Nowadays, we live in a world where we are always going, going, going.
Most of us are already over-committed and over-scheduled, but we’re still struggling to translate that into MORE productivity in our lives. But what if the solution to your productivity conundrums had NOTHING to do with doing more, or getting more done?
What if it wasn’t about what you’re DOING at all? What if the key to increase productivity was about influencing who you’re BEING while you go about all the ‘doing’ in your life? Allow me to geek out for a moment.
When it comes to the human brain, “what gets fired together gets wired together“. Our brain is constantly making new neuro-associations, whether we are aware of it or not.
Neuro-associations are the links that are created between what you experience AND the emotions and thoughts connected with it. Experiences that elicit ‘positive’ emotions, such as happiness or joy, ‘fire and wire’ a positive neuro-association in your brain.
On the other hand, if your experiences elicit ‘negative’ emotions such as sadness, guilt, or anger, your brain will ‘fire and wire’ a negative neuro-association alongside it. So, when it comes to YOUR productivity, efficiency, and habits, it’s less about what you’re DOING and more about who you’re BEING while you do it.
I call this example The Tale of Two Cookies.
If I eat a cookie and allow myself to experience the positive emotions of joy, pleasure, and indulgence of the experience, this puts me in the RELAXED branch of my nervous system (the parasympathetic branch). This means that I have all those ‘happy’ hormones flowing (things like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin).
On top of THAT, now that cookie has become one more ‘rep’ of me PRACTICING relaxation and ease around food. The nervous system gets good at whatever it practices, thus creating POSITIVE neuro-associations.
But on the flip-side:
If I eat a cookie and I’m feeling guilty because I think “it’s bad” or because I feel like “I’m doing something wrong” (eliciting any other ‘negative’ emotions), this puts me in the STRESSED branch of my nervous system (the sympathetic branch). This means that I have all those stress hormones flowing through me (things like cortisol, adrenaline, epinephrine).
On top of THAT, now that cookie has become one more ‘rep’ of me PRACTICING stress and unease around food. The nervous system gets good at whatever it practices, and in turn, creates NEGATIVE neuro-associations alongside the cookie.
This isn’t just the case when it comes to food. Who you’re BEING and how you’re FEELING before, during, and after any action is what makes the biggest difference. The neuro-associations that come alongside any activity (whether that’s eating, moving, thinking, or any ‘doing’) are the most impactful.
So how can we use this knowledge to increase productivity in your life?
How To Use Neuro-Associations to Increase Productivity
I believe it’s a two-step process:
STEP 1: Identify (and ‘override’) current neuro-associations that are KEEPING you from optimal productivity and well-being.
You need to become aware of (and then eliminate) experiences that are perpetuating those ‘negative’ neuro-associations in your brain. Here are a few ways to do just that:
Become aware of any activity that:
- Causes you to force yourself, persuade yourself, or talk yourself into doing things that you don’t want to do.
- Elicits feelings of guilt, shame, blame, comparison, or perfectionism alongside it.
- Physically, mentally, or emotionally puts you in a state of stress or pain.
- Causes you to belittle, criticize, or negatively judge yourself in the process.
- You are doing because you think you “should” or because you think you’re “supposed to”.
All of the above experiences cause your brain to engrain NEGATIVE neuro-associations alongside any habit, making future follow-throughs harder and more painful to continue. This sabotages your productivity.
Anytime you feel frustrated or annoyed, your brain just sees it as STRESS and takes you out of that relaxed state you are trying to create.
STEP 2: Create NEW neuro-associations that your brain will enjoy.
Creating an experience that your mind, brain, and body enjoy relaxes the nervous system. This induces pleasure, connection, emotional safety, and feelings of love – all of which will ‘fire and wire’ a POSITIVE neuro-association alongside the activity.
When you take something challenging and make it an enjoyable experience, this massively increases your chances to do it again in the future. That’s because now, your brain isn’t resisting it. It WANTS to do it.
Here are a few ways you can force your brain into its relaxed state AND start creating positive neuro-associations on command.
1.) Transform Your Environment:
Is the room you are working in feeding your energy and creativity? Or is it taking away from it? We underestimate how much impact our environment can have on our mood and energy levels. But changing your surroundings is one of the easiest ways to increase productivity.
Your sensory system is taking in everything from furniture, paint color, to the amount of light shining in. Create newer, brighter connections in your brain by working in an environment that lights you up inside.
2.) Transform Your Internal Environments:
What are you ‘feeding’ yourself as you go about your daily life and actions? Are you feeding yourself criticism and negativity? Or are you feeding yourself inspiration and love? This parable perfectly communicates this point:
“A grandfather is talking with his grandson. He says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other. One of them is a good wolf that represents things like kindness, bravery, and love. The other is a bad wolf that represents things like greed, hatred, and fear.
The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second. Then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?” The grandfather quietly replies: the one you feed.”
3.) Meditate Before, During, or After You Dive In To Your Activity Or Work:
I never resonated with ‘typical’ definitions of meditation that were introduced to me. So, what did I do? I created my own! I invite you to do the same thing.
Use music, movement, essential oils, or anything you can to calm your nervous system. These help in creating a state-change in your sensory system. Come back to your breath, tune into the present moment, and just be. THAT is all you need to do.
4.) Instill A Morning Ritual That Grounds You:
Most people I talk to check their smart phones first thing in the morning, or jump straight into their ‘to dos’ for the day. This is the OPPOSITE of relaxation to your brain. What can you do to ensure you start your day off relaxed and grounded?
It doesn’t have to be some huge undertaking either. As little as 60 seconds first thing in the morning is enough to activate that relaxation response in your brain and increase productivity.
5.) Instill an Evening Ritual That Calms You:
The same is true at night. Don’t go to sleep with all your worries or stresses on your mind. Perhaps you can do a ‘mind dump’ and get everything out of your brain and on to paper before bed. Create a playlist that relaxes you and chills you out.
The sky is the limit. But whatever you do, you have the power to influence your sleep and your middle-of-the-night vibes. Remember: neuro-associations are ALWAYS being created in the brain, whether we are aware of it or not.
6.) Find Human Connection:
Don’t go through life alone. Connect, cuddle, hug, laugh, experience joy, make love, have orgasms, or do anything that produces that love and ‘safety’ hormone oxytocin. ‘Nuff said.
7.) Eat Slower, Smoother, and More Mindfully:
If you were a fly on the wall of most homes around dinnertime, you’d witness one or more of the following:
- Food arbitrarily thrown on a plate.
- Smartphone in hand.
- TV on in the background.
- Food gets scarfed down, and it’s on to the next thing.
But when it comes to creating those positive neuro-connections, it’s not about WHAT you’re eating – it’s who you’re BEING when you’re eating it. The ‘recipe’ above is a surefire way to NOT be in the parasympathetic (rest and digest) branch of your nervous system.
If you slowed down, breathed, and became present with your food (become more mindful), this would create powerful connections in your brain come meal time.
Take a deep breath in and let your belly expand. Exhale it out and let your belly contract. Wash, rinse, repeat. A few deep breaths in and out are all it takes to trigger that relaxation response in your brain, body, and mind.
When you are relaxed, your brain is ‘firing and wiring’ that experience alongside your activity. Your breath is one of the most powerful tools you have to increase productivity.
9.) Practice Gratitude:
Did you know that your ‘worry brain’ can’t turn on when you are focusing on gratitude? Focusing on what you DON’T like, DON’T appreciate, and DON’T want more of will land you straight into that stressed part of your brain.
Gratitude however, is a great way to get those ‘feel good hormones’ pumping through your blood. It helps to ‘fire and wire’ a more positive experience while you go.
10.) Use Movement as Therapy:
Yes, movement for the purposes of burning calories or ‘exercising’ can indeed contribute to your health goals. But forget that kind of movement for a moment.
Instead, I want you to think about the idea that movement can also be like THERAPY. It can be used to create positive connections in your mind, body, and brain. Try it out.
Move for the sake of moving. Shake your sillies out. Dance like no one’s watching. Move for the fun and the joy and the experience. PLAY!
11.) Make the experience of anything FUN, RELAXING, and PLEASURABLE:
There are countless ways to cause a state-change in your brain and move you into the more optimal branch of your nervous system.
Play some music in the background, take your shoes off, and get in comfy clothes. Light a candle or some incense. Open the windows and let some fresh air in. The sky is the limit. Relax your mind, your body, and release your worries away as you do anything – your brain will thank you for it.
Are you ready to increase productivity using neuro-associations?
If you simply pick ONE of these and try it out in your everyday life — even just a few minutes per day — just watch how your mind, body, and brain react.
Keep track of how you feel. Observe your energy levels and productivity. I would bet money that things will start shifting.
Bottom line: Anything that removes stress, causes relaxation, or helps you to operate from the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system could be THE thing that pushes you over the productivity ‘tipping point’.
The key to increase productivity is all about influencing who you’re BEING while you go about all the ‘doing’ in your life. Try it and see for yourself.
I double dog dare you.