How to Detach Self-Worth from Productivity


“Measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes and failures.” - Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

It’s the weekend. I have some sacred alone time. I am exhausted and just want to curl up with my latest Netflix series of choice and current knitting project. But I can’t stop the internal nagging: You should be using this time to work on your book! This would be a great opportunity to clear out that cupboard that's been bugging you for weeks! Look at all these things you wanted to get done this week and haven't yet! Are you really going to fritter this precious time away on RELAXING!?Sometimes the answer is clear: You bet I am. But sometimes the nagging gets to me and, guilt-ridden, I tell myself 10 more minutes of down time then begrudgingly get up to do whatever it is my inner nag is telling me I should do, feeling somewhat resentful and not exactly enthusiastic about doing it.Detaching self-worth from productivity is hard... except, I realised when I started outlining this post, it’s actually not. Detaching self-worth from busy-ness is hard. But, when we separate out “busy” and “productive,” two things that are often conflated but in reality very different, the issue becomes clearer.When we assume productivity means “spending time on things that matter to us,” it’s clear that our level of productivity can absolutely influence our sense of self-worth. But we want to detach from busy-ness for the sake of being busy. An activity or pursuit is only productive if it’s actually adding something to our lives.With that in mind, here are a few ways we can detach our sense of self-worth from how busy we are.

1. Reframe Rest

The problem with my inner nag in the situation above is she believes rest is frivolous, verging on self-indulgent. But she’s wrong.If you want to grow flowers, you need to plant seeds first.Once they’re in the soil there is a period where, on the surface, not much seems to be happening. But underneath a new life is beginning, energy is being released, and big changes are taking place.We are the same. In order to live full, rich lives, we need those times to plant and nurture the seeds of whatever is coming up next for us. This is what rest is all about and, in this light, it is a priority.

2. Adopt self-worth as a value, not a condition

As I wrote above, what we do and who we are (and whether those things match up to our values and our sense of who we should be) do influence our sense of self-worth. But, somewhat counterintuitively, deepening our sense of self-worth becomes easier when we hold self-worth as a value, not as the result of something conditional.When we view self-worth as a condition, we do X, Y and Z in order to feel worthy. When we start by holding our sense of self-worth as one of our most important values, we are starting from a place of enough, of already acknowledging the importance of self-worth. The things we do as a result of valuing our self-worth might be similar, but the energy behind them is quite different. It’s avoiding pain (in this case, the pain of not feeling worthy) versus seeking growth (starting from a place of having self-worth as a key value).

3. Get rid of anything that doesn’t add value to your life

I don’t know about you, but I have go-to activities that are my time sinks when I’m feeling tired, drained, or anxious about something (hi, mindless Facebook scrolling). These things don’t help me feel less tired, drained or anxious, they don’t add anything to my life, and I usually feel slightly worse after doing them than I did before because I’m aware of the time I’ve wasted.Instead of letting these activities take control, I’m trying to be more mindful of what I naturally default to. Then, I can replace activities that bring me no joy and don’t meet my needs with those that do (reading a book, working on a craft project, drinking a glass of water, etc.).

4. Eat the Frog

I feel the most icky about the self-worth/busy relationship when I know I’m procrastinating on something important. I do a lot of busy work while procrastinating, hence the importance of differentiating between busy and productive.“Eat the frog” is a phrase coined by productivity author Brian Tracey who uses it to describe doing the most important things on your task list first. There are lots of tried and tested techniques for overcoming procrastination, but my favourite is setting the bar low and telling myself I can stop after 10 minutes.10 minutes is usually enough to remind myself of the big truth behind procrastination: the discomfort that comes from avoiding something is usually greater than the discomfort associated with actually doing that thing. But even if I take one single step towards a big project or task I’ve been putting off, that’s still one step I hadn’t taken before.

5. Follow your heart, not what you think you should do

When I started treating Becoming Who You Are as a business, I looked to other people to tell me what to do and didn’t always look in the right places. Now I’m several years into this journey, I’m better able to filter out the noise and have less insecurity around needing other people’s validation or advice. I still value role models, feedback, learning and growth—but from the right sources.In this time, I’ve also become a mother, so I work less but I’m far more productive within the time I have. I’m better at identifying the difference between massive action and passive action because I have to.Obviously, all of these things are still works in progress, ever-evolving and a reflection of where I am in this season of my life. In 10 years’ time, I might be writing something completely different. But just because a certain approach or path is “normal” or what everyone else is doing doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

6. Focus on the process

Like the quote from Elizabeth Gilbert above says, our sense of self-worth comes from showing up for the things that are important to us. And that is enough. I’ve written before about “when…then…” thinking (when I do X, then I will feel Y), but the problem with this kind of thinking is it’s conditional and based on an outcome. As I’ve also written about here, in most situations we can’t control the outcome, the only thing we can control is how much time and effort we apply to the process.There is no point in basing our sense of self-worth on something we can’t control, and the outcome usually falls into this category. Instead, find value in the process, in the showing up, and in your dedication to yourself and what matters to you.How do you detach self-worth from being busy? Is there anything you’d add to the list above?

[mailerlite_form form_id=7] Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash