Many cultural influences stoke this belief. Whether you’re religious or not, you’ve heard it in the phrase “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” You’re probably also familiar with the Puritan work ethic. Beyond religious beliefs, the U.S. was founded on the idea that if you work hard, you’ll get ahead. And the converse: If you don’t end up ahead, the fault is yours and yours alone. Psychology took up the theme of our suspect nature when Freud postulated that we’re born as an uncivilized id, which is akin to a wild animal, and that maturation is about taming the beast.
When you’re trying to be productive, however, you don’t want to bypass your intellect. You think better when your parasympathetic nervous system is engaged and you’re relaxed and calm. Focus and concentration are enhanced precisely because you’re not worried. This is when you have greater access to creativity and problem-solving skills.
If you have been productive while stressed, you’ve done so in spite of the stress—not because of it. How would you raise a child? Would you tell them that in order to achieve, they need to stress themselves out with negative messages about their laziness and ineptitude, or would you encourage them to relax and connect to their abilities and competencies? Try the latter on yourself, and see what happens.