Picture this. You wake up and have a burst of productivity. You decide “Today is the day I take charge of my life.” One impressively drawn schedule and to-do list later, you feel pretty good about yourself. However, once you start ticking off the items on the schedule, you no longer have the same passion you did in the morning, and gradually, the tasks on your schedule start tiring you down. You start compromising with the schedule, doing some and promising yourself that you will do the rest starting tomorrow. But that tomorrow never arrives, and you end up feeling very guilty and disheartened. The next schedule, you promise yourself that this will be successful, no hang-ups unlike last time. But sadly the same routine continues, until you develop a mortal dread towards self-improvement and committing to big steps to change your life. If I have described something that you have experienced, read on. Maybe there is something of value here for you.
You are not alone. This is a phase that many of us go through in life, and it is not an unsolvable phase. In order to overcome this phase however, it is important to review what the process stands for, where the burst of productivity and motivation come from, why does it not stick throughout, and finally, what makes you feel like crap when you have gone and broken another resolution.
People inherently want to get better. This is why people show off on social media, take serenity trips and strive to become better versions of themselves in any number of ways. Cooking, organizing, being productive, being recognized for their work, being better parents than their parents, going to the gym to hit the treadmill, increasing followers on social media, or any number of scenarios, as the case maybe. The driver behind the constant need to get better is this- Every person is a protagonist in their life. Think about it. Every person assesses the past, the present, and the possible future from their own lens for themselves. Every insecurity is a fear arising from the universe’s interaction with that person. Every achievement is a glorious high and every ticking off is a mortifying low, in their own individual life. Many milestones, which do not mean a thing on a larger scale, matter to the individual achieving them. This is simple. The person/protagonist living that life is the person best placed to understand the journey taken to reach each milestone, and many ordinary events in life have meaning because that person has the context for the meaning. When I started out gymming, I was struggling to lift 40kgs. When I hit 100kgs, I felt like the king of the world, because I alone knew the effort it took to get here.
While it is understandable that every person is a protagonist in their own life, this comparison also sheds light into another issue. What does every typical protagonist have? A story-arc. A journey from point A to point B, with self-development, greater emotional fortitude, and willpower being additional gains from this journey. It is natural to think this way, and often people sub-consciously construct this story-arc depicting growth, betterment and becoming better at that thing for themselves.
However, things sometimes do not go according to the plan. Sometimes, the premise of the story-arc you set out for yourself was not feasible, or ignored major behavior changes and structural issues that needed to be worked on first. Otherwise, you do not foresee that things will get difficult. Schedules become quicksand of commitments and promises that the more you make, the more you break. You encounter problems that every protagonist encounters- something or a series of things that threaten to derail your journey from point A to point B, condemning you to stay where you are. You tell yourself that ‘staying where you are’ is simply another way to say ‘failing to get better’. This is the point when you need to find that motivation to work past the problems comes in.
You tell yourself, “I need to do XYZ, because I am supposed to do it, as per my story-arc.” And right here, you have consciously or sub-consciously categorized your self-development and betterment as a chore that you must do, because a previous version of you ordered you to. This paves the way to the next logical thought “God I wish I hadn’t made that promise”, which is a hop and step away from the final “After all, it was I who made that promise, maybe I can scrap this and come up with a more realistic schedule the next time.” In the pursuit of making an accommodating and realistic story-arc for you the protagonist, you end up setting the bar lower and lower, and end up with your future self (so full of possibilities) being a slave to the whims of your present self.
Where did it go wrong? You said “I am supposed to do this or be that”. When sticking to the schedule became tough and the story-arc for you the protagonist became challenging, you simply blamed it on the schedule and the story-arc. That opened the gates for bargaining and comfort, with no good result from that road. Instead, when you hit that bump for the schedule or your amazing story-arc, take ten minutes. Hell, take five. Think about why the past version of you wrote that in the schedule, what was the thought behind imposing such a challenging quest for you to undertake? Do your future self a favor by identifying why your past self expected so much from your present self (if I can confuse you a little more). And above all, believe in yourself. Plans come undone, but there’s always a lesson to be learnt.
How does one move past a productivity block? What do you guys think? I am looking forward to any thoughts or opinions on this, and would love to hear from you.