While many of us are out of work right now, faced with the blankness of open schedules and social restrictions, staying productive can seem nearly impossible. Without daily anchors and responsibilities, we are all prone to free-float, letting goals slip away as we hit snooze on our alarm clocks and go back to sleep. While extra rest can be a good thing, too much rest can lead to depression and steer us off our healing paths. It is important for us to stay awake, both in the literal sense and in the spiritual sense. With my eyes wide open, I can see this period of time for the unique opportunity it presents: we are all gifted the space now to reappreciate each other and to discover our purpose beyond our work life. It is time to bring our deeper goals to the surface. It is time to get productive.
I have created my own acronym to describe what the word "productive" means to me. People often associate "being productive" with "being high-strung" or "unable to relax", but I associate the word with "being fertile". When productivity is seen as a way of life rather than a concentrated burst of needed energy, goals and aspirations begin to break free from the mold of work and flow abundantly as passion. When we are living a life of productivity and passion, we are living a life fertile with meaning, purpose, and ideas. If passion is our flame, then productivity is our poker, adjusting the fuel and stirring up the fire to burn in our desired direction.
P stands for Positive Power
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge believer in positive power. Much like the TV show Stranger Things, there are two worlds constantly present: the everyday world and "the upside-down". For those who haven't seen the show, "the upside-down" is a dark version of reality where the setting is the same, but the tone is disturbingly sinister. While the literal "upside-down" is indeed a work of science fiction, the idea behind this flipped reality is entirely based off of truth. For most of my life, I lived within this darkened world where negativity ruled and people and opportunities were pushed away. I couldn't see the light. I couldn't see the positive side of anything because the upside-down world was my norm. That is, until I discovered the switch that squelched the darkness and illuminated my positive mind.
Since discovering this brightened outlook, I have become far more motivated. I have more energy, more creativity, and best of all, I attract people now instead of push them away. While negativity drains and repels, positivity fills and attracts. A positive mindset has the power to color a grey world as well as draw in a rainbow of opportunity. The flow of energy goes both ways. To some, staying positive may sound tiring, but once a person has touched the light and experienced the ever-flowing waves of attraction, the energizing reality becomes clear. Without the weight of fear and negativity, we are free to move around the world and meet the people, places, and opportunities that will guide us toward our goals.
Tools for Tapping into Positive Power
- Positive self-talk (e.g. "I am strong. I am beautiful. I can do this.")
- Looking up at the sky
- Immersing yourself in nature
- Being aware of input (e.g. swapping negative movies and songs for positive ones)
- Making a gratitude list
- Connecting with your body in a positive way (e.g. walking, dancing, playing a favorite sport)
- Helping someone out or allowing someone to help you
R stands for Rest and Recovery
In order to be productive, a person must learn to balance creation and output with rest and recovery. Just as muscles need time to repair in between workouts in order to build mass and grow stronger, the mind needs time to rest as well. Listen to your brain as well as your body. Allow silence and stillness in between goals, so that you're able to hear your brain when it calls out for a break. When your mind starts working overtime, you may experience headaches, agitation, looping thoughts, and trouble sleeping. It is important to recognize the early signs of an over-worked mind to avoid a mental crash. Just like muscles, brains can be overused to the point of injury too.
Out of all the acronym's components, this is the step of "PRODUCTIVE" at which I am least skilled. I am lucky to have friends who help me slow down and recognize my own over-worked signs, but on my own, I am still learning to allow myself breaks. Occasionally, I will stop to check in with myself and ask my body and brain, "How are you feeling?" With a mind like mine that is so used to constant-striving, it is important for me to ask the question instead of wait for my brain to speak up. I also try to set limits in my day to make sure I don't burn out on any one activity or goal. Variety itself can be a form of rest and recovery. Just as variety in a workout routine allows different muscles to work while others rest, variety in goals and creative projects allows different parts of the brain to relax while others take over. Even so, it is important to rest the entire body as well as the entire brain on a regular basis.
Tools for Rest and Recovery
- Relaxing in nature
- Being with animals
- Practicing yoga nidra
- Listening to ASMR videos
- Free-flow journaling
- Sipping tea
- Listening to relaxing music
O stands for Openness
When you are open to receiving life's opportunities and challenges, you are bound to be productive. The road to achieving your dreams, from my experience, is the hardest one. It is full of potholes, steep treks, and unexpected valleys, but if you continue to learn along the way and stay confident in your goals, you will make it to the top of the mountain.
While watching a TedTalk a few years ago, I picked up the notion that problems are challenges that help steer us in the right direction. This idea has stuck with me and has helped me remain open even during my lowest points when my dreams felt impossibly out of reach. As I began to rewire my brain and see "problems" as welcomed challenges in need of a creative solution, I started to realize the bigger picture: challenges are necessary to achieving our dreams. Injuries along the way make us stronger, valleys allow space for reflection to make us wiser, and detours push us toward the people, places, and tools we never knew we needed.
The more I let go of the automatic urge to fight against "problems", the smoother my path became--not literally smooth, but energetically smooth. When you are open to life and its unexpected gifts and challenges, eventually you become a part of the flow. Much like a runner tapping into the runner's high or an artist zeroing in for hours on a painting, unaware of time, a dreamer can also experience this effortless energy that seems to push and steer from outside.
Resistance and walls will inevitably pop up from time to time, but as long as you have your tools to continue on and reset your mindset, you will always be able to reenter the flow.
Tools for Tapping into Openness
- Being in nature (Anyone catching onto a theme here?)
- Welcoming life's metaphors
- Learning to listen to your gut (e.g. practicing stillness and meditation when challenges arise.)
- Doing anything creative (i.e. allowing yourself to be a channel for your own purposes as well as the universe's purposes.)
- Allowing time for self-reflection
- Rewiring your brain to see problems as welcomed challenges
- Extracting wisdom and purpose from past challenges
- Zooming out occasionally to see your path's bigger picture
D stands for Drive
One of my all-time favorite songs is "Drive" by Incubus. As a teen, I wasn't really sure why I loved this song so much, but as I grew older, the lyrics began to resonate with me and impact my life. In the first verse, Brandon Boyd sings, "And I can't help but ask myself how much I'll let the fear take the wheel and steer. It's driven me before and it seems to have a vague, haunting mass appeal, but lately I am beginning to find that I should be the one behind the wheel." I am no stranger to fear. I have mistakenly many times in the past allowed fear-based emotions such as revenge and anger to drive me toward my goals, but these emotions are reckless drivers. They will, without fail, drive you off your path. Much like alcohol and drugs, they will for a period of time make you feel invincible, but in reality, with each sip of fear, you are driving increasingly blind. This is why it's important to regularly check your motives and make sure, as Brandon Boyd puts it, "you choose water over wine."
My dad also gave me some advice when I was a kid that I never forgot: "Do what you love, and the money will follow." Just because we live in a money-hungry world doesn't mean we have to follow the rest of the sheep. When people chase after their goals in the hopes of becoming rich, they will most likely fail because their intentions aren't pure and genuine. On the flip side, when someone works hard on a project and strives toward a goal with nothing but pure passion driving them, I believe they will no doubt succeed. Honesty rooted in wisdom, art for the sake of art, love for the sake of humanity--these are all rare, beautiful drivers. Rarity stands out. Rarity turns heads and creates change. In a world saturated with scams, gimmicks, and imitations, rarity is what rises to the top and succeeds.
Tools for Checking Your Drive
- Practicing honesty, both with yourself and your friends
- Surrounding yourself with passionate people
- As new goals pop up, asking yourself, "Why is this something I want to achieve? What are my motives?"
- Recognizing ill intentions in yourself and others and noticing how they make you feel
- Learning from past fear-based crashes
- Being with animals (the purest creatures on the planet)
U stands for Understanding
I used to hold onto resentment. I used to hold onto grudges, throw up walls, and demonize people when they hurt me. I expected people to understand my point of view and forgive me for my flaws, but I didn't do the same in return. As a result, I was lonely and in pain--physical, mental, and emotional pain. This pain only started to fade once I realized the limitations I was putting on myself and the blockages I was creating in my body. By holding onto resentment, I was destroying my insides and barricading myself from genuine relationships. Once I worked out these blockages and allowed understanding to sweep away the barricade, my connection with the world and other people blossomed.
In a way, to understand and forgive someone is to understand and forgive yourself. All energy we put out into the world must first pass through us, so when you take the time to listen and understand the reasons behind someone else's actions or words, you are also taking the time to listen and understand yourself. We are all flawed human beings. Nobody is perfect. Each time we recognize, accept, and honor these flaws in someone else, we are also learning to accept ourselves. Wisdom comes from connection and communication, and connection and communication helps guide us further along our paths. We need each other in order to accomplish our goals. We need each other in order to create a healthy, thriving world.
Tools for Understanding
- Listening to others (really listening)
- Practicing curiosity over assumptions (i.e. instead of making assumptions as to why someone did something, ask them why they did it.)
- Forgiving yourself and your own flaws
- Establishing healthy boundaries in place of solid walls
- Connecting with your heart center through dance, music, meditation, art, etc.
- Inviting physical warmth to open up energetic warmth (e.g. taking a bath, sipping tea, using a heating pad.)
C stands for Creativity
Creativity is by far my favorite component of being productive. I have always thrived in my own secret world where pens and paintbrushes rule, and ideas have the power to take flight and transform into something real. Many people hear the word "creative" and immediately shy away, claiming that they don't have the skills or mental capacity to be creative, but I don't think that's true. Creativity, by definition, simply means "the use of skill and imagination to produce something new" (https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/us/definition/english/creativity?q=creativity). Typically, people associate creativity with art, but creativity takes place every time someone comes up with a new idea, a solution, or a new way of looking at something. While openness helps us see problems as challenges, creativity helps us come up with solutions. Creativity yields flexibility and buoyancy on the road to success.
Tools for Tapping into Creativity
- Hanging out in nature (I'm telling you guys, nature is where it's at.)
- Painting, drawing, writing, dancing, singing, cooking, taking pictures, making videos (anything that ignites the childlike imagination in you.)
- Playing! Playing games, playing pretend, playing different roles, playing dress-up, playing outside.
- Trying something new
- Hanging out with children (children you know. I'm not trying to get anyone arrested here.)
- Breath work (e.g. breathing out doubt and judgment, breathing in creativity)
- Cleansing and opening up the sacral chakra through meditation and reiki
T stands for Trust
I did not grow up religious or spiritual in any way, but the more I experience in this world, the more I believe in some kind of higher power. We all have our own theories and beliefs. We all have our own reasons and experiences behind those beliefs, but the differences don't matter. What matters is our own personal connection and trust in that higher power, and the peace and beauty that that kind of connection brings.
The greatest gift my trust in the universe has given me is the belief that everything happens for a reason. This belief has stuck with me through my darkest times, granting me the power and insight to see beyond the tunnel's darkness to the light on the other side. From my experience, I know that there truly is a reason for everything, and when that reason seems impossible to grasp, it's because I am still too close to the event to understand. In time and with distance, everything makes sense. Everything serves some sort of purpose in guiding each one of us along our individual paths. At least, this is what I believe. We all have the right to our own personal connection to the universe (or whatever word you prefer). Again, the differences don't matter. What matters is our trust in the bigger picture, because it is this trust that will keep each one of us moving forward toward our goals, even when the world around us becomes too dark for us to see.
Tools for Tapping into Trust
- You guessed it! Being in nature
- Meditating, praying, singing, chanting (i.e. whatever raises your frequency and opens up your connection with the universe)
- Mapping out your life in order to extract themes, wisdom, and purpose
- Studying and working with archetypes (e.g. I love reading about Greek and Roman mythology and using these archetypes to help me understand the world. Caution: Remember that archetypes are meant to help us connect our lives to the bigger picture. They are not meant to stereotype, demonize, or idealize anyone.)
- Recognizing and enjoying life's signs, synchronicities, miracles, blessings, and unexplainable phenomena
I stands for Inspiration
In order to remain within the flow of productivity, we have to be inspired. Inspiration can come from anywhere at any time like parachute seeds in the wind, swirling and sprinkling down. When we look for inspiration rather than simply seeing inspiration, we can actually stunt our creativity, resulting in infertile periods such as "writer's block" and even depression. The process of being inspired is a natural one--one that can't be forced and takes time to understand.
As a kid, I remember buying a little hardcover book full of various pictures and quotes meant to inspire writers whenever they hit a "writer's block". I loved the book itself. I liked the way it felt in my hand and the way it made me feel like a serious writer, but I don't think I opened it more than two or three times, and I definitely never opened it during a "writer's block". True inspiration cannot be planned or compiled into a tiny, convenient, easy-to-reach-for package. True inspiration comes from moving around, living life, making connections, and following gut instincts. When we take the pressure off of ourselves--the pressure to be inspired and the pressure to control--we are free to notice the delicate, feathery wisps in the air. These are the seeds that will give you purpose. These are the seeds that will give your soul something to be productive about.
Tools for Tapping into Inspiration
- Being in . . . NATURE
- Following gut instincts (e.g. taking a turn down a road simply because you felt compelled to)
- Practicing curiosity in everyday life
- Letting go of schedules and plans
- Surrounding yourself with people, places, and things that inspire
- Listening to music
- Slowing down and allowing stillness
V stands for Values
We are all born into a certain set of values, but as we mature and experience life, we discover our own set of values, sometimes separate and different from our families and friends. When our values differ from others', it doesn't mean we can't be around those people, and it definitely doesn't mean anyone has the authority to pressure change. Judgments are bred out of fear and denial. I don't judge myself or anyone else for their shadow side (a side everybody has). I believe everyone has a right to their own healing path, whether that path be full of dips and turns or straight as an arrow.
Due to the variety of paths, however, it is important to stay confident and strong in your own values to avoid getting lost. As we all work toward ascending the mountain of our dreams, we will inevitably link up occasionally and cross paths. As like-minded trails meld together, it can be easy to lose sight of your own markers and mindlessly follow someone else's path as it starts to curve away from your own. These mix-ups will happen. They are part of the learning process to solidifying our values. True growth comes when we look up and realize the marker on the tree doesn't match our own color. As we trek back and walk along our own path again, we walk a little wiser, a little more aware and a little more confident. The best path is not the straightest. The best path is your own, because it is this path, and this path only, that will guide you to accomplishing your dreams.
Tools for Sticking to your Values
- Checking in regularly with yourself, especially in social situations (e.g. asking yourself, "How do I feel right now? Did I agree with that comment because I truly agree or because the person next to me agreed?")
- Knowing your values
- Forgiving yourself rather than beating yourself up when you stray from your path
- Balancing alone time/self-reflection with social gatherings
- Practicing honesty with yourself
- Encouraging honesty from others
- Surrounding yourself with people who have similar values (or values you aspire to have)
- Andddddddddd . . . being in nature
E stands for Evolution
The final and most rewarding piece of being productive is evolution. As I make my way up toward my goals and dreams, I am constantly evolving, allowing experience to mold me into the person my dreams need me to be. Some people resist evolution. They choose to remain the same, forgoing opportunities to grow stronger in order to avoid change, because change usually requires pain. One of my favorite quotes describes this truth perfectly:
"Anyone whose goal is 'something higher' must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves."
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
I do not wish darkness upon anyone, and from experience, I absolutely do not recommend a near-fatal fall. However, I do believe these periods in my life were absolutely necessary in order for me to become the strong, vibrant, relentless dreamer I am today. Sometimes it takes darkness to see a bit more clearly. Sometimes it takes a fall to realize you have wings.
Tools for Evolution
- Following gut instincts
- Letting go of fear
- Welcoming change