“Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.” ~John De Paola
Do you ever work past the point where you know it's time to stop? Where your body, heart, and soul are saying, “Ah, enough already,” only you can’t hear them because your mind is pushing you on?
And have you ever pushed to such an extent you become physically and/or mentally sick?
My hand is raised.
Working hard and pushing the boundaries can be stimulating and rewarding; the problem comes when there’s an imbalance for extended periods.
Meditation and silence are increasingly advocated as ways to find balance in today’s hyper-connected, “always on” world. But for those of us with a propensity to work till we drop, there’s more to it.
These four common, though faulty beliefs get to the heart of why it can seem so hard to stop, rest, and rejuvenate.
Faulty Belief # 1: I have to keep going.
It’s easy to think you have to keep going, when usually, you don’t.
“I have to finish my degree.”
“I have to … ”
“I have to …”
The human mind loves to make plans and stick to them, no matter what. The problem is that our mind thinks these things will strengthen our identity and make us feel good.
This is reinforced by a world focused on achievements, not one that values us for just being.
It’s often easy to just stop or change course. But we don’t; we become rigid.
Dogged determination can be useful, like when writing a book, or even this article; if I stopped every time it got difficult, I’d never finish anything. But sometimes the plan isn’t a good one. Sometimes such determination isn’t healthy or useful.
I spent years thinking the road to “success,” and therefore happiness, was a college degree. But that’s all it was, a thought, a belief. A rule I’d made for myself that simply wasn’t true.
Who knows if leaving college would have been a less painful route; I just wish I’d seen it as a viable option. Would it have been such a bad thing to get my Masters degree in six years instead of five? Or to not get it at all?
If you’re feeling strung out, ask yourself, do I really want to do this—not just the assignment, but the degree; not just paying the mortgage, but the house?
Take notice of what your gut is saying. Can you feel what the right thing for you is?
And even when there are things you have to do—though really there are very few and they usually involve caring for dependants—they can often be modified so you can reduce your load.
Keep an eye out for long held beliefs and notice how uncomfortable it feels to consider a new tack.
It feels scary to go against what your mind says. Why? Because you don’t know what’s going to happen. But in truth, you never do.
Faulty Belief #2: I’m essential.
No, you’re not.
Handsome, talented, and deeply lovable, yes. But essential? No.
This is a bit embarrassing, but a few years ago if you’d said to me, “You have to come to my party because it won’t be as fun without you,” I would have believed you.
I could have just arrived back from a two-month trans-arctic trek and I’d still have hobbled in on frostbitten toes trying to be funny and charming. Aside from suffering from an extreme case of self-importance, I didn’t want to let people down.
I thought I needed a reason to say no. A real reason. Not just, “I feel like writing poetry tonight.” Something big.
“I have the mumps.”
“I’ll be in Fiji.”
But saying no and taking time out isn’t selfish. Putting other people’s needs ahead of your own, especially long-term, doesn’t help anyone. It’s dishonest, it makes you feel resentful, and you miss out on the wonderful things that happen when you rest.
Consider that you’re not as essential as you think you are. Delegate. Get help where you need it.
(This applies in the workplace too.)
Your friends will understand. They want you to look after yourself. And the party/school reunion/church fete you don’t want to go to—everyone will get along just fine without you.
The only thing you’re essential to is you.
Faulty Belief #3: My mind is a wise guide.
Most of us are brought up to believe our thoughts are the best guides for our life. And so we spend our days and weeks doing what seems logical.
—If I go to the party, people will like me and be there for me when I need them.
—If I get a bigger car/taller horse, I’ll get a prettier girlfriend.
(You probably won’t, you know. You might just get one that cares more about your car/horse than you.)
The problem is—as you may know—the mind is inherently insecure. It wants you to take the safest route, following others or repeating what you always do.
If working without adequate rest has been modeled as the way to be successful, or if you habitually push yourself hard, then your mind will want you to continue doing this.
Thankfully, there is another side to us that is often a better guide than our mind. Our heart. I’m not talking about the romantic heart—though this is part of it—but the bit of us that knows, deep down, what’s right for us.
The challenge is our heart speaks more quietly than our intellectual side, often in the form of a hunch or deep knowing. And because the guidance doesn’t always appear logical, we can easily dismiss it.
For instance, when you have the idea that you’d like to write songs, that is your heart. The thought you get immediately after, saying, “You can’t even play an instrument,” that’s your mind.
When I get an inclination to rest, my mind almost always thinks it’s a bad idea.
But the more I practice ignoring my mind’s taskmaster-like tendencies, the more I trust my inner wisdom. Not only do I feel more refreshed and enthused, I get ideas and see opportunities I miss when I’m in full swing.
Faulty belief #4: There’s something wrong with me that keeps me going so hard.
I used to wish I was the kind of person who naturally moved more slowly, and who didn’t wake in the morning with their “on” switch already dialed up.
I don’t think this anymore. (Well, not often)
I’ve come to believe there’s nothing wrong with emerging at the end of the day weary and happy. I love my energy and enthusiasm and good intentions. Finding balance isn’t about trying to stop that flow, but working with it.
I have to factor in stops. Things like turning off my phone and laptop in the evening, going hiking in the weekend, or even something as simple as doing the laundry in a relaxed, pottering way.
For those times when it’s harder to shift gears, try just sitting, staring into space. It’s a great way to reconnect. Looking at things like social media, does it recharge you or make you feel discharged?
Celebrate your zestiness! But look after yourself too. You really will get more done and you’ll feel better while you’re doing it.
And when you forget and overdo things—my hand is up again—don’t worry. It’s no big deal. Us over-workers also tend to overwork at being hard on ourselves!
Photo by Gerry Thomasen