Starve the Monster, Quench Your Soul

Have you ever mistaken being productive for taking care of yourself? When you should be relaxing with a good read, getting out for a run, catching up with a friend, or hitting the farmers’ market, you find yourself doing anything (and everything) else instead?

The bills need to be paid, dinner needs to be prepped, the dog needs a bath, and that pesky doorknob is loose again. So you hit snooze when your meditation alarm dings and postpone your morning workout, while silently berating yourself for not being in better shape. “I need to sign up for that 10K!” you think, adding it to your mental to-dos.

Soon the entire afternoon’s escaped you and your self-care’s suffered. When you finally crawl into bed at night, your mind races with all the things that need to get done tomorrow. Your one and only thought before drifting off to dreamland is, “I need a vacation.”

Sound familiar? I’ve got news for you: you’re not alone.

How many times have you prioritized your task list at the expense of your YOU time? Skilled in the art of self-deception, you convince yourself that digital decluttering or chopping vegetables will bring you the peace of mind you’re looking for. But unless you’re cranking up your favorite playlist or tuning into the latest podcast sensation while you’re at it (in which case, chop on!), any sense of relief you experience is likely to be short-lived.

The productivity monster lurks inside each of us. It’s what keeps us going day after day and prevents us from collapsing at our desks, most of the time. It’s there when you get the sudden urge to feng shui your living room or alphabetize your bookshelf. It’s there when you crank out 50 pages of the novel you’re working on, or when you in fact decide, “Hey, I’m gonna write a novel!”

In many ways, it’s a friendly monster, one that we’re on good terms with and owe many of our successes to. But when it starts competing with our better intentions to take thoughtful care of ourselves, then we’re in trouble.

There will always be bills to pay, floors to scrub, closets to organize, plants to water, dogs to groom, cars to repair, spills to clean, pictures to straighten, calls to return, and errands to run. Hungry for more, the productivity monster is never short of things to sink its teeth into.

But we need to remember to nourish the other parts of ourselves too: the ones that crave beauty, connection, fresh air, and runner’s highs.

We owe it to ourselves to carve out time and space for things that don’t necessitate any additions to our to-do lists.

Resist the urge to feed your productivity monster when it’s your emotional center that’s hungry instead. If you’re seeking distraction, find it in something meaningful, and suddenly it won’t just be a mental escape, but a soul-quenching retreat.

Break out of your habitual routine for a while and catch yourself in a self-care cycle. There’s no harm in dedicating the occasional Saturday to a deep-clean when you’re stressed, or color-coding your closet when you feel stuck in a rut. But this should be the exception, not the rule.

Be mindful of what you’re needing and meet it with intention. Whether you need to de-stress, unwind, laugh, cry, or simply take a break, find a way to do so that doesn’t conjure up thoughts of a monster eagerly awaiting its next meal.

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