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Check in with yourself

Embrace “contemplation, slow-living, and self-compassion”, as antidotes to our achievement-obsessed culture.   | Photo Credit: Freepik

That Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles had to bow out of the French Open and the Olympic Games respectively due to stress and mental health issues reveals the intense pressure that stellar athletes are subjected to. Unfortunately, the pressure-cooker environment that stifled these two sportswomen is not limited to the world of sport, but pervades practically every field. Across the world, we see a toxic culture of success and uber-achievement permeate lives.

Psychologist Maria Kordowicz acknowledges the ubiquitous worship of productivity in a blog post titled “You are more than your productivity” of the British Psychological Society. In our metric-obsessed world, productivity has become a value unto itself, she argues. While productivity in the industrialised world has always been clocked and measured with performance appraisals, the same standards and principles have percolated into other avenues of life as well. So much so that, as soon as babies are born, the resume planning and plotting begins. From getting admission into a prestigious ‘feeder’ pre-school, parents vie for limited seats in top-notch schools. Thus unfolds a saga of continual assessing, coaching, achieving, measuring and ranking.

From academics to badminton to music, children are expected to succeed on all fronts. Further, they are encouraged to embrace the standards of productivity from an early age. Kordowicz provides the example of primary-school children in England who are coaxed to read at a rapid rate so that they can score maximally on a timed standardised test. The idea of reading to soak in knowledge by mulling over concepts or for sheer pleasure is lost.

Instead of forging lives imbued with meaning, we seek to fill our days with productive pursuits. As a result, Kordowicz points out, productivity has become “an end in itself.” ‘Busy’ has become a way of being, with productivity coaches and hacks telling us how to do more, work better and faster.

Kordowicz sounds a clarion call against this push for constant productivity, as it can jeopardize our physical and mental health. She advocates that we embrace “contemplation, slow-living, and self-compassion” as antidotes to our achievement-obsessed culture. Further, as stress continues to erode lives, we appreciate the importance of resilience, or the ability to bounce back from setbacks. Unfortunately, in our success-obsessed world, resilience often implies continuing to be productive despite undergoing setbacks. Kordowicz rightly reminds us that resilience involves knowing when to step back and having the courage to do so. By opting out of high-stakes competitions, Osaka and Biles are, in fact, role models of resilience for bravely prioritising their mental health over winning laurels and accolades.

In fact, another Olympian, marathoner Molly Seidel, took the bold step of pausing and quitting before rebounding. An article in The New York Times states that Seidel skipped the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials because she was overcome by psychological distress. At that time, she thought it was the end of her Olympian dreams. However, she underwent treatment and emerged not only mentally stronger but also a fitter athlete, who went on to win the bronze medal in 2021.

Seidel’s story illustrates that success need not always be an unbroken line. While the world may not prioritise patience, rest and self-compassion, Seidel has demonstrated the importance of checking in with ourselves, first and foremost, especially when the going gets tough. No matter how high the stakes, no medal or prize is worth forsaking your physical and psychological well-being.

The writer is the author of Zero Limits: Things Every 20-Something Should Know and blogs at

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2021 3:06:20 AM |

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