitive practice would be to go directly into the sensation of anxiety and see if there is any real threat. Despite our training to leap out of threatening experiences, we can instead go towards bad feelings. We can choose to direct our attention to embrace the sensations that arise when we are disturbed. We likely find that uncomfortable feelings are actually workable. We find we can handle intense sensations and do not need to dissociate into a fantasy of invulnerability.

Disturbing feelings arise from impending deadlines, sick loved ones, or perhaps an annoying co-worker. These feelings never seem to abate, and we have a range of behaviors to take our mind away from these irritating feelings. Reactive emotions are nobody’s fault. We have had disturbing feelings our whole lives.

Anyone who has spent time with children can attest the existence to very strong reactions to seemingly insignificant life circumstances. We carry the sensation and the resulting emotion into our adult lives. These reactive issues are ours to work with.

The ability to become distracted was a healthy response when we were children. Distraction and procrastination strategies offered respite from the flux and intensity of our young lives. The resulting neurosis is a product of youthful intelligence and creativity. Once we reach adulthood, relying on distraction is sometimes useful, but ultimately runs counter to our drive to create with focus and total engagement.

Those of us interested in productivity are poised to discover that our strategies are out of date. We try methods like GTD, mindfulness meditation or lists. The question is, what pattern will more effectively execute our intention to focus and engage with the task at hand? Despite our well-meaning intentions, my suspicion is that we order our effort backward. We work from methods instead of directly engaging with the root causes of distraction.

An amazing human trait is our capacity to catch ourselves in a distracted state of mind. We then search for a productivity hack or return to productivity methods that have worked in the past. We go for a walk, we sketch, we make a list. There is nothing wrong with these approaches and they are often very appropriate. But in the end, the productive hacks are band-aids and do not address the fundamental wound.

The fundamental wound seems to be that we are always operating from an environment of feeling problematic. Even the internet’s bounty of productivity solutions never seems to equip us to dissolve the feeling that our efforts are perfumed with a division. Instead of using uncertainty as a positive impetus towards productivity, we instead indulge a sense of struggle.

Creating struggle is a convenient way to resolve our uncertainty about our work. Instead of staying in the uncomfortable realm of just doing, we sort of flop into inner conflict. Struggle provides permission to fret, to procrastinate and to space out. Why be productive when we can instead trigger personal drama? Personal drama is familiar and executing our work is uncertain. The fact is, we don’t know if we will make the deadline, if our client will like the work, or even what we will have for dinner.

At the same time, we rely on problems to fuel our desire to create beauty and creative solutions to real-world problems. Perhaps we do not have to take a side against problems but rather reverse our strategy? Instead of working from a feeling that our situation is problematic, we can choose to work from a perspective that there is nothing to complain about. A perspective of raw experience without interpreting our lives.

Throughout the day we experience a neverending array of sensations, thoughts, and fantasies. Fundamental to our capacity to experience these fleeting impressions is that raw awareness is always present. Awareness offers an opportunity to work with how we relate to our conditions, not what those conditions happen to be. In other words, if we work from a place free of fundamental problem, we can more easily work from a place of choice. From adult capacities, not conditioned responses.

One method I have found useful is to choose to return to the body over and over while I create my work. We can choose to neither side with the creative problem at hand, nor the body’s mode of non-interpretive experiencing. Both perspectives seem to be happening all at once. I find this strategy mitigates our biologically-conditioned habit of avoiding anxiety. If we make a practice of avoiding anxiety, we may be missing out on the marrow that brings our work to fruition.

Back to my outrageous productivity hack. The practice of returning our attention to bodily sensation. A practice that will pull us out of a fixation on the everchanging inner landscape of thinking and fantasy.

The sensation method short-circuits our entrenched habit of using distraction to try to get out of the vulnerable feelings we are experiencing. The distraction method often leads to mental obsession, self-absorption, disembodiment and a range of symptomatic behaviors.

Instead of falling into the distraction method try the following practice. Allow your awareness to embrace the buzzing field of life energy in your body. When resting your awareness at the sensory level, you may find that there is no problem to be solved. You may find that raw sensation offers no interpretation of threat or mental speeding. Sensation offers no reason to leave your skin and indulge a dalliance with delay.

Which is not to say that the deadlines, commitments, and challenges aren’t real. I just feel that queuing off of their reality is not the most efficient course to getting the work done. We can instead queue off of our own practice of experiencing sensation in the present moment.

I have mad respect for the ongoing dialogue we have with consensus reality. After all, the field of challenge is where mankind’s great achievements manifest. Few activities trigger our vulnerability like making something from nothing. My perspective is that most productivity methodologies are directed at disciplining ourselves to produce even when we do not feel like it. If we can work from a place of non-problem I think we can magnify the positive results of productivity hacks.

We often interpret productivity anxiety for an actual threat. When that happens, return to the sensations in your body. You may note that there is a feeling of excitement. Of intense life energy. But rarely is there an objective threat to our life. Our lives are an irresolvable tapestry of feelings, creativity, sensations, and emotion. It takes real creativity as we unconsciously assemble our reality out of a glut of sensory, mental and intuited impressions. Total. Craziness.

Try generating unconditional commitment to this tapestry without complaint. Acting as if there is nothing missing and nothing problematic happening. This practice helps us to engage with spontaneity and humor. We let the natural function of creative work come into form with as little resistance as possible. We relax the struggle and continue to improve our lives and recognize we do not have to take a side. Both mental inquiry and access to the present moment via sensation level experiencing are valid and components of our lives.

We can choose to be kind towards our knee-jerk reactions to anxiety. We all have those destructive habits when we feel cornered or unproductive. We do not have to wait until the perfect moment to engage with our creative work. We engage in this moment knowing that distraction and the hormonal outpourings that trigger procrastination are workable.

Less distraction nurtures more effective production. More effective production secures more time for building relational skills and learning how to take the very best care of ourselves.

We commit to our experience despite the appearance of a problem and we allow our creative mind to do what it does best. It plays.