Equanimity is the real productivity hack
Unlearning that nagging "I'm not doing it right feeling"
Dear reader - I love you. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been redoing my website, launching my first online class, taking ketamine,1 surviving and thriving and cleaning up my inbox, which is where I came across this recent piece of shit:
Currently, I’m writing to you at my Fully Jarvis standing desk. As I sip on “bulletproof” coffee, energy-promoting blue light is shining on my face. I breathe in notes of peppermint and lemon as my Vitruvi Diffuser releases focus-boosting essential oils. Humming through my Sonos One speaker is a top-secret flow-inducing playlist. Alright, I’ll let you in on the secret. I’m listening to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack on repeat. (I know you’re laughing, but try it. Seriously.)
I gaze at my laptop’s periphery through the window. The same window through which, last Tuesday, I lost a staring contest to a black bear. I live in Vermont at 1700 feet. I’m on the side of a mountain, with long-range views—isolated from distraction. Save for my neighbor, on the other side of the mountain, who installed a private ski lift.
This all might sound like a parody of productivity. In many ways, it is. But it’s also true. These scientifically proven tactics work.
NEVER HAVE I EVER WANTED TO PUNCH SOMEONE IN THE FACE HARDER.
WITH A WEAPON.
WHILE LIVE STREAMING.
I’m sure [redacted] is a really great guy while not fellating Tim Ferriss or Dr. Andrew Huberman, though a great guy—like most tech bros!— who is unawares of complexity science and complex systems and all of that fun stuff.
In a nutshell: complexity states that you can’t guess what cake is going to taste like by looking at flour, sugar, egg, and butter. More variables in a system mean more interactions within the system (activity, uncertainty, compounding effects, intersecting feedback loops, variability and change over time), none of which can be predicted.
When we add 2+2, we know all of the variables and can predict the outcome with 100% certainty. But as systems become more complex, they become more unpredictable—vibrant, self-organizing, evolving, chaotic. This is the stuff of real life.2
Life can’t be broken down to a formula because there are too many variables. Not all of them are quantifiable.
So while our brains love certainty and answers and the objective satisfaction of Feeling Correct that we cling to these marshmallow tests, these grit methodologies, these authors of Predictably Rational claiming monstrosities like “most people will choose to die by the light of the full moon if asked after a glass of mead, and by lethal injection if asked after shots of Jagermeister.” (Predictably Rational guy, btw, is a fraud.)
The Blue Light Doesn’t Matter
I have had the blue light, the bulletproof coffee, the optimized playlist. The view from my desk is trees. Just trees. They’re nice, but they’re like 2% of the picture. Maybe. These visible shiny things tend to be evidence—conspicuous information consumption—that a would-be influencer has listened to the latest podcast, ingested the most recent life hack recipes.
The wise person knows that the visible shiny things are not the whole picture. My grandmother, creator of 7 human beings on a shoestring budget, was more productive than any of these Yes Men ever will be.
People who get the most done don’t have time to fuck around with blue lights. They are too busy.
They are too busy wiping faces and commuting and reheating soup. They are too busy cursing Netflix for changing their password policy. They are too busy living to actually blog about it.
The blue light makes us feel like we have our shit together, like we’re in the know. But that doesn’t make us better people, or better able to do whatever it is that we want to do.
Feeling like we need the blue light, the 60 minutes of lifting before we have bulletproof coffee, etc., actually make us more fragile.
Equanimity is a state of psychological stability and composure which is undisturbed by the experience of or exposure to emotions, pain, or other phenomena that may cause others to lose the balance of their mind.
Not needing a special space to work, a system of complete control, is the real productivity hack.
Equanimity is emotional sobriety, the ability to keep going despite all of that other crap that life throws at you. Being comfortable making whatever progress you can today, wherever you are right now, is the real productivity hack.
For true equanimity, we need to rid ourselves of the illusion that everything will be perfect once we get X in place—once we pay that bill (because there will be another), once we get the right partner (because life will just be different), once we figure out a system or take that online course. That candle, that planner, that desk, that coffee can only get you so far.
It’s not the candle’s fault. It’s the need for the candle, course, and planner—and that’s the itch of internalized capitalism.
Because every one of these itches comes from somewhere—a message from someone who is selling you something.
So let’s give a round of applause for people who manage to get things done amidst chaos and don’t blog about it, who don’t create online courses and become influencers, who aren’t inundating us with the idea that there is One Neat Trick you need to Get Things Done. They are our teachers and mothers and parents and friends, our grandparents—may they rest in peace.
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You can’t use the scientific method when it comes to behavior, which is why we always hear about scandals in psychology: when ego meets competition and “I am doing the work on my own for a few years,” you’re bound to cheat—even if it’s as innocuous sounding as “running your experiment until you get a result.”