To push or not to push, that is the question

by | Jan 21, 2014

pushing_the_rock_1-2014Last week on the monthly Goldilocks coaching call we talked about planning, goals, and productivity, and when to pressure yourself to follow through and when not to. After all, setting a goal-less goal and navigating from a nice feeling might work some of the time, but aren’t there times when you simply need to push through?
Maybe. Maybe not.

There’s pushing and there’s pushing.

We’ve all had experiences of pushing through that feel fantastic. We’ve all had experiences of pushing through that feel crummy.

What I’d like you to see is that the feeling that accompanies pushing through will tell you whether or not it’s a good idea.

That may sound to good to be true, but hang in there for a bit and see for yourself.

Depletion versus exhilaration

Sometimes the idea or act of pushing through generates a feeling of depletion. The more you think about it, the less inclined you are to take action. If you try to push through anyway, you may develop mental or physical symptoms that get in the way.

When pushing through is depleting, it makes sense to back off.

But it makes sense to push through when to do so is exhilarating. In the state of exhilaration you have access to stamina and focus. When the prospect of continuing to push raises your energy rather than depletes it, why wouldn’t you go for it?

Resignation versus enthusiasm

When pushing through is accompanied by a feeling of resignation, it’s a sign that your thinking is, for the time being, stagnant and uninspired. The more you push, the flatter you feel and, not to put too fine a point on it, the less intelligent you are.

When pushing through generates resignation, continuing to push is a bad idea.

On the other hand, pushing through when it increases your enthusiasm is a great idea. When pushing longer and harder increases your enthusiasm, you have access to resilience and insight.

I love that word enthusiasm. The roots, en theos, means of God. So having enthusiasm means being just about as inspired and infused with life as one can be.

At times like that, pushing is a no brainer.

Contraction versus expansion

Pushing through can contract or expand your access to the free flow of energy and wisdom.

When pushing through results in contraction, you feel cut off from your innate wellbeing. There’s a sense of being cornered, put on the spot, as if you are required to produce or respond in ways that exceed your resources. You may have feelings of loneliness, insufficiency, or being misunderstood.

Pushing through in times of contraction is like forcing yourself into the dark recesses of a cave when what you want is to step out into the light.

When pushing through results in expansion, you experience yourself as part of a larger intelligence. You are aware of a non-negotiable wellbeing that exists independently of your circumstances. Then if you’re put on the spot, you look to that larger intelligence and trust that answers will emerge in due time, and you know that you will be okay however long that takes.

Struggle doesn’t work

I’m fine with grappling with a slippery idea until I can put it into a blog post. I’m okay with plodding through the revisions to a web page or looking at weekly reports. And I’m all over putting one foot in front of another in service of something I want to create, even when that means taking two steps forward, then one step back, or–what’s more likely–sideways.

What doesn’t make sense is struggling, which I define as continuing to push through as my state of mind deteriorates.

What’s the alternative?

You might reasonably ask what to do instead when pushing through devolves into struggling.

What I do is back off. That might look like switching to another task, playing with the cats, or going for a walk. Sometimes it means spending an afternoon reading.

I back off knowing that there is some wisdom at work, if only the wisdom of waiting until the next indicated step becomes clear. And no, it’s not always comfortable, but it makes a lot more sense to me to hold still rather than to dig a hole when what I want is to move forward.

It’s a dance, not a decision

To push or not to push calls for dancing rather than deciding. One moment pushing may be the perfect thing to do, an hour later it may be time to step away. It’s best not to generalize from one moment to the next. Rather, let that nice feeling I keep talking about be your guide.

When you understand that this nice feeling is a barometer of your access to energy and wisdom, you can see the practicality of being guided by it. The more you can trust that feeling, the better you will get at knowing when to push and when not to.

The better you are at knowing that, the more comfortable you will be dancing with the ups and downs in your levels of energy, engagement, and inspiration. And as you become more graceful in that dance, the more time you’ll spend on the happy side of the pushing through continuum.

Photo Credit: Jim Champion via Flickr