The Productivity Myth and How it’s Killing Your Brain

These are the signs of a harassed brain.

By Dr Joanny Lui August 2016 Issue

There never seems to be enough time. There are too many top priorities. There are too many meetings, many unnecessary and a complete waste of time.
stressed_woman_at_work_paperwork Are you making a dent in that to-do list? Why does it seem to get longer? Why aren’t you making headway?

Are you having trouble falling asleep? Are you waking up in the middle of the night? -Both? Or are you not sleeping at all? Is your mind filled with monkey chatter? Or is it numbed out but still won’t shut down even when dead tired?

Are you having headaches? A lousy love life? And feeling guilty about it?  Depressed? Feeling fat? Underweight? Unattractive?

Are you having difficulty making decisions? Are you confused and foggy-brained?

Did you answer, “Yes” to these questions? It’s time to reexamine the way you’re doing things because if you keep going down this road, your brain is going to suffer. In fact, it’s already suffering.

Burnout is at hand but you’re not alone! And I have several solutions for you. Some of them you won’t expect.

No One Truly Thrives Under Pressure

Businesswoman with marker leaning head against wall
Businesswoman with marker leaning head against wall


The biggest lie about the productivity myth is that people love pressure. So they do the things whic h INCREASE pressure instead of increasing ef
ficiency and efficacy. These include writing to-do lists, hunkering down, and the worse of them all, multi-tasking,

You’re bogged down in details that don’t matter. You’re bogged down in meetings you don’t need to attend. You’re at the mercy of someone else’s agenda. Your attention is divided in so many directions. It’s not a wonder that you can’t identify what’s important anymore.

And in there you’ve lost sight of the original objective. You forget what it is. You forget why you’re doing what you doing. This is the formula for mass confusion. And it doesn’t just affect you at work. It affects you everywhere else in your life.

Ineffectiveness and helplessness are contagious. You may turn into a whiner or a stoic statue, totally numbed by the experience of the same type of situations occurring over and over again. Don’t you see a pattern?


Believe me, I’ve been there. The day I discovered the solutions to these things was the day I finally found the road to freedom – and clarity.

 This is You on Stress

There are millions of biochemical reactions going on inside you. Even as you sit here and read this article, millions of reactions have just finiStressed Business Owner-1000x485shed, are starting, or are taking place right now. You don’t know they’re happening.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There are certain things that happen and you definitely know it. It has to do with the mind-body connection.

This mind-body connection is neither hard to explain nor to prove. And modern science has proven it too, but they don’t call it the mind-body connection! They call it the Stress Response.

You have many physical reactions when you’re afraid, angry or upset.  For example, what happens when you get scared? Your heart beats a lot faster. Your blood pressure rises. Your breathing gets quicker and more shallow. Your skin might flush or you go pale. But the reactions aren’t just physical. Your emotional state is also affected.  It was triggered first. You’ve turned on the Sympathetic Nervous System.

On the other hand, your body has fantastic recovery mechanisms to calm you down quickly. Normally this happens within minutes. As you calm down, everything relaxes. You’ve now tuned in on the Parasympathetic Nervous System.

Both mechanisms – that of a strong emotion and that of calming down – have biochemical components behind them. These tired_1794882bbiochemical responses are normal. What’s not normal is when the responses during stressful times begin to dominate. They harm you more than you may think, and they are a big factor in any chronic physical and mental issues you may be experiencing.

Researchers have found that 50 percent of people who have suffered from heart attacks don’t have clogged arteries. So what is going on here? Studies have discovered that other factors may cause heart disease. Notably, they have found evidence that anger is a factor in many of those who suffer from heart attacks. They are achingly and slowly validating what Chinese Medicine identified as key factors – the emotions – in all manner of disease, injury and pain. Worse yet they don’t know how to use the information except in very general terms when they tell you to keep your stress levels down without an actual guidance system to assist you with the things that are stressing you out now.

 The Stress Response and You

Let’s look at the brain for a minute. The two most important parts of the brain, when it comes to the stress response are the hypothalamus and the hippocampus. The hypothalamus is responsible for all the biochemical messengers of the entire body such as neurotransmitters like dopamine and some of the hormones such as oxytocin. The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration and your body, including your weight.

stressed-out-business-woman-750xx3885-2185-0-190The hippocampus deals with memories, learning, and emotions.  It‘s also where most new brain cells are created well into old age because hopefully, you’re still creating new memories. Make a note of this: The type and quality of the memory counts.

Your body’s stress response kicks off as soon as you perceive a threat or danger, whether REAL or IMAGINED. The brain doesn’t know the difference. Neither does your body. Chronic stress depletes or causes an imbalance in the level of neurotransmitters, which lead to the adverse effects of stress.

Here’s what happens during a stressful bout. The hypothalamus automatically sends signals down your spinal cord to the adrenal glands, which sit on top of your kidneys, which will secrete the stress hormone, adrenaline. It also sends signals to your pituitary gland at the bottom of your brain and tells it to release factors to stimulate your adrenal cortex (in the adrenal glands I just talked about) to produce a stress hormone called cortisol.

At the same time, the hypothalamus and the hippocampus are “monitoring” and communicating with each other. If the hippocampus is healthy, it’ll tell the hypothalamus to stop releasing cortisol when it reaches a certain level. But if you’re often unhappy or stressed out or numbed out, then too much stress hormones damage the hippocampus. So a damaged hippocampus can’t tell the hypothalamus to stop, so more stress hormones are released which causes a vicious cycle.

That’s why you might find that it takes you a long time to calm down!

Here’s what you should be concerned about – too much cortisol excites the neurons so much that they start firing off too often. This starts killing OFF neurons in the hippocampus, which you know governs memory and learning and where most of your new neurons are created. The result? Existing brain cells DIE off and new ones don’t get created.

Your brain actually shrinks.  It atrophies. Stress makes you stupid. Sure, everyone is different and everyone handles life in their own unique way, some more successfully than others. But if you’re not fired up every day doing what you’re doing, then you have lost something very important.


When you’re in a chronic negative mental state, you’re reinforcing certain neural networks inside your brain.  The cells in your body and brain start craving stress hormones. That’s why you can get into so many vicious cycles that look familiar and you wonder why life doesn’t change.

You have to make the conscious decision to change your life.

Stress Kills Brain Cells. Optimism Heals Them

You CAN reverse the bad things that are happening inside your brain! It takes work. You’ve got to think, be and do differently in order to revitalize your brain (and your body since everything is equivocally connected.)

So, in order to become well again and stay well, the following medical trend is VERY important.

Optimism Overcomes Obstacles

Here are the traits of emotionally strong (optimistic) people:

  • Grateful
  • Generous of themselves with others
  • Hang out with upbeat people
  • Ignore naysayers
  • More successful
  • Persevere
  • Enjoy overall better health

When you feel good you’re patching into certain hormones and neurotransmitters. You’ve got plenty of dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin. When you’ve got an abundance of each of one of these, you’ll feel very positive about your life.

Small-Business-3In order to take back control of your brain you have to choose to think differently and to feel differently. Remember it’s all about which nervous system you’re turning on. You have control over this.

Dopamine flows when

  • You take a step towards a goal.
  • You expect to be rewarded.
  • Your efforts are rewarded.
  • You achieve your goal.

Serotonin flows when you feel you are important, that you matter. That’s self-confidence. Not narcissism.

Oxytocin flows from

  • Human touch
  • Thinking and feeling fondly about someone you love or care about (and that better include yourself!)

When you’re optimistic:

  • You set goals.
  • You feel motivated.
  • You take action.
  • You’re enthusiastic.
  • You’re confident.
  • You can think straight.
  • You’re more resilient.
  • You’re memory is great.

Let’s face it. Whenever you’ve achieved anything you believed you could. You were enthusiastic. You were optimistic. You ignored the doubts, from yourself and others. You just went and did it, even when it was hard.


How to Boost Productivity and Win Back Your Brain

In order to improve you have to make a conscious decision that you’re going to change for the better. Here’s a number of actions I suggest you take to win back clarity of mind and ensure brain health.

  1. Decide that you’re going to control your own time.
  2. Know why you work on anything. This is BIG because if you know why, then it will have meaning and you’ll feel compelled to do it.
  3. Block Time. Block time is scheduling chunks of time in advance when you can have the time to do the work. There are no results unless you do the work. Guard that time jealously. Make it known that this is important. Encourage others to do the same.
  4. Focus on one task at a time and finish it. Do as much as you can in your block time to do the best to your ability. Get your team to do the same thing.
  5. Slow Down to Speed Up. If you’re feeling unfocused and harried, please stop whatever it is you’re trying to do and force yourself to calm down and be quiet. This may only take a few minutes. Remember what I said about stress making you stupid? Start thinking straight again with a well deserved break.
  6. Stop multi-tasking. Your brain can only focus on one task at a time. Multitasking is actually a reason for loss of focus and concentration.
  7. Prioritize. Prioritize. Get it straight. Identify what’s really important. If priorities change, then what has to be dropped to address it. Here’s a quick resource for you about prioritizing:
  8. Challenges and obstacles are bound to happen. You need to understand that they will always happen, BUT they’re just circumstances AND temporary. You are greater than any temporary circumstance.


These are my recommendations for a saner life. You have control over what you do and nothing else, but you must make the decision that YOU are in control.

This article was adapted from a live event called, “De-Stressing Leadership LIVE Event“, January 29, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Need help to get clarity and self-confidence back in your life? Dr. Joanny Liu offers an Initial Consultation as a first step at



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