February 17th, 2023
By Kelly Brogan, M.D.
Hello, I’m Kelly Brogan, and I’m a productivity junkie.
Yes, I have lived so many years in my masculine energy that doing, fixing, mastering, owning, and finishing have been my most defining features. As an ambitious doer, I am wired differently – and it may sound great, but trust me, it’s not.
Being a productivity addict feels, in so many ways, the same as a living a life crippled by incompletion and ineffectiveness. Both lifestyles feel overwhelming because of an external focus on evidence for self worth. There’s a racket in the mind and it’s saying: there’s not enough. Ever.
You may struggle with feeling easily overwhelmed by the slightest responsibility. Feel like your to-do lists are screaming at you. Feel a depth of inadequacy around your multiple roles as mother, friend, lover, employee, that seems to condemn your very worth as a human. You might struggle to think of a single instance in which you did something “right” or “well”. Burn out might feel like your most defining feature.
We have both told ourselves who we are and then stuck to that script. In fact, any departure from the script is so uncomfortable that it reveals our attachment to this identity. It might feel surprising, but deeply resonant, to hear that your greatest fear is actually succeeding, shining, and coming into your fullest expression. Just like mine might be relinquishing my identification with success and ambition.
I can tell you that there is a powerful way to flip the script on your programmed self. It involves sending yourself a different signal. And it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Accepting a challenge: Silence
Last year, I began to get multiple recommendations, from different sources, that I needed to get quiet. Get quiet? Well, that’s not hard. I love reading, and writing, and thinking. I do yoga and SoulCycle, and dance, and I don’t talk to anyone during those hours!
Then I understood more clearly what the challenge was – get quiet and do nothing. My resistance flared like a mama bear protecting her coddled babies. No way. I don’t have time for that.
And then I forced myself. I took the plunge.
I scheduled half a day, alerted my team and my family, and walked outside. No phone, no pen, no paper. Just me, my legs, and my chattering mind. I walked for 3 hours,
It felt excruciating.
I almost jumped ship about 45 times as the flood of tasks, thoughts, and even inspirations rushed in. I told myself story after story about how I needed to make this time worthwhile. I needed to get something out of it if I wasn’t going to be doing something with it. Well, isn’t that just productivity dressed up in a self-betterment costume?
Finally, in the last 45 minutes or so, I let go. I felt my feet moving. I used the mantra Sat Nam, with every step – Truth is my identity. And I finally felt a bit of surrender to just being there. I touched that elusive sense that the car was going to get where it needed to go even if I wasn’t slamming on the gas. I felt that maybe I didn’t need to always drive. That I just needed to be aware that I was in it, check out the scenery, and enjoy the ride.
I’ve incorporated silent meditation into my life – initially weekly, and now once a month for 1-3 hours and I believe this simple behavior is responsible for a massive shift in my consciousness.
Here are some of the explanations I’ve come up with:
Get outside where you belong
As I become increasingly more skeptical of our ability to use intellect to get us out of the mess we’re in – personally and planetarily – I have developed a sense of awe around the power of the simple things to heal. Food, movement, sleep, sunlight, and contact with nature.
There is no way that we evolved over millions of years to sit, hunched over a desk, at a computer, blue light irradiating us all day and into the night.
In fact, some researchers argue that we are suffering from “Paleo-deficit disorder” in which our lack of exposure to green space, whole food, environmental microbes, and movement account for much of what we are calling chronic disease and specifically mental illness.
Science, at its best, helps us to honor our inner wisdom. The Japanese practice of Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing, has been studied in the trial setting to quantify the known benefits – improved sense of vitality, and mood, and decreased anxiety, and anger. In a crossover trial by Park et al, even 15 minutes of walking in the forest relative to an urban setting resulted in “lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity”. Researchers theorize that breathing in volatile compounds from trees and organic decay signal our immune system, resulting in these favorable shifts. We have a long history of harmony with this ecosystem…remember that, because your body does.
The most powerful antidote to struggle, suffering, and overwhelm is the state of gratitude. Heartmath Institute has demonstrated that we come into bioelectric coherence (the brain, lungs, and heart come into optimal synchronicity) when we breathe consciously and feel gratitude. I still remember the eyeroll I felt internally, the first time I heard their recommendation to visualize your breath coming in and out of your heart while feeling a sense of thankfulness. Touchy feely nonsense, right? Trust me, this feeling is the way out. It’s the escape hatch from all that rubs you wrong about life, from the big to the small. And if you really want to launch your experience into high gear, I recommend checking out the advanced version of gratitude – wonder. When you feel the mystery and you feel the love it inspires, you are washed over with a sense of wonder and awe that leaves you feeling truly alive. THIS is what we are all after, every day of our lives. It’s only when we forget that this experience is readily available to us that we descend into disconnection, anger, and hopelessness. Reclaim it. The natural world reminds us of our place as a part of a grander whole, a whole that is wild and wonderful and far more real than our daily grind.
You have to decide whether your goal in life is stasis and comfort or whether it’s growth and expansion. I’ve come to believe that striving for ease, stability, and comfort can lead you to live forever in the future that never comes. You’re always, “almost there” with all the details of your perfectly safe life almost worked out. And in the meantime, you are disavowing our most human characteristic – creative drive. We need to create and we need to connect to our creative impulse. The universe, at its most fundamental, is shifting and moving at all times, and in ways that are unpredictable and nonlinear. We are all cocreating, together, at every moment. Creation is change.
When you realize this, you are forced to acknowledge that the more we let go, and confront the spaces and places we are gripping (do you really NEED that job? That relationship? That car? That cupcake?), the more free we are to actually experience those very things in their most authentic form. What I mean is that, in the gripping, there is a fear and a program of control that seeps into our very experience of the things and people that we value. It corrupts that experience. If we toy with letting go and trusting in the unfoldment, then we get to actually have what it is that we really need. Let go to get back.
Doing a silent meditation may feel like the last thing on earth you want to do. That’s exactly why you should do it.
Perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that we can shift our consciousness, our psychology, and our life experience by sending ourselves meta-signals. Yes, meta-signals. These are big messages delivered through small behaviors.
When my patients decide to follow my Vital Mind Reset diet recommendations, is it the nutrient density, the blood sugar balancing, the elimination of inflammatory foods? Or is it that they are engaging in a ritual of alignment with the natural world, with honoring their organism, and with mindful engagement?
When we take hours out of our busy-ness to walk around aimlessly, in solitude, in nature, we are sending ourselves the signal that there is time, afterall. We are walking the walk of abundance. When we act like there’s time to experience beauty in nature, then, things begin to shift so that there actually is time. More of it.
I’ve noted that neurotic controlling energy takes up a lot of time whereas things fall into place far more elegantly and with far less effort when you act like you’re here to enjoy life rather than dominate it. It’s almost like some high level reverse psychology.
See what happens if you start acting like you have all the time in the world. You might just find that you do…
About the author:
Dr. Kelly Brogan is boarded in Psychiatry / Psychosomatic Medicine / Reproductive Psychiatry and Integrative Holistic Medicine, and practices Functional Medicine, a root-cause approach to illness as a manifestation of multiple-interrelated systems. After studying Cognitive Neuroscience at M.I.T., and receiving her M.D. from Cornell University, she completed her residency and fellowship at Bellevue/NYU. She is one of the nation’s only physicians with perinatal psychiatric training who takes a holistic evidence-based approach in the care of patients with a focus on environmental medicine and nutrition. She is also a mom of two, and an active supporter of women’s birth experience. She is the Medical Director for FearlessParent.org, and an advisory board member for GreenMedInfo.com.
You can visit her website at kellybroganmd.com, where this article was first published. © Kelly Brogan MD. This work is reproduced and distributed with the permission of Kelly Brogan MD. For more articles, sign up for the newsletter at kellybroganmd.com.