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When It Feels Too Hard To Keep Trying: Rest or Push Harder?

“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” ~Pema Chodron

When working toward a goal becomes difficult, it’s hard to know whether to push or take a rest.

In my early twenties, living 3,000 miles away from home as a live-in nanny in a very different lifestyle became very stressful. I quit. I felt I couldn’t adjust to it, and I also couldn’t tolerate feeling out of my element every day for months.

It was a decision I quickly regretted. The family I worked for was amazing, and as soon as I moved home I missed them—and California. I regretted giving up so soon and in a way that impacted two very special young children.

In hindsight, I realize that had I pushed harder and committed to just a few more months, things would likely have eased for me.

At the time, I wasn’t aware of how resourceful I actually was, and hovering outside of my comfort zone for so long left me feeling the urgent need to feel grounded.

Instead of finding other ways to achieve that feeling, I moved back home.

In college, I was fixated on earning high grades. I loved school and loved learning, but I felt that it only “counted” if it was acknowledged by an “A” on my final transcript.

I pushed too hard that first year, and I quickly became isolated and depressed.

By the next year I had learned that if I didn’t rest periodically, my whole life and health would suffer. And all the “A”s in the world can’t buy happiness.

I’m the world’s biggest proponent of, “Take it easy on yourself.” In my full-time work, I often advise clients to reduce their academic course load to find more balance in their lives.

With my private clients, I often urge them to drop their excess obligations to make more room for life in their lives.

When a friend calls and bemoans the fact that they’ve been working on something all day and just want to stop I say, “Go to sleep. Start fresh in the morning.”

I mean this advice, but I dole it out carefully.

And here’s why:

It only pays to stop working toward something if the efforts are jeopardizing your ability to live your life according to your “anchors” or primary values.

If you’re totally sleep-deprived, you’re not going to do the best job on that thesis anyway, and might present a finished product that isn’t an accurate reflection of your skill or passion for a field you entered with zest and commitment. Right?

But then there’s the converse:

If you stop working toward something important to you just because it’s feeling uncomfortable, you will also jeopardize your ability to live the values you profess.

When I quit my nanny job, I felt ashamed and disappointed in myself, because I had committed to the job of taking care of two children, and didn’t truly exhaust all efforts to make that happen long-term.

I know now that the point at which you most want to give up is often the time you most need to push through.

And here’s why. Change occurs when enough stress is applied to alter the form of something and set a new trajectory. Until you pass that key stress point, the efforts exerted are often not visible and in fact can be undone quite easily.

But once you pass that key point, once you push through that discomfort, you have altered the course of things. The work you’ve done has finally surpassed that stress point and made tangible, visible changes. It has also set a new course.

Once you’ve past this point, the change can’t be undone. At least not without an equal amount of effort to change it back.

In this life of “Go! Go! Go!” and “Do! Do! Do!” how can we tell when to take a rest or to push through for better results?

The Rest or Push Checklist:

  • Is this goal in line with my anchors (primary values)?
  • If I need to neglect other anchors, is that just temporary while I focus on this goal?
  • Can the other anchors recover from this temporary neglect?
  • If I quit now, will I regret it?

If you answered “Yes” to the above four questions, it may be time to push.

  • Am I feeling depressed or depleted?
  • Have others expressed concern for my well-being?
  • Can I continue with this goal in the near future without losing significant gains?
  • Has this goal served to distract me from other difficult tasks (such as dealing with relational conflict, making improvements to a situation, feeling painful emotions)?

If you answered “Yes” to those four questions, it’s probably time to rest.

So consider an area of your life where you feel this conflict.

It may be about fitness goals, professional plans, or interpersonal relationships.

Clarify the goal and check in to see where it fits into your “anchors.”

Then honestly answer the above questions. Once you do, you’ll have the clarity to apply your time and energy to the areas that most need it—including, possibly, a nap.

Photo by Arvee5.0

Avatar of Angela Marchesani

About Angela Marchesani

Angela Marchesani is a psychotherapist and Holistic Health Coach practicing in Wayne, Pennslyvania. Her website is www.spokesholistic.com.

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  • KG

    Actually I can think of a situation similar to the au pair job you described where at the point I made my decision to keep going the answer would have been “yes” to all 8 of those questions. But then again, like you I am a perfectionist and my biggest lesson has been learning the art of “good enough”, having some faith in myself and not needing that external feedback to feel ok inside. On balance I don’t regret choosing to push through that situation, but I do wish I hadn’t ended up as horribly ill. Then again, if I hadn’t gotten ill, I would still be repeating the same compulsive patterns around work and socialising. Tough lessons! Thanks for the article, Angela.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003683842332 Krzysztof Ziętek

    Well… it seems I need to rest, I just need to surrender and stop resist my unpleasant feelings. Now I know why I’m so tired. I’ve been escaping from the truth almost whole my life. Thanks to this wise words I know what to do now. Thank you Angela. :)

  • Paul in Canada

    Fantastic article.  With so many of us in the Canadian Federal Government losing, or about to lose our jobs, this is a breath of fresh air and really sound advice!  Thanks!!!!  Sharing on FB!

  • Shelley

    Your article is wonderfully insightful and helpful.

    To chime in to KG’s post, illness can appear to be the body’s voice when the mind isn’t listening. When we ignore our true needs, the body can get louder and louder, until it is adhered. We are forced to stop, listen and modify.

    Pushing ahead or stopping is a lesson in personal experience and a needed one.
    Listening to our inner selves helps us make the choices we need to make.

    Your words are wise and wonderful. Thank you!

  • AngelaAtSpokesHolistic

    Thanks, KG. I think that sometimes illness is our body’s way of saying, “Stop!” Maybe that was a good natural intervention to temper some of your “pushing” tendencies. :-) I’m glad it turned out well for you, and hope your health is good!

    -Angela

  • AngelaAtSpokesHolistic

    Denial is exhausting. If rest is the right thing for you now, I hope yo get plenty!

    -Angela

  • AngelaAtSpokesHolistic

    Paul,

    Nothing like the prospect of being unemployed to test this theory. It’s hard to have faith in those times. I hope that you can relax through this rocky time. I’ll root for you!

    -Angela

  • AngelaAtSpokesHolistic

    Hi Shelley!

     I agree wholeheartedly about the body’s ability to physically manifest emotional stressors. It’s nice to get into the habit of tuning in more closely so we can honor those cues before they get too “loud.” :-)Thanks for reading!-Angela

  • Jekepke

    What if you answered yes to all the questions in each check-list?

  • Renee

    I like what you have to say here.  In reference to your two lists, I’d like to add that there is ‘resting’ or adjusting, and then there is quitting all together.  It’s important to note that a ‘rest’ may be just one day (eg: a day to recover from a run) or years (eg: I will quit my job when I have built up x amount of savings, which will take two years).  Something may very well fall in line with your values, but it may not be the right time for it, or you may need to make change happen slowly.  

    I think the most important point that you bring up here is that feeling a little uncomfortable - sometimes - is exactly what we need create much-needed changes in our lives. 

    Thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/dawnita.ramsey Dawnita Ramsey

    I wish it was as easy as saying yes or no to some questions

  • Jekepke

    ahhh— your response helped. I am, in fact, talking about competitive cycling. But the only pay-off for me is glory… I’m a 42 year-old women, with a goal that extends to September.  I think I did a little rest, then hit it hard!

  • Jekepke

    WOMAN

  • http://www.madlabpost.com/ Nicole/TheMadlabPost

    “the point at which you most want to give up is often the time you most need to push through” was well said. I can understand this when thinking about my experiences today in trying to conduct survey questions with complete strangers, for an article that I plan to write.

    I made all sorts of excuses and created mental roadblocks for why I shouldn’t leave the house in the middle of a heat wave, how most people in the city have negative attitudes so no one will probably want to talk to me or answer my questions, etc. ….but I did it anyway, mostly because I didn’t want to look back on this day and wonder about the information that I could’ve, should’ve, would’ve collected if I had the motivation to just do it despite my concerns about potentially awkward social interactions.

    Although I won’t be finishing the work tonight like I wanted, I do have the material necessary to complete it this weekend, as a result of “pushing through” or giving into those avoidance tactics that I initially considered. 

  • AngelaAtSpokesHolistic

    Good luck with that! I have pushed, rested, AND quit entirely when pursuing athletic goals, and each time it was the exact right choice for me. Best wishes!

  • AngelaAtSpokesHolistic

    Renee,

    YES! Quitting is an option, too, and sometimes the best one. I conceptualized it as the furthest end of the continuum, beyond “resting,” but it does deserve a separate category. When you decide to quit something, it carries a very different implication than when you decide to rest or hold back. 

    And I agree- the goal of being sometimes “uncomfortable” is worth striving for, I think. Thanks for the thoughtful response!

  • AngelaAtSpokesHolistic

    Ah, true…. life is complicated. Do you FEEL “yes” or “no” more strongly when you ask yourself those questions? Good luck navigating whatever decisions loom for you. Thanks for reading!

  • AngelaAtSpokesHolistic

    Nicole,

    This post I wrote several months ago was published on the very day I ceased my own procrastination and finally tackled a long-awaited task instead of spending the day leisurely; that work was EXACTLY what I wanted to be doing, once I started doing it. 

    I’m glad you got some information, and more importantly freedom from the “would’ve, should’ve, could’ve “s that may have nagged you if not. :-)

    Thanks!

  • Seth D. Cohen

    Really great article. I believe that Action as a daily habit helps you change and push harder. Check out 25 Rules of Action at http://wp.me/p2945p-pt or http://www.sethdcohen.com.  

  • Renée

    I answered yes to both the rest and push questions.

  • Garry