ProdPod: Episode 81 — Productivity and Your Two Minds

Thanks to the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist and father of behavioral economics, Daniel Kahneman, the scientific community has a deeper understanding of well-being. To wit, Kahneman revealed that humans live with two minds–our experiencing and remembering selves. In this episode I’d like to discuss these two selves and how it relates to your personal productivity.

The experiencing self is that which answers the question, “How do I feel right now?”…what you sense is most important to your experiencing self. Sensory-specific, the experiencing self is mostly focused on the present view of sights, sounds, smells, physical sensations, and tastes.

The remembering self, on the other hand, is a past-focused mind and makes decisions intuitively based on what our brain memorializes of our experiences. It answers the question, “What happened?”…what you perceive happened becomes the story you remember and reinforces it as reality.

One way of looking at it is that the experiencing self renders facts now while the remembering self tells stories about what happened.

Do you remember the last time you worked on a really difficult project or task? Well, it turns out that Kahneman’s research explains why we dread, procrastinate and even remember projects or tasks as difficult. You see, Kahneman writes about moment-utility (which I’ve provided a link to his paper explaining it below); the idea is to capture much more in-the-moment data as you experience a situation, such as working on a really difficult project or task. It turns out that when your experiencing self does the tracking and analysis, you have a better assessment of your experiences and you also have a better feeling about positive outcomes. Using Kahneman’s findings, I recommend that when you’re dealing with a difficult project or task to answer these three series of questions:

  1. “How do I physically feel right now?” (The likelihood is that physically you’re fine.)
  2. “What does success, accomplishment or complete look like for me in the next five to 15 minutes?” (This gives you a more realistic view of the project or task.)
  3. At the point of ending a project, task or a period of finishing some part of either, ask yourself (and even better, write it down somewhere), “how good/accomplished do I feel? What have I learned that I can use in the future?” (Ending on a positive message will give your remembering self something to look back on to equate your productivity with a positive affect.) You see, ending on a high note, or on a less negative tone, than the initial upstart difficulty will inevitably teach your remembering self that difficult projects or tasks usually only start off that way. And, even if there are challenges along the way, it’s usually only difficult in peak periods. This rewriting of your brain patterns will make you leap at new challenges instead of sulking when you look at your project or task list and see something that might be tough…and this will make you sincerely more productive.

See also:
Dr. Kahneman’s research paper on