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Releasing the Urge to Push and Being Kind to Yourself Instead

“Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.” ~John De Paola

Pushing has always been the way I get things done.

Actually, I should be more specific: pushing myself harder has been the way I get things done.

I grew up believing that life was hard, and that the only way to survive was to give up indulgences, buckle down, and trudge forward. Uphill. Against the wind.

In my small, suburban high school, I spent hours after my classes ended wrestling with quadratic equations.

I had the overwhelmingly generous help of my teachers, who tutored me for free in their after-school time. I had the patience of an incredibly gifted best friend to accompany me at study sessions.

Still, I felt alone in it all. I cried (weekly, probably) over math and science. Other subjects came easily to me, but the black-topped tables of the science classroom consumed my experience of school. I still remember how smooth and cold they were under my elbows.

I continued on to college at one of the most expensive private schools in the U.S., sinking into student loan debt with every lecture. When depression swept me away during my first college semester and my grades suffered, the only solution I saw was to work harder, to sleep less.

The results weren’t good: I exited the school year with deepening depression and a blossoming eating disorder.

It seemed the harder I tried, the worse things got.

Over the next several years, things improved, though I still didn’t feel like I had much control over my life. Happily, I fell in love at first sight with the prettiest (and kindest) girl I’d ever seen, and she shone her light into many of my dark corners.

Following college, I didn’t have trouble finding work. I was able to pay my student loans consistently. I’d found love, which was more than a lot of people could say. But things still felt difficult.

Then, at very long last, I decided to undertake a project to be kinder to myself. I started sleeping more, and feeling better.

I began eating what I wanted to eat instead of what I was “supposed to” eat. I stopped going to the gym six days a week and instead went when I darn well felt like moving my body.

What happened then? Things blossomed. Life seemed easier, because I was consciously letting go of the urge to fight. Opportunities came to me.

I gradually began to notice that there was more good to be found in my life than bad—more ease than struggle.

I’m a little afraid that I’m making this sound like an overnight shift into ease, or like my life is all rainbows and gumdrops now. That’s not at all the case. I’d say it’s been at least seven years since the first inklings of change took root.

I’ve tried at least six different therapists. I’ve gone on and off antidepressants, and on again. I’ve deprived myself of sleep and remembered why it doesn’t work.

Then I’ve forgotten and done it again. I’ve pushed myself to work ever-harder in poor conditions, and I’ve gotten angry at my bosses. I’ve gotten angry at myself. I’ve wrestled with what ease could look like in my life.

Most noticeably, I’ve fought my own propensity to push myself to get somewhere else, and to get there sooner.

I’ve wanted to sacrifice the present moment for some imagined future, and I’ve stopped myself, hundreds of times, from doing so.

I’ve thought to myself, if I put every spare cent in my paycheck toward paying off student loans, maybe I could be done sooner. I’ve wanted to skimp on buying the foods that nourish me in order to cut corners.

I’ve wanted to stay up late and write another blog post, imagining the difference that midnight thrust might make in the future (a future that, as we all know, will never arrive, because by then I’ll be bulldozing on toward the next future).

Over and over again, I’ve reigned myself back. I’ve done what I can. I’ve gotten nine hours of sleep. I’ve eaten well and spent weekend afternoons in my pajamas watching Breaking Bad.

I haven’t regretted it.

Every time I hold myself back from indiscriminately pushing, I experience the unsettling openness of being right here, right now.

I become receptive to pleasure, nourishment, connection with other people, and connection with myself. In that moment, I accept my imperfections.

I begin to see everything that’s around me right now: the colorful people bustling down New York City sidewalks, the mosses peeking gently between stones, the light glinting off glass skyscrapers.

I take a second to fight the urge to push, and that second transforms my life.

If you can relate to that instinct to push yourself unnecessarily hard, you may want to try these simple guidelines to bring yourself back to the present:

  • When you’re feeling the urge to push yourself harder, take a moment to pause before acting. Think about what you need most right now. Is it sleep? A nourishing meal? Connection with a friend? Whatever it is, do that.
  • Close your eyes for a moment and pay attention to your body. Tune into where you feel tension, or anxiety, or where you just feel good. Take a few very deep breaths, into your belly. Ask yourself if you have any options right now that sound more appealing than pushing yourself harder. When you receive an answer, follow your instincts.
  • Reach out to other people for help and input. Sometimes, we don’t see any options besides working harder. But other people, be they friends, therapists, coaches or mentors, can often see opportunities for self-kindness that we can’s see ourselves. You might be surprised by the insights other people have to share.

Most of all, I want to gently urge you to be aware of when you’re pushing yourself, and open up to the possibility that there truly are other, kinder, options.

Photo by Leans

Avatar of Kylie Springman

About Kylie Springman

Kylie Springman is an empowerment coach and photographer who teaches people how to like themselves so they can bring all their wonderfulness to the world. You can find her on Twitter as @kyliewriteshere, or read her weekly at KylieWrites.com.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • http://hanofharmony.com/ The Vizier

    Hi Kylie,

    Ah maths and science.  Never liked them, but that is what I had to study in school in Singapore since Science stream was the way to go.  

    But we can only push ourselves so far before we have to pay the price.  This is especially so if we force ourselves to do things we dislike.  We have to expend an incredible amount of energy just to move an inch forward.  It is pretty unproductive and unnatural.  

    Still I am glad that you manage to change and turn your life around.  It is not easy to do so, but it is certainly worth the effort.  I especially like how you remind us to be aware of what we really need instead of just pushing and pushing.  If we all took the time to be aware, we would lead much better, healthier and happier lives.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

  • http://twitter.com/AdrianaWillsie Adriana Willsie

    This is such a brave post. Last night before bed, I was reading a book that gave tips and tricks on how to make your life more efficient and optimized.  How to pack more meaningful stuff into every day, and how to accomplish your goals sooner than you’d ever imagined possible.  It wasn’t sitting right with me, though I couldn’t put my finger on why.  After all, this was the same advice I’d encountered in every office job and every self-help book I’d read before. 

    But now that I’ve read this post, I see that what I’m uncomfortable with is the notion that more accomplishment is better than more happiness and more peace.  Today, I’m going to give myself permission to slow down.

    Thank you.

  • Mlinn52875

    Cool post! I think a lot of people can relate, including myself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1321095249 Deanna Lang

    Thank you Kylie. This is what I’m right in the middle of dealing with in my life. Adriana is right, what a brave post. For overdoers, this is so hard to admit. To others, but especially to ourselves.

  • http://www.kyliewrites.com/ Kylie

    Adriana: I’m so happy to hear that. It keeps hitting me lately: why am I striving so hard to be happy later instead of just being happy/content now? Much better to care for myself in the present. Who knows if I’ll be here tomorrow.

    Deanna: Oh, thank you. Wishing you so much luck in your own slowing-down journey.

    Mlinn: Good to hear. That’s really why I wrote it. Because I can’t be the only one (and I’m not).

    Vizier: That’s so interesting that you mentioned how especially difficult it is to push when it has to do with things you don’t like doing. We can certainly overload ourselves, even with the activities we love. But when our lives get too-fast, and full of the things we don’t like, that’s when things feel reeeally hard.

  • Aquarius Company

    Namaste … and thank you.  <3

  • http://twitter.com/xanderroan Alexander Roan

    Hi Kylie,  Great post.  I am recovering from stress related fatigue..   I think I was a perfectionist and was always pushing myself too hard..  I found that I started to recover a few months ago after watching ‘the secret’ and taking the tip to think about the things i’m grateful for everyday..  it shifted my mindset to the positive in my life and gave me time each day to contemplate that rather than push myself or feel dissatisfied..  I also started yoga and meditation and it slows down my thoughts and lets me just feel my body and enjoy the moment..  I think many people will resonate with your post and I’m glad you took the step to share it with us all :)

    Alex

  • http://twitter.com/mbcruz1977 Marcelo Borges Cruz

    Very good post! Thank you!!!

  • Azurelune

    As I was reading the words I saw them describing myself I also had an eating disorder that took me many years to come to grips with tetter-tottering from feeling good about myself to felling bad about myself. Food doesn’t control me like it did but I still struggle with the thoughts I have about it at times. I try to be fairly relaxed about it and to just enjoy everything in moderation. I also had a huge self esteem issue to get over as well. We are all beautiful we just need to believe it and to believe in ourselves and our innate abilites to listen to our intuition more to enjoy the things around us.
    Peace and strength on your journey : )

  • James

    I love this!

  • http://www.kyliewrites.com/ Kylie

    Thank you, James! So glad.

  • http://www.kyliewrites.com/ Kylie

    I hear you. It can sometimes take a really long time to get out of the pit (whether that’s depression, addiction, eating disorders, whatever) and then on to a life of being nice to yourself. It sounds like you’re well on your way, though. Keep it up!

  • http://www.kyliewrites.com/ Kylie

    Thanks, Marcelo! You are most welcome.

  • http://www.kyliewrites.com/ Kylie

    Wow, Alex. Good for you to have realized you needed more slowness and ease in your life. I’m so glad to hear you’re already feeling the benefits. Yay!

  • Sylvia

    I love this post. It seems to describe how I feel lately. You don’t know how many times I’ve sacrifice my now for some imagined future. I thought I was the only one who had ever felt this way. Thank you so much!

  • Fiona

    It’s really awesome! Hits a deep truth for me & I’m inspired by hearing your journey,x

  • sara wyke

    Thank you for putting into words this feeling of pushing life, it reminds me of Paulo Coehlo’s  “You can’t push the river”.

    Right now I am feeling a lot of this pressure but instead of acting on my impulse I find my pendulum swings the other way and inactivity ensues. The strange thing is, in my head I do still push and say all those mean things to myself. I too need to learn to be kinder to myself in my internal thoughts but still take a breath and find the right action to take.

    I really appreciate the time you have taken with this post, beautifully written. It made me smile inside :-)

  • http://www.kyliewrites.com/ Kylie

    I’m so glad, Fiona!

  • http://www.kyliewrites.com/ Kylie

    Oh goodness, no. I’m guessing that there are more people who (unconsciously or consciously) operate this way than people who are in the present all the time. It’s a practice, learning to switch it around.

  • http://www.kyliewrites.com/ Kylie

    I’m so glad it resonated for you. An interesting thing I’ve found is that sometimes when we’re inactive, it’s actually not because we’re in the present, but because we’re so far ahead of ourselves that we become paralyzed in the present. It sounds like that might be a bit of what you’re experiencing. My balm for those times is to allow myself to be where I am, and then, when I’m ready, to take the teeniest, tiniest steps (and allow those to be okay, too).

  • Tinarose29

    very true, this post put a smile on my face because it sounds just like me. I am gald I have learnt to let go although I still have days when I know I should be sitting down and I end up doing something then I get angry beacuse I feel overwhelmed, but I am glad that I am able to laugh at myself for getting myself worked up. Sitting down and not doing anything for ones wellbeing is very differerent from being just outright lazy and I see people who insist that they are finding inner peace when to be honest they just can’t be asked to get up and do something, that too makes me laugh. Life is such an amazing journey, with its ups and downs. Thanks for the reminder

  • Carol GibsonNP

    What a great post! Exactly what I needed to hear right now in my life. Thank you!

  • http://twitter.com/OtherPlansCoach Sally Branch

    This morning I meditated again after two weeks of ‘not getting around to it’.  I was reminded straightaway of the huge benefits of making space in my life.  I too have been working slowly on this for many years and for all that time the phrase ‘making space’ has come up again and again in one form or another.  Only last year, a counsellor reflected back to me the huge amount of pressure I was placing on myself to make a decision about something that really didn’t have a right or wrong, or a deadline attached to it – except in my head.  Once i realised that – (you are right, it takes someone else sometimes, no matter how well we think we know ourselves, to help us see clearly)  I could notice where else in my life I do that, and how unhelpful it is.  I am reminded, by Adriana’s comment, of Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s words “the question is not, why are you so infrequently the people you really want to be.  The question is why do you so infrequently want to be the people you really are.” (The Dance)
    Thanks Kylie

  • Siena

    I can totally relate to this post.  Thanks for sharing those simple guidelines.  I’m the kind of person who’s always on the go…not fun sometimes.

  • Headstrong44

    Wow! I can so relate to your post. This is exactly what I have been doing and wonder why I’ve been so frustrated. Thank you for such an enlightening post.

  • http://creativelifeinwords.wordpress.com/ Andy Bowker

    I think I must have missed this post when it was first published – this resonates with me very much at the moment. Thankyou :-) 

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  • C1oud15

    Really loved this post! The craziest thing is, I was reading it as I was watching Breaking Bad! Lol

    I stumbled upon your blog at the right moment!

    Thank you!

  • Julia

    This is so true! Thank you for sharing- I really needed to hear this. I’ve been pushing myself SO hard for the last 29 years that i’ve simply exhausted myself. I am always tired and often unhappy because I feel this pressure to keep doing, reading, knowing, being this perfect thing. And what if i didn’t push? I’ll have to try that.

    Thank you again!