On stopping when you’ve had enough

bench

One of the things I often say here is that, when it comes down to it, self-care is less about what we do than it is about what we undo.

When I first started my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program in 2015, I noticed my tendency to “firehose” my clients with lots of information. After all, the more they knew, the better, right?

Then it hit me — whoa! This is a program about self-care. And, particularly if you are highly sensitive (as most of my clients are), you are already picking up on tons of subtleties that can make life feel extra-complicated. You don’t necessarily need more doing, more information. Chances are, you need to subtract, not add.

This “exquisite art of subtraction” is about noticing — really noticing — where we are doing more because of the belief that “if some is good, more is better.” This is such a pervasive belief in Western culture — and, in my experience, it simply is not true.

Let me give you a rather mundane example: I was out for my morning walk a week or so ago, wearing a pair of new sandals that still required a bit of breaking in. I had a wonderful meander over to the nearby park (where I’m sure to see lots of dogs and their humans and I always leave with a smile on my face), and as I made my way home from the park, I started to think, hmm, maybe I will make this walk even longer! Because it’s feeling so good!

Except that the new sandals were rubbing on my toes at this point. Even though my mind was telling me I needed more of a good thing (because more is better, right?), my feet were telling me that they needed some time away from the new sandals.

Well, my mind won out, and I kept on walking, and — interestingly enough — as I rounded block after block, I noticed I was starting to feel quite crappy. In fact, my enjoyment in the walk had decreased significantly. By the time I got home, I was in a bad mood (quite unusual for me after my morning walk) and my toes felt like they were on fire.

What happened? Well, my feet — toes, to be more specific — gave me a signal that my body had had enough. But I didn’t listen to it. (And hurting toes are not even a very subtle signal — they’re pretty blatant. Often, the signals to stop are much more subtle — but our minds are powerful, and in this case, my mind wanted more of a good thing.)

***

Underlying our desire to keep going even when we’ve had enough there is usually a feeling of scarcity, a fear of future deprivation.  Deep down, we believe we’d better capitalize on the good stuff while we’ve got it, because surely it will be taken away later.

In the moment I decided to keep walking even though I’d already had a beautiful walk, and my toes were beginning to hurt, there was a thought — outside my conscious awareness at the time — that went something like: You must really make the most of this good energy, because it probably won’t last.

Had I been aware of this thought, I could have countered it with: Yeah, it probably won’t last — today. And so what? Good energy returns. There will very likely be plenty of lovely walks in my future. But for today, I’ve had enough.

Stopping when we’ve had enough — whether that’s enough of something we don’t like or something we do, something that drains us or something that fuels us — is key to self-care, to working with our creative energy, and to avoiding burnout.

In fact, the periods of my life during which I have gotten into burnout can be always be traced to day upon day in which I pushed myself out of fear that if I stopped, if I trusted that I’d done enough for today or that I had enough for now, I would surely be deprived in the future. So it didn’t feel safe to stop.

The irony, my friends, is that getting into burnout forces you to stop. In fact, I believe that sometimes we reach a state of physical, emotional, and/or spiritual burnout precisely because it’s the only way we know how to stop.

Noticing that we’ve had enough comes first. If we don’t notice the often subtle emotions and sensations that are giving us the message that we’re nearing enough, we won’t stop.

So set an intention to notice. Pay attention to your body. Our bodies are the most trusted conduits of the messages we need — far more trustworthy than our minds (notice what my mind did when I was on my walk!).

Once we’ve noticed, that’s when it’s time to actually act on stopping when we’ve had enough. This is not easy! We probably have a bunch of deeply held beliefs about why we need to push ourselves through the stuff that feels bad, or hang on for dear life to the stuff that feels good.

It is so worth it to take a look at these beliefs and go deeper. In fact, doing this type of inner work is what will change our lives because it will change how we relate to ourselves.

When you can’t seem to stop, even though you know you’ve had enough, ask yourself why. Really take a look. What’s so scary about stopping? What are you afraid will happen if you stop when you’ve had enough, if only for today?

When you see the underlying fear, when you “get” it, you have so much more power because you have made what is unconsciously driving you conscious. In your willingness to look deeper, you cultivate trust in yourself. You start to befriend yourself.

Do you have a fear of stopping, even when you know you’ve had enough? Are you able to recognize what “enough” feels like for you? I’d love to hear from you.

Further reading: Martha Beck talks about “just in case” versus “just in time” thinking in this article. I’ve found this to be a truly helpful shift!

Work With Me: This can be tough stuff. If you need support in looking deeper, I’d love to help. Check out the ways we can work together, here.

Above image © Nancy Tripp | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Can you wrap a system around that?

field

I used to think that I didn’t like systems. Every time I found myself dealing with any kind of system — which implies structureI would rebel.

Part of this probably stems from having a childhood that felt way, way overstructured to me. My heart wanted to lounge in open fields with cows, sheep, books, and my journal (not that I lived near any fields), but my days always felt completely scheduled with activities from morning to night — not just riding the bus (an ordeal in and of itself) to school and back, but with afterschool activities, and then homework.

This seems so nuts to me now, but it was considered normal, and, thirty years later, though I don’t have kids myself, my sense is that many kids are even more overscheduled than I was (plus today’s kids have so much more technology to manage).

I think another reason I’ve tended to rebel against systems and structure is that I’m a Myers-Briggs INFP, and we “P” types like to keep things open-ended. Too much structure can feel overly planned and rigid for a “P” and trigger our rebelliousness.

At the same time, I’ve had to admit over the past several years, especially since becoming a coach and attracting clients who also tend to rebel against structure, that the right amount of structure can be a true godsend for those of us who cling to open-endedness (which can sometimes result in saying things like “I’ll write when I’m feeling inspired” or leaving ourselves one hour to complete something that actually takes four — woops!).

Systems and structure do not have to be elaborate or complicated. There just needs to be enough of a system to get it done — whatever “it” is.

Here’s my (very simple) example:

I was having a huge issue with mowing the lawn. It only takes me about 30 minutes, but it was becoming this thing that I so didn’t want to do and eventually I’d have to force myself to do it, angrily, usually swearing. Even though, once I’m doing it, I don’t hate it (except for that one time I mowed over some dog poop). It actually feels kinda good, moving my body, the smell of grass and dirt around me, the heft of the mower.

About a month ago, I figured out the issue. My brother, who used to live here and used to mow the lawn, had told me I should do it “about every ten days.” And I tried this. But it felt increasingly stressful to me. Because “every ten days” could fall on any day of the week. It might be a Wednesday, and then next time a Saturday, and then next time a Tuesday.

It occurred to me that if I mow the lawn every two weeks, it really doesn’t look all that much worse than if I do it every ten days. So I’ve made every other Sunday afternoon my mowing-the-lawn-time. And I think about it so, so much less. On Saturday, or Wednesday, I’m not thinking, “should I do it today?” because I know Sunday is lawn day. Every other Sunday, “mow lawn” is on my to-do list, and I know I’ll do it, and that’s that.

That was all the system that was required. It was actually way more stressful to keep the “when” I’d mow the lawn up in the air than it was to assign a day to do it.

This applies to anything I want to do on a regular basis, whether that’s writing or yoga or doing the dishes: Keeping the “when” up in the air creates stress and vagueness, and vagueness does not produce specific results.

And I think that’s worth consideration for us “open-ended” types. Is keeping something unstructured and open-ended giving us a feeling of peace and freedom, or stress and confusion?

The way to know you’ve hit on the right amount of “system” for you is that you use the system without a huge desire to rebel. (If you have a very strong inner rebel, as I do, you may be a little bit edgy around any amount of system, but when it’s the right amount, you’ll find yourself using it anyway.)

Your body is an excellent guide for whether or not a certain amount of structure is too much or too little. When I am overstructured, I feel frazzled, frenetic, like I’m on a treadmill. There’s a need to catch my breath (literally). When I have too little structure, I can feel sluggish, unfocused and fatigued.

There’s no right or wrong here; each of us has a “sweet spot” where we have enough structure, but not too much. So when I’m struggling with something that just won’t seem to get done, I’ve started to ask myself, “Can I wrap a system around this?” And then I brainstorm a little about what might feel like enough.

How do you feel about systems and structure? Do you tend to rebel against them, or do you find them helpful, or both? I’d love to know, in the comments.

Image is “Poppy Field with Powerlines” © Peter Gustafson | Dreamstime Stock Photos