Are You Stretching or Pushing Yourself? How to Tell the Difference.

I wrote recently about how perfectionism can be such a creativity killer. It may seem like perfectionistic striving helps us get things done, but its constricting energy actually puts a stranglehold on the flow of our creativity. Still, most of us learn from an early age that there’s value in pushing ourselves, in being hard on ourselves. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to someone who’s feeling scared and stuck, and at some point in the conversation they say, “I just really need you to give me a kick in the butt so I can get going.”

Sorry, but I’m never going to do that.

What I will do is suggest that you look at how it feels when you have the thought, “I really need a kick in the butt to get going.” How do you proceed from there? Does it feel enlivening? Does it instill confidence in yourself? And, even more importantly, does it create a feeling of trust in yourself?

When I attempt to proceed from that thought, I feel angry. My stomach tightens. My jaw clenches. I also feel some sadness, because I am attempting to motivate myself through force and fear. And I decided a long time ago that that’s not the way I want to live.

The “kick in the butt” method is an example of motivating ourselves by pushing ourselves. If someone pushes me in line at the grocery, I will probably refrain from pushing them back (or maybe I won’t!), but I really want to push back. And similarly, when I push myself, something in me pushes back. I may be feeling resistant to whatever it is I want to do, but pushing myself only creates more resistance. When I proceed from a mentality of pushing myself, I create an inner struggle.

So what’s the solution? For me, it’s changing my mentality from the concept of pushing to the concept of stretching. I’ve always loved the feeling of stretching myself — whether it was stretching my arms and legs in a ballet class as a child, or stretching myself to write that one more page in my journal last night that was just dying to come out, even though I was getting tired.

For me, stretching feels good. It may be uncomfortable and unfamiliar — as when we are beginning to use muscles we don’t usually use, whether we’re in ballet class or starting our first novel — but it’s a challenging sort of uncomfortable. It feels juicy, a bit scary, maybe more than a bit sometimes, but what stretching says is: I trust you to grow toward what is life-enhancing for you. I trust you to more fully become yourself.

What pushing says is: If I don’t push you, you’ll never do it.

I much prefer the message of stretching.

Also, stretching is a good antidote for resistance. If I focus on the feeling of excitement and challenge and discovery that comes with stretching myself, I feel less resistant to doing whatever it is I want (but am scared) to do.

I’d love to hear your experiences with stretching vs. pushing yourself. What have you discovered?

And don’t forget, I offer free Creativity Consultations. Check them out here!

4 thoughts on “Are You Stretching or Pushing Yourself? How to Tell the Difference.

  1. Jill, I really love this post. There is such a different feeling to stretching, and I love the way stretching keeps *me* in control, rather than the person pushing. And pushing me is definitely the fastest way to get me to rebel and shut down. It just doesn’t work!


    • Sue, thanks so much for reading! Excellent point that stretching keeps YOU in control, rather than anyone else or a circumstance. I so agree that a good way to get my inner rebel going is to push!


  2. Very interesting message, Jill.

    A “kick in the butt” from other people doesn’t do me much good, I have to say. And, I would not ask anyone to give me one. All that comes of the metaphorical kick is one big lot of negativity. I would put my energy into resisting and that is certainly counter-productive.

    How can one person effectively motivate another? I wonder that. One person never knows exactly where they need to kick (if they attempt to kick start another person that way). Or how much force need be exerted for the motivation to be effective instead of destructve.

    I’m thinking of personal trainers who act like drill sargeants. That style of training wouldn’t be an effective way to motivate me. If they tried to kick my butt, I’d probably tell them to kiss it instead.

    After an exercise class, the participants might say, “she really worked us today”. I think that some of those participants want to pass responsibility for their own success on to someone else. The leader’s job is to facilitate by providing the elements of a good class to the exercisers … music and options and information.

    Ultimately, it’s up to the individual to set their own pace and to push themselves. To stretch, as you wrote, Jill.

    Once again, It’s 5 am and I’m half asleep, so I’m rambling around in your topic. Thanks for giving me more food for thought.



    • Great observations, Marie. You make a really good point that only WE know what truly motivates us, because we know ourselves best. “If they tried to kick my butt, I’d probably tell them to kiss it instead.” This got me laughing — and honestly, it would be my response as well! This is why it’s so important to know ourselves well — when we do, we can motivate ourselves in ways that really work for us. Thanks so much for reading! 🙂


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