The productivity myth and how it’s killing your brain

Dr. Joanny

Dr. Joanny Lie



These are the signs of a harassed brain.


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.


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? Lousy love life? 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 any of these questions?


If so, it’s time to re-examine the way you are doing things. If you keep going down this road, your brain is going to suffer. In fact, it is already suffering.


Burnout is at hand. The good news is, you are not alone! And I have several solutions for you. Some of them will surprise you.


No One Truly Thrives Under Pressure


The biggest lie about the productivity myth is that people love pressure. So they do the things which INCREASE pressure instead of increasing efficiency and efficacy. These include writing to-do lists, hunkering down, and the worst of all, multi-tasking.


You are bogged down in details that do not matter. You are bogged down in meetings you do not need to attend. You are at the mercy of someone else’s agenda. Your attention is divided in so many directions. It is no wonder that you cannot identify what’s important anymore.


You have lost sight of the original objective. You forget why you are doing what you doing. This is the formula for mass confusion. It affects you everywhere 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 and read this article, millions of reactions have just finished, are starting, or are taking place now. You don’t know they are 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. Modern science has proven it, but they don’t call it the mind-body connection; they call it the Stress Response.


You have many physical reactions when you are afraid, angry or upset. For example, what happens when you get scared? Your heart beats 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 biochemical 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% of people who have suffered 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 including 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 weight.


The hippocampus deals with memories, learning, and emotions. It is also where most new brain cells are created well into old age because, hopefully, you are 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 leads 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) 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 will tell the hypothalamus to stop releasing cortisol when it reaches a certain level. But if you are often unhappy or stressed out or numbed out, then too much stress hormones damage the hippocampus. 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 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 handles life in a unique way, but if you are not fired up every day, then you have lost something very important.




When you are in a chronic negative mental state, you are reinforcing certain neural networks. The cells in your body and brain start craving stress hormones. That’s why you can get into so many terrible patterns that look familiar. 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.


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 better health


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


In 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 are turning on. You have control over this.


Dopamine flows when

  • You take a step toward 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 are enthusiastic
  • You are confident
  • You can think straight
  • You are more resilient
  • Your memory is great


Let’s face it; whenever you have 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.


In order to improve, you have to make a conscious decision that you are going to change for the better. You have control over what you do and nothing else, but you must make the decision that YOU are in control.


Dr. Joanny Liu is an award-winning author and founder and chief human potential officer of Extraordinary Sports Medicine and Concussion Answers.