I spend a lot of time researching and utilizing various productivity tools. Tools for processing email faster, keeping track of actions, helping me focus on the most important projects, better leveraging the limited hours in the day, and all those sorts of things.
Each time I discover a new tool or put an improved process in place, my productivity soars!
For about a week.
And then it slips back to whatever baseline that had existed.
Was it that the tool wasn’t as good as it first appeared? Or that I hit some unexpected roadblock which this new process couldn’t handle?
No and no.
It’s that sad truth that no tool, no process can “make” me more productive. Sure, something might inspire me for a bit (perhaps akin to a caffeine hit), but eventually the “drug” wears off and what’s left is whatever level of productivity I’ve currently mastered (meaning, habituated).
The allure of finding the perfect tool keeps me looking in the wrong place to achieve the results I want.
Most of us have a pretty good idea of who we are.
We see ourselves as the sum collection of our skills, our roles in society, our relationships, possessions, the impact we’ve had, and our core character.
We’d like to believe that we are nice to others, respectful, fair, and that when people think about us, they see us in a positive light.
But if we’re really honest with ourselves, the way we lead our daily lives may not exactly line up with who we’d like to believe we are.
I’d like to invite you into a brilliant thought experiment posed by Todd Henry in his book Die Empty.
In the book, Todd challenges his readers, and himself, to consider how we are really leading our lives.
Here is Todd’s thought experiment:
When I was growing up, two musical artists I really enjoyed listening to were Prince and Michael Jackson. Each of them kept churning out hit after hit. I would love singing along whenever I heard their songs on the radio.
However, in those pre-Internet days, unless you owned the album, there was no way of knowing the actual lyrics.
And for many years, I was convinced that in MJ’s song Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough he was singing, “Keep on with the 4-star stuff … don’t stop till you get enough.”
Even today, when I hear the song, it is clear that is exactly what he is singing.
But he isn’t.
The lyrics are actually “Keep on with the force don’t stop … don’t stop till you get enough.”
All those years I was convinced that my perception was correct.
But I was wrong.
As it is in life. We are convinced that what we hear with our ears and see with our eyes is an accurate portrayal of reality.
But it isn’t.
What is it about fear that completely takes us over?
Or anger? Or any other similar emotion?
We feel it viscerally and completely.
How do we know that we’ve been “taken over” by an emotion like fear, anger, worry, sadness, and the like?
Besides not feeling peaceful, and certainly not aligned with our best selves, we are no longer “we”. We’ve lost touch with who we truly are.
Consider the phrases: “I am afraid” or “I am angry”.
Note the key association of “I am”.
Our entire sense of being, our “I am”-ness, is now enmeshed with the emotion. I am fear.
Not “I feel fear” or not “my body is in a state of fear” but rather “I am fear”.
There’s a magic trick I can do where I take a playing card and toss it away from me. With a gentle flick of my wrist, the card is gone.
Any observer watching me perform this trick sees the card in my hand and then watches me throw the card off to the side. But the card magically disappears. It’s not off to the side where I threw it, nor is it any longer in my hand.
It can be very unsettling for an onlooker since clearly the card must be somewhere. But it’s nowhere to be found.
And then, just as miraculously, I clap my hands the card re-appears back in my fingers.
Of course, no miracle happened. It’s all sleight of hand.
Magicians are masters at sleight of hand. It works by getting observers to put their attention on one thing while the performer does something hidden. Like making a playing card vanish.
But once we know we’re being fooled, it is very easy to catch the deception. Right?