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Mind like water, finding your productivity zone

Water with ripples

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything.”

-Sbunryu Suzuki

“Allways keep your mind as bright and clear as the vast sky, the great ocean, and the highest peak, empty of all thoughts.”

-Morihei Ueshiba

Water with ripples

Water with ripples

photo credit: v8media via photopin cc

The Mind like Water concept for productivity was used by David Allen on his book Getting Things Done. It´s a great read, with a lot of gold nuggets of information. (Yes, the link is an affiliate link.)

” In karate there is an image that´s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “Mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn´t overreact or underreact.”

-David Allen p.11

Throughout my childhood and adolescence I did various types of martial arts, and the thing was that in order to become great at it you needed to get to that zone. “The zone” applies to all games and activities, and also productivity.

In order to get to the zone, you needed to clear your mind; clear every thought. The difficult thing is HOW?. You may play, and play fairly well, but in order to exceed, and be a great player, you need to get to the zone, constantly. You may work, and be kind of productive, but to be at your best, and really be productive you need to get to the Mind like Water principle.

When was the last time that you felt that you had complete control on that which you where doing? I mean real control, mind and body, your conduct, everything, all connected and working effectively? There is a path to do it, but the path takes work. You need to walk the path.

According to Csikszentmihalyi, one of the Positive Psychology proponents:

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.

In order to find your FLOW, or your ZONE, you need to understand a few concepts, so before I go over the method I use, lets talk about basic theory on thinking.

The Working Brain

According to Alexander Romanovich Luria, in his Neuropsychology book The Working Brain, a basic factor in the composition of the psychological structure of thought, is that thinking appears only when the subject has a proper motive, like an urgent or incomplete task, thus mobilizing all resources as his objective is to meet that demand or need.

In other words, Thought appears, or becomes intense, when you have a problem, or an unfinished task.

Think about it… You are constantly thinking about unfinished tasks, business, problems in life, work, family, etc. Sometimes the thought becomes obsessive, and repeats itself ad infinitum, taking you into an anxiety rush, almost a panic attack, for some.

What´s important is that the unfinished task, or tasks, or problems, keep making your brain to pay a lot of attention to the task in question. If you have the answer, or even think you have it, the obsessive thinking patterns will subside. If you don´t have the answer, and you are getting to a deadline, then anxiety kicks in, and with every moment that passes, makes it more difficult to stay focus and solve the problem.

Anxiety is Necessary

Some level of anxiety is necessary for optimal productivity. Performance anxiety is necessary for doing various tasks. Anxiety helps you by making you stay in focus. It prepares your body and mind for performing difficult tasks, and to protect you by running away or fighting the problem.

The problem with anxiety is when your anxiety level is excessive. Whey you have excessive anxiety, you can´t be productive. This is called the Yerkes-Dodson Law.

Original Yerkes-Dodson Law

Original Yerkes-Dodson Law

When you have a great level of arousal (anxiety), you have less focused attention, working memory problems, and you may have an increase in fear.

Finding your productivity zone

Now that we have discussed some important concepts, we can get to the productivity hacks. How to get to THE ZONE each time you want to?

I have to warn you that getting to the ZONE needs practice, and work.

You need to practice, and work in two areas: 1. Thoughts. 2. Emotions.

Thoughts:

a) Exercise 1: You need to clear your mind first.

This exercise is great for clearing your mind of thoughts. When you finish the exercise, you feel like if you have downloaded all your thoughts. Your mind will feel and be at peace.

What you need to do:

  • Make 20 minutes of your time available for this exercise.
  • Find some privacy, in a room without any distraction (television, music, etc.)
  • You need a pen or pencil, and paper. You will need like three pages of white paper.
  • Start a stop watch with 20 minutes, and start writing everything that comes to your mind. Try to think about problems or tasks that you have to take care of, but write everything that comes to your mind. Even if it is silly, or a negative thought about the exercise. Write each and every thought you are having. If you can´t think of anything, write that down “I can´t think of anything”.
  • When the 20 minutes are over, STOP!
  • Go over everything you wrote making a check mark on every thought you had that YOU can do something about it. If it is in your hands, to do it… then put a check next to it.
  • Everything that is NOT in your hands to do something, anything about it… you need to DISCARD that thought or task.
  • You will have a list of thoughts or tasks that YOU can do something about them. Go over those tasks, and divide them between EMOTIONAL content or task, and OTHER tasks.
  • I divide them like that in order to find out how many of those tasks are emotional in nature. By that I mean, like if I haven´t talked about a problem with my spouse and I have been thinking a lot about it, I would set it aside as an EMOTIONAL issue or task.

    You have to divide them like that because you can´t be productive if you have a lot of emotional issues.

    Emotions play a great role on productivity, as they have direct impact on your affective state, and through it, to your conduct, decisions, and motivation.

    b) Exercise 2: How to deal with recurring or even obsessive thoughts.

    First of all, you may have recurring thoughts that are rational, or even irrational, depending on the problem, or task, and also your like or dislike of the problem or task.

    No, this does not mean you are crazy, it is just the way the mind is.

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy puts is this way:

    You have an Activating Event, or problem or task, that it sets your belief systems, and you may be having rational, or irrational thoughts, and because of that you may get positive or negative emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

    If for the outcome, you get negative thoughts, emotions, and behavior you can´t be productive. You will have to fight them, in order to become productive.

    ABC of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    ABC of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    What you need to do is try to have task oriented thoughts. The problem is that you always have more distracting thoughts, as anxiety kicks in. Remember the Yerkes-Dodson Law.

    In order to keep your thoughts focused, try to think with percentages. Since the use of percentages is mathematics, your brain thinks its being more rational.

    For example, you may be thinking: “I need to finish this post by today, or else… everything will be doomed, my webpage, business, etc.” That is a negative thought. If you have it, counter it, by thinking “What is the percentage of that being true?” and try to give a percentage as an answer.

    You may learn that the brain overreacts, and that by using percentages you tend to keep it real.

    You may also think: “What´s the worst that can happen?” and if you get the doomsday answer, you may think “When was the last time that it really happened?” You may learn, that the answer is NEVER.

    Emotions:

    In order to be productive you need to get rid of your negative emotions, dealing with them the right way. Don´t try to just go with the flow. If you really want to be productive, you must learn how to understand your emotional self, and deal with your negative emotions.

    If when you did the first exercise, you got a lot of emotional issues, I would suggest for you to take some therapy, in order to learn how to cope with it. You could do it with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

    You could also do it with my method, the Energy Psychology way, that is fast and to the point. In that case, you just need to put your details at the bottom of this page.

    You may want to read my post on dealing with negative emotions.

    You may also follow my links at the RESOURCES page.

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