A few months ago, I read a thought-provoking article by Jason Feifer called “Do you have productivity dysmorphia? Here’s the cure.”
Obviously, as a productivity nerd, I devoured it immediately. I’d never even heard the phrase ‘productivity dysmorphia.’
Jason himself learned the phrase from Anna Codrea-Rado, who described it this way:
“Whenever I am asked about my work, I dodge the question. Earlier this year I published my first book and whenever someone remarks how proud I must be, a bubble of shame grows inside because, well, I’m just not. In an attempt to rid myself of that feeling, I do more. I work harder. I endeavor to be more productive.”
Dysmorphia is a big and layered term, but the phrase was meant to capture one idea – we may expect a big feeling of exaltation when we reach a goal, but we often don’t see our success at all.
At best, we just move on to the next thing. At worst, we hone in on the flaws in our so-called accomplishment and experience it as something just shy of a failure.
I’m not sure if this resonates with you, but I have done this more times than I can count.
Why does this happen? Jason and Anna have a few theories:
- Upper limiting or hedonic adaptation – we have a baseline level of happiness that we don’t tend to vary from for long, and we often don’t let ourselves become happier than we think we deserve
- Cultural messages telling us we’re never enough (which can be especially heavy depending on someone’s race, gender, or class)
- Mental health experiences like anxiety, ADHD, or OCD
- The fact that many of our accomplishments are a gradual result of a long process rather than a sudden transformation
I also wrote about not seeing our successes in Eureka Results with a theory of my own: we tend to move the goalpost right before we reach it.
How in the world are we supposed to change all of that? I’m starting to realize that for myself, I have to start with a healthy distrust of my own perspective. If I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished something, it doesn’t mean I haven’t. I can still make the choice to mark and celebrate how far I’ve come, even if my emotions don’t “match.”
And just like the pictures of me that I hate in the moment and love ten years later, maybe I’ll look back on those celebrations and finally feel what it meant.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Jason:
“We expect accomplishments to feel like we won the lottery — which is to say, something abrupt and transformative. But true accomplishments are built towards. They happen so gradually that, in the end, they don’t feel like anything….
Therefore, I have only one remedy to suggest: Take stock of your accomplishments over time. Pause to appreciate them when they happen, no matter how big or small. But also, look backwards at certain times and celebrate. You got from all the way back there to HERE!”
I’d love to hear from you – have you experienced something like this? How do you respond when it happens?