What we believe can make us be more productive, or less so. What do you believe about yourself, about your abilities and options, about your circumstances? Do your beliefs about these things help you be more productive?
Our beliefs can help–or hinder–our productivity
This episode is a continuation of the Mindset Matters theme that began with episode 108, in which we discussed attitudes that can help us be more productive. Similarly, our beliefs can either help or hinder our productivity. Anthony Robbins powerfully describes the impact our beliefs can have on our lives: “Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives.”
Life coach Brooke Castillo has said, “A belief is just a thought you keep on thinking.” (Check out her excellent podcast episode on How to Believe New Things.) Because we can choose our thoughts, we can also choose our beliefs. As Brooke and many other thinkers and coaches teach, our thoughts determine how we feel, and our feelings then drive our actions, which in turn create results in our lives. This causal chain is one of the reasons I want to talk about beliefs that can help us be more productive.
1. I’m in charge of my life and my time.
This is the belief that flows from and underpins self-determination, the attitude that we talked about in episode 108 of The Productive Woman podcast. At its core, it is the belief that we have freedom of choice regarding how we live our life, and what we do with our time. The alternative is a victim mentality, or a passive approach to life — the belief that things happen to me, and I have no control over any of it. It's a tempting attitude to slip into and stems from the mindset that other people determine what you do: “my boss makes me do this,” “my clients expect this,” “I can’t because my husband . . . ,” “because my children . . . ,” “because of where I live. . . .” Many of us believe we are at the mercy of the people and circumstances of our lives, and it's hard to make a life that matters if that's our mindset.
In truth, though, we always have a choice, and our choices determine what our life is like. Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” Successful people believe they control their own destiny, so they're willing to take action despite their circumstances.
None of this is to say we should ignore the reality of our circumstances, or disregard the thoughts and feelings of the people in our lives, but simply make a point to remember our free agency. There are things in our lives that we cannot control, but the key to being successful is to focus on what we can control: what we think about, what we believe, and what we do.
2. There is enough time to do the things that really matter.
Time is finite. We can fill it up with things that don’t matter, or we can clear out the non-essential to make room for what matters most to us. We get to decide — and it doesn’t matter who you are — how we’re going to spend those 24 hours. We all get the same finite amount of hours in a day. Gary Keller, in his book The ONE Thing, says that “It’s not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it’s that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have.”
We need to learn to distinguish between the trivial many and the vital few, and get rid of the trivial. Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, talks about the concept of “less, but better” and its importance in creating a life of significance. That concept applies across the board: to clothes, to pots & pans, to the books we read, to TV shows, to activities, and to people in our lives. It’s not about amassing more, but really winnowing out the things that are not as significant. We get to choose what we say yes to, but there are trade-offs for every choice we make. If we say yes to one thing — because time is finite — we’ll have to say no to another.
If we’re willing to choose intentionally, with focus and purpose, there will always be time to do the things that matter most to us. The key to a truly productive life is focus, not scope: find those vital few pursuits, people, and activities, and pour most of your time, energy, and attention on those. Let the trivial many fall away — or throw them away on purpose — to leave all the time, energy, and attention you need for the things that really matter.
3. I don’t need anybody else’s permission to be who I am or pursue my goals.
That is a hard one, especially for women who are relationship oriented. People like me, for whom “what other people think” matters — and that is not a bad thing in itself — look to others: a boss, a husband, coworkers, etc., to validate their choices, and are hesitant to do anything that people would criticize.
An article on LinkedIn.com called “Bruce Lee’s 7 Beliefs for a More Productive Life” frames it nicely:
To find more emotional stability and to take control of how you feel, you need to get your validation from to a more consistent source. Yourself. You can replace the expectations and validation of others by setting your own expectations and by validating yourself.”
We hold back from pursuing our goals out of fear of criticism, whether from strangers or from the people who know us best. But successful people, those who pursue their dreams and accomplish their most cherished goals, believe in themselves even when no one else does,. If you have people in your life who believe in you, who support and encourage you, that’s the icing on the cake. But even without that, we need to support ourselves and believe in ourselves to pursue the things that matter most to us.
I encourage you to read “How to Believe in Yourself Even if No One Else Believes in You,” in which the writer suggests that you align your behavior with your values, align your choices with your intentions, discover other sources of support, tell yourself you can, always do your best, and celebrate your accomplishments.
4. Time for myself is necessary and good.
This is so important–and so hard for many of us to get into our heads. Too many of us struggle with feeling guilty when we take time for ourselves. We need to grasp the truth that it's not only okay, but necessary for us to take time for ourselves.
This belief is important on two levels. First, we need time to rest and restore in order to be able to make our best contribution to our world. Second, we need time and space to think and time to focus. An article I read about limiting beliefs that kill productivity put this into perspective and listed as its very first limiting belief: the belief that we must always be available — in the article they talk about checking our email all the time, but it applies elsewhere.
Last week in episode 111, Time Thieves, we talked about the idea of turning off social media, our phone, etc., and carving out time away to be quiet and focused and do “deep work.” It’s important to learn to believe that time for ourselves is a good thing.
5. Failure is not fatal; it’s just evidence that I tried.
This is a hard one for me. So many times I've missed out on opportunities because I didn’t want to fail, especially where people could see me fail… I almost didn’t launch this podcast because of this.
Jessica Stillman said, “Putting yourself out there and falling flat on your face, over and over and over, is how insanely productive people learn.” Brooke Castillo has a great episode on how to fail. The writer of “8 Ways to Believe in Yourself When Nobody Else Does” says that when you fail: “. . . you must remember that this does not make YOU a failure personally. You are only experiencing a temporary set back. If you give up at the first sign of adversity, all that you’ve worked for will be in vain. . . . Failure is only an indication that your current actions were not optimal to produce your desired result. Your approach should be reevaluated, tweaked and a second attempt made. . . . Every setback and mistake contains a lesson and opportunity by which we may rise to higher levels of understanding and enlightenment.”
If we can internalize that belief, the sky becomes the limit. Remember that failure is neither fatal nor final: you never truly fail until you quit trying.
6. What I do matters, but I am not what I do.
We tend to identify ourselves by the things we do, whether good or bad — our career, our to-do list, the awards we've received. If we believe our worth is measured by what we accomplish, we will wear ourselves out trying to do more and more, to earn a sense of worth. But we have worth simply because we exist.
There’s this tendency, at least in the U.S., to spend most of our time working, earning money to pay for a lifestyle that we have no time to enjoy because we’re working all the time! Maya Angelou, a very wise woman, once said, “I’ve learned that making a living is not the same things as making a life.” It’s taken me a long time to understand that.
Judging ourselves by what we accomplish is unhealthy. It creates an unsustainable, unreachable focus on always doing more, always doing it “right.” The writer of “Who We Are, What We Do, and the Space Between” said, “If we can't hold space for our own human frailty, vulnerability and the notion that we are not perfect then we can become trapped within a prison of our own self-judgment; something that can ultimately be very destructive because it is a self-condemnation to which our larger sense of self can easily fall prey.”
If we believe our worth is measured by what we do, then every mistake, every failure becomes evidence (in our minds) that we have no worth. That is simply not true. When we set a goal and don’t achieve it, that is not a reason to beat up on ourselves. It's a reason to ask questions and learn, to improve our aim and our reach. The best question to ask is why? Why did I not achieve it? Is it the wrong goal for me, at this time? Is it a goal I set because I thought I should?
Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself time and space just to be” rather than always feeling like you have to do.
7. Done is better than perfect.
We talked about perfectionism as a time thief in episode 111, how it leads to procrastination and is often a symptom of fear — fear of mistakes, fear of judgment, fear of failure. We need to believe, and continually tell ourselves, that it’s more important to start than to wait until we can get it perfect, that what we contribute has value, even if it’s not perfect.
During a recent TPW mastermind meeting we talked about one member's job search, and how much time she had spent going over and over her resume, trying to get it perfect before sending it out. One of the women wisely said, “The perfect resume sitting on your desk will not get you a job. But a slightly imperfect one put out there in the world may well get you the job you’re looking for.” That's a lesson we can apply in so many situations: Do the best you can for now, get it out there, and improve as you go along.
A great article on the Todoist blog talks about approaching problems with an iterative mindest, encouraging us to be willing to start with the “minimum viable product.” It's better to do something, anything that works, and get it out there and then improve on it.
Anything worth doing is worth doing now. It's really easy to wait until you have more information and more data, but you may very well never do it.
8. My past does not define my present or my future.
As we talked about in episode 111, regret over past mistakes can paralyze us and keep us from moving forward toward meaningful goals. It’s easy for some of us to believe we’ve messed up so badly that we’ve lost the right to pursue a life that matters. We can get hung up on our past — the things we’ve done wrong, or that have happened to us — and think that those define who we are, but that is not true. The past is past. It’s important to learn the lesson and move forward.
I've made terrible errors in judgment in the past and I remember feeling that it disqualified me from doing anything meaningful somehow. But as a person of faith, I took comfort — and continue to take comfort — in the Bible verse in which Paul, a man who’d done terrible things but had been forgiven, says “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on” (Philippians 3:13-14). Even the most terrible past can be redeemed.
There is a great quote from the article I mentioned earlier, “8 Ways to Believe in Yourself When Nobody Else Does”:
Learn from your past and then let it go, then turn your eye towards what’s to come and create the future that you want.Click To Tweet
Our pasts have shaped our personalities, our self-worth, and influence the choices and decisions we make in our daily interactions. The most important thing for us to realize is this: the past has no control over our lives, except the control we allow it to have. It is not a life sentence that we must carry out! . . . Once we become aware of this fact and take full responsibility for our own lives we become the true creators of our own tomorrow. The past may have made you who you are today, but it’s up to you whether you stay that way or not.”
First, be aware of your beliefs and how they’re affecting your actions.
Second, question your beliefs. Are the things you believe — about yourself, your abilities, about time, about your circumstances — serving you? Are they energizing you, motivating you, helping you move in the direction of the life you want? Are they helping you set goals that excite you, and achieve them?
If not, take your beliefs through a process of analysis. Consider using the questions developed by coach and thinker Byron Katie in what she calls The Work. Keeping in mind that a belief is a thought you keep on thinking, take that belief and analyze it, take the time to look at it and ask yourself some questions:
- Is this belief true?
- Can you demonstrate its truth? (e.g., could you prove it’s true in a court of law?)
- How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without that thought?
It’s really worth going through that process in an honest manner, so you can identify the beliefs that will move you forward in the direction you want your life to go.
What do you think?
What beliefs help you be productive, both in the sense of getting things done and in the sense of making a life that matters? I would love to hear your thoughts. Share your feedback in the comments section below or on The Productive Woman Facebook page–or email me.
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Resources and Links
“How to Believe New Things” Episode 35 of The Life Coach School Podcast by Brooke Castillo
“Identity: What We Do vs Who We Are” by Larry Kesslin
“We Are More than What We Do” by John BrubakerClick here to discover my favorite apps!
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