I learned a new term lately that sheds a lot of light — not only on my own life but on the lives of those who are closest to me. Productivity dysmorphia.
Truthfully, the first time I encountered the term, it was in a piece that was mocking neologisms — and cited this as a regrettable example of a new phrase coined lately that unnecessarily medicalizes societal phenomena. I shrugged at this opinion. I do tend to enjoy the birth of new language, finding it fascinating even if not all of it brings me personal utility. I like seeing how language evolves in real time– and at breathtaking speed with the help of the Internet.
At the same time, people often go too far with things — that’s what people do, after all. Makes for a lot of excitement, at the very least. So maybe they had a point.
But then a friend sent another article about productivity dysmorphia to me about a month later, and it hit so hard at that moment that I was like, “Okay, I should write something for the blog about this.”
What is Productivity Dysmorphia?
So what is productivity dysmorphia anyway? It’s an unhealthy relationship with your sense of productivity. When you achieve things, you may suffer from a nagging inner voice that says, “So what? What’s the big deal?” Yes, you may experience this even as other people congratulate you for your achievements.
And being unable to appreciate or really see your own success doesn’t just rob you of joy (though it does), it can lead you to work harder and push yourself harder until you reach burnout and even exceed burnout — because nothing will ever be good enough. Nothing will feel like real success.
You’ll never feel like you do enough.
The phenomenon developed its name from a comparison to a mental health disorder called body dysmorphia, a condition in which someone can’t stop obsessing or thinking about what they perceive to be flaws in their physical appearance.
This is the achievement-based version.
Frankly, I see it a lot in my friends, who overwhelmingly tend to be very driven, hard-working people — and I can see it in myself, as much as that pains me to admit it. Some of my friends have both productivity and body dysmorphia, and the two seem to feed one another.
There Isn’t a Quick & Easy Solution Here
I’m positive I lost a certain portion of the readership early on. They’re saying, “This isn’t a thing. Please stop making up words!” (For the record, I didn’t coin this one; I’m just reporting on it.)
For the rest of you, I suspect an awful lot of you are saying, “Okay, Page, uhh… what do I do about it?”
And I wish I had an easy answer for you here. But I don’t. It really depends on where your issues stem from. There could be a good case for therapy here if you can afford it and find a counselor with good therapeutic rapport and the toolset to help you out.
The reality is that the answer might be slowing down — which frustratingly is the thing someone who has productivity dysmorphia might be the most anxious about doing.
There are logistical barriers of course (ah, capitalism, how you grind us all down).
But there are also other external factors. In my own case, I’m surrounded by highly motivated, hard-working people. So they might very well view someone else’s slowdown as lazy or regrettable. Most of them have the tact to not say that, but if someone does, then that can hit hard.
I dunno. I wish I had a quick and easy solution here. But I don’t. There isn’t one. It’s just something to think about. Something to consider — for when you’re ready.