I work with a lot of therapy clients struggling to find their place in a culture that values productivity above almost everything else. These clients feel guilty when they aren’t maximizing their time. Lounging can be seen as sinful. There is a constant push for more and more and more efficiency. And while the constant pushing can lead to isolation and loneliness, they are not alone: in mainstream Western culture, we value doing more than being, action more than reflection, and self-improvement over self-acceptance.
There are lots of reasons for our culture’s focus on productivity. But in my office, there are two main reasons people stay so busy and driven:
- We fear slowing down. What happens when we spend time being quiet? It often means confronting parts of reality we’d rather push away. Many of us live with an inner critic, and that critic can be hard to tolerate at first when we spend time intentionally practicing reflection and self-acceptance.
- Our self-worth has become deeply linked to our productivity. If we only feel okay when we judge ourselves on our productivity, of course we don’t want to slow down. (When our self-worth is linked to productivity like this, it leaves us vulnerable to internal crises if we get sick or have a change in life roles at home or work.)
In counseling, I work with clients to help them recognize other options for self-worth that go beyond productivity. We build bridges to reconcile self-improvement and self-acceptance. We rediscover the pleasure of leisure time well spent – without the guilt.