Feeling Guilty When Being Unproductive

Unproductivity GuiltI’m not sure how many people are going to relate to this feeling that I’m going to be talking about here, but I wanted to share it anyway. I know this may already be sounding a little bit weird, but do try and stick with me here.

So, what’s the best way that I can describe this feeling to everyone?

Well, it’s kinda’ like a mixture of restlessness along with a lack of fulfilment which usually grows into a concerning need to be doing something productive or meaningful. If this feeling gets left unattended for long enough, then it usually develops into a sense of guilt. Guilt for not doing things that could potentially help push me forward in life. If I’m not doing something which my brain feels is productive, then it feels like I’m simply wasting my time.

Does that make me sound crazy?

It’s like I’m mentally punishing myself for not doing more, achieving more, earning more, getting fitter etc… Thankfully, this feeling doesn’t exist all of the time. It’s really only there when I have nothing going on – usually at night through the week, or on the weekends if I have no real plans. But still, why is this? I mean, everyone is allowed time off, even if that time off involves doing nothing, so why do I unintentionally punish myself during these periods? It’s like my brain is constantly trying to urge me forwards or force me to be busy – even if I don’t understand the real reasons why.

This is why I’ve decided to write this post. It’s time to confront this feeling, and figure out what the hell is needed to resolve this inner conflict of mine. Hopefully, this will in turn help others with the same problem – if others even have this problem that is!

I’ll start with an example of what it’s like when I feel this way. This should help if you still have no idea what I’m even talking about.

So it’s midway through the week and I’ve finished work for the day. I’m back at home with my girlfriend in our flat. I’ve cooked our tea and finished a few boring chores that needed doing. I’ve organised my stuff for work the following day. I’ve phoned my Mum and had a chat with her. I’ve dealt with my emails and replied to messages that I didn’t get a chance to earlier on. And yet still, inside of my mind sounds like: “Iain, you should be doing something worthwhile. Don’t sit down and play games on your PS4. Don’t binge on Netflix. Don’t mindlessly browse social media. None of that’s going to get you anywhere is it!?”

Basically, anything which could be classed as unproductive is what my brain is telling me NOT to do.

So, why does this happen? Why can’t my brain just let me shut off for the day, instead of constantly thinking up things I should be doing that’s actually productive instead of just fun? Why do I feel guilty when doing something purely for entertainment. Is my brain really trying to tell me something here, or is it just being an asshole!?

After a lot of thinking… And I really do mean a lot of thinking! I feel this is all related to my own perception of time – more importantly, the rate at which I feel it passes. My close friends and family know all too well that I’m really bad for always saying things such as “That just felt like yesterday! Where the hell did the time go!?” It’s something I’m sure they get fed up hearing – I mean, even I get fed up hearing myself, so that doesn’t bode too well does it?

So what do I mean about my own perception of time, how could this cause me to feel guilty when I’m being unproductive?

Let me explain…

I’m 26 years young, turning 27 next week. It’s scary to comprehend just how quickly my life up until this point seems to have passed. I really do get what my Mum always told me now about “making the most of your school days and younger years” because before you know it – it’s passed! These last 4 years, in particular, have really shifted along at a terrifying rate! I think much of this has to do with the whole routine of adult life. I’ve gotten so used to getting up in the morning, going to work, doing work, coming home, having tea and going to bed – it’s like I’m now living my life on autopilot, something I’m sure most of us can relate to.

Perception of time
Is my perception of time responsible for causing me to feel like I always need to be busy?

My brief readings into our perception of time have confirmed what I initially thought was possible – that the problem really can be down to our daily routines. This is actually something very common, so common in fact that it’s been given a unique term called the “holiday paradox”. This is when time really does fly when you’re having fun, but when you’re looking back at those moments in retrospect, the time seems to have lasted longer and passed slower than it actually did at the moment.

An example of this would be to think of a recent trip away. Think of the things you got up to, the high moments and the low moments, things that maybe surprised you and things that bored you. Now, compare this with your average day/week of work. In your mind, which seems to have passed quicker? Chances are that the time away from work felt like it passed quicker during the moment, but when looking back like we are now, it actually feels slower. This is because you’re not simply on autopilot mode during these sort of experiences. When you’re visiting somewhere new or doing something exciting, your brain is making sure it’s taking it all in as fully as possible. The same can’t be said when you’re travelling the same route to work, to do the same job, to go the same route home and do the same things at night. This ends up feeling like one singular block of time – not multiple segments of time containing all sorts of different experiences.

So, what am I getting at with all of this? Well, when I take my own perception of time into account, I really do think it has a profound effect on my mind with this whole “needing to be productive” feeling. If time’s passing by so quickly, then I need to be making the absolute most of it as productively as I can, right?

On the other hand, maybe that’s the entirely wrong approach. Maybe I should instead focus on becoming more mindful. More open to new and exciting experiences, instead of always looking for something to keep me busy?

After some more googling, I actually found an interesting post from one of my favourite websites which discusses and agrees with this idea in great detail. They mention that it’s possible to slow down your perception of time and this is done by adding more novelty to your life. So I’ve decided that I’m going to give this a go. Apparently, even small changes in your life can be enough to make time feel as if it’s going slower. Simple things such as changing the route you drive to work or rearranging things in your home can be enough. I’m interested to see if this alone helps resolve my mental conflict with the “constant need” to be doing something productive, especially during my time off. If I can change my perception of time to make things feel like they’re passing slower, then maybe my mind won’t always be in such a rush to find something productive to do. I might get to enjoy chilling out playing games once again like when I was younger, instead of feeling guilty for knowing I’ve not done any “productive” tasks for the day.

Something worth noting is that this feeling has definitely become more of an issue in the last year or so. This got me thinking that it could just be part of growing up through your mid-twenties, or perhaps a side-effect of reading too much on self-improvement/self-development. Or maybe its linked to the fact that I’ve stopped any form of meditation in the last few months – this is definitely possible in my opinion, so more to come on that soon!

The point I’m getting at with all of this is that it’s really bloody frustrating! And that’s nothing compared to when this “need to be productive” gets amplified on the weekends, especially when I have nothing planned. If I can’t chill out and relax then, is there really any hope for me?

So, I’m going to make a conscious effort to add more novelty to my life. This will hopefully make my perception of time slow down, which in turn will allow my brain to chill out and stop seeking out these so-called productive tasks.

My overall thought here is – if I feel there’s more time available, then there’s less reason for my brain to always be looking for something to keep me busy and productive.

Man, I’m getting so sick of that word… productive.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’ll be sure to post back in a few weeks with my findings on this. If none of this ends up working, then at least I have attempted something. I’ll then know that something else needs to give, and I can attempt to figure that out.

If you can relate to any of these feelings I have mentioned, please leave a comment and let me know. It would be good to realise I’m not the only one who gets like this from time to time.

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