Understanding Internalised Capitalism: Redefining Self-Worth Beyond Productivity

Do you ever feel that no matter how busy you are, how hard you work, or what you achieve, it’s not enough? There’s a phrase called “Internalised Capitalism” that describes adopting the values and pressures of a capitalist society as your own internal standards. Stay with me on this one.

In a world constantly buzzing with the pressure to be ultra-productive, it can be hard to see our own value beyond what we achieve. Such societal expectations can be incredibly challenging for your mental well-being and self-worth, especially when you feel like you’re falling short in those areas.

Success isn’t just about the hustle and bustle of getting things done. It’s about finding fulfilment in the relationships we build and the values we hold dear. It’s about instilling the belief that we’re so much more than our to-do lists.

In this article, I aim to explore this concept in more depth.

Internalised Capitalism and the Need to Break Free.

The term “Internalised Capitalism” was new to me. It was used by a friend to describe the guilt I was feeling for choosing not to work at my laptop all day, every day. This was a conscious decision I made after 20 years on the corporate hamster wheel, to prioritise my wellbeing, reduce stress, and pursue a different path.

I have to be honest, when I heard it, it made me stop and think. Initially, I reflected on how I’m failing on all these performance indicators right now. Then I thought a little deeper about how easy it is to fall into the trap where we question our worth.

It’s taken a while, but I’m slowly re-training my mental muscle to accept that it’s okay to work the hours that I choose, to put energy into doing what I love, like teaching yoga and writing. Weekends are for me, and I no longer prioritise proofing the latest product labels over spending time with loved ones.

The mindset that you’re only contributing to society if you are producing can lead to anxiety and depression. Breaking up with these ingrained ideas and detaching self-worth from the relentless pursuit of productivity is crucial for long-term well-being. It starts with rethinking the definition of success.

Rethinking the Definition of Success.

From a young age, we’re conditioned from all directions to believe that success and self-worth are closely tied to our achievements. We’re rewarded for ‘winning,’ and it’s ingrained in us that these achievements will bring happiness and that our value in society is contingent upon our productivity.

I loathe the notion that success is solely determined by our output or our accomplishments. Where “I’m so busy” is worn like a badge of honour, a symbol of our dedication and worth. Busyness doesn’t equal worthiness.

I’m not anti-capitalist by any means, nor do I scoff when my friends, family, or peers achieve. And of course, we have to work to feed our families. My frustration lies in how society keeps pushing for more, more, more, and how all this affects our self-worth.

I clearly remember saying to my mum that I wanted to look back on life and feel like I’d achieved something. I thought climbing the corporate ladder would give me the validation I was looking for. And yes, at the time, it brought financial rewards, nice holidays to Bali, and regular dining out at restaurants. I felt good for a while, accomplished, walking around in my fancy work clothes, feeling like I belonged on the rush-hour bus ride into the city.

breaking free from Internalised Capitalism

It’s not uncommon to hear celebrities, musicians, and businesspeople say how driven they were to get to the ‘top of their game,’ only to realise that once they got there, they were financially comfortable, but happiness eluded them. The majority would tell you that it didn’t bring the fulfilment they expected.

The conventional definition of success often revolves around professional achievements and material possessions. However, true success is found in the quality of our relationships, our ability to nurture our well-being, and living aligned with our core values.

Your self-worth is beyond external measures.

It’s important to recognise that your self-worth extends far beyond gaining external validation and your achievements. Your inherent value lies in your authenticity, in being you, and in cultivating genuine well-being irrespective of societal expectations.

Ram and I often see in people as they come into our Yoga and Meditation classes, how exhausted they are. They’re pushed to their boundaries; their body’s need rest. Stress from work and the busyness of life impacts their health and well-being significantly. This is especially true for women, who juggle home life, motherhood, and often full-time work.

In a world where burnout has become rampant, prioritising well-being and balance is non-negotiable. It’s time to shift the focus to a self-worth and identity based on the quality of our relationships, living by our core values and beliefs. Embrace self-care. Understand that rest and self-care are not indulgent luxuries but essential elements of a healthy and fulfilling life. Self-care is not selfish, nor should it be scoffed at. You should never feel guilty for giving yourself permission to slow down.

Embracing Balance and Well-being
Embracing Balance and Well-Being.

I appreciate that I’ve expressed some strong belief systems in this article, and you may not agree with everything I’ve said. However, it is undeniable that the relationship you have with yourself is the most important one you will ever have. So, tell me, why is it the relationship we neglect the most?

Happiness is found in small moments of joy. Give yourself permission to enjoy life outside of the productivity lens. Recognising and addressing internalised capitalism involves re-evaluating your personal values and finding a balance between work and other important aspects of your life, such as health, relationships, personal fulfilment, and prioritising your mental well-being.

This might include:
  1. Setting Boundaries: Create a healthy separation between work and personal time to prevent overwork and burnout. For example, remove work email apps from your phone and avoid checking your phone until after breakfast in the morning.
  2. Prioritising Self-care: Self-care as important as everything else you do in your day and as important as everyone else. It’s a muscle that you need to work on. Even just 10 minutes a day can make a difference. Savouring a quiet cup of coffee before the rest of the house wakes up. A weekly visit to your favourite coffee shop. Take a walk at lunchtime, or practice a 10-minute meditation before bed. Schedule this time into your diary just as you would schedule a work meeting or your child’s after school activities.
  3. Cultivating Hobbies: What activities bring you joy? Is there something you used to love doing but now think you don’t have time for? Perhaps it’s attending a weekly yoga class or starting a veggie garden.
  4. Prioritising rest: You can’t pour from an empty cup. Accept that rest is a vital part of your day, and you should never have to justify it. What truly relaxes you? Remember, your value isn’t solely determined by how much work you can accomplish. No one is indispensable.
  5. Nurturing Relationships: Treasure meaningful connections with your loved ones. Catch up with friends. Spend time with family at the weekends. Make time to attend your kid’s school play. Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and former professor at Harvard Medical School shared in a TED Talk how relationships are essential for a healthy, happy life. It’s human connection that adds meaning to our lives, not accomplishments. Working instead of fostering relationships decreases wellbeing. Fact.
Final thoughts

You deserve to live a life that brings you joy and fulfilment, regardless of society’s expectations. Keep exploring, keep questioning, and most importantly, keep prioritising yourself. When you prioritise your well-being and give yourself the permission to truly rest, you reclaim your autonomy and pave the way for a more balanced and fulfilling life.

If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also like to read…

How to Set Boundaries and Protect your Wellbeing.

A Guide to setting Self-Care Boundaries.

5 Pillars of Wellness, the Secret to Living a Balanced Healthy Life.

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