THE BLOG
05/28/2014 08:29 am ET Updated Jul 28, 2014

Are You Pushing Yourself Too Hard? 5 Signs of Self-Induced Stress

It's the American way to set goals. We find something important to us, and we say yes to doing whatever it takes to achieve said goal, because ultimately we believe that reaching our goal will make us feel more happy, satisfied or supported. And so like good achievers and doers, we go for it, work our way to making the goal a reality, and for a while we feel good about our progress. But then something happens along the way that stops feeling so good, as we start to realize that to reach the vision we've set in our mind for how this goal must look and when it must be achieved by, we will have to work a lot harder.

And so we push ourselves. We put on our superwoman or superman capes, power up, exhaust ourselves and sacrifice our self-care. We push ourselves to keep working, and put the things that replenish and nourish us on hold. No time for moving our bodies, we're glued to our computer screens. Our eating goes to crap, as caffeine and sugar become like a food group in our diet. Fun activities get pushed off, because we can't play until the work is done. As a result, the goal we originally set out to achieve that is supposed to create more happiness ends up creating more stress! And in the end, even if we achieve our goal, we are too depleted to actually celebrate and enjoy it.

The challenge is that most of us don't know we are pushing ourselves too hard until we have already gotten to the "bad place" -- the land of the crabby, the self-critical and the unhappy version of ourselves. The first step in transforming self-induced pressure to a more supportive, sustainable way of living is awareness, knowing the signs for when we are pushing ourselves too hard.

Five Signs You Are Pushing Yourself Too Hard

  1. You feel crabby. You get cranky on the outside because you feel so much pressure on the inside. Crabbiness is a sign that your soul is starving for play and pleasure.
  2. You forget all you have accomplished and only see what you haven't yet done. You get more done in a day than most people, yet you rarely feel a real sense of accomplishment (for more than a few minutes anyway). You are always on to the next chore, to do, achievement, so there's not time for rest or celebration.
  3. You put your self-care on hold. You want to go to that afternoon yoga class, eat healthier, get to bed earlier, but it never happens. You keep telling yourself that you will eat better, go to the gym, get more sleep when you are not so busy (but you are always busy!).
  4. You cancel plans because you are too "busy." Busy with work, with kids or with whatever project has currently got you embroiled, you cancel plans to do things for fun, you show up late, or you often have to say "No, I can't I'm too busy."
  5. You sleep with your electronics... when you sleep. You have a hard time "turning it off" -- your mind, your phone, your email. You go to bed looking at your email or Facebook, and you wake up checking your online connection before you connect with yourself (admit it, you are checking your email before you pee!).
Living this way is not the way is not "normal" -- it's unsustainable and healthy. Sure, while there may be moments one needs to rally and push to the finish line, pushing and working extra hard should be the exception instead of the norm.

Your operating system for life should NOT be pushing yourself hard.

What most of us don't know is that pushing isn't our only choice. There is a second option. When the pressure starts pouring on, instead of pushing, we can choose to pause. We can release the super person cape, refuse to live by the unsustainable, pressure cooker pace, and pause just long enough to check in with our inner wisdom to find a different, more sustainable and supportive way to operate. One where we can take care of ourselves and take care of what is important to us.

While it would be wonderful to have a fairy godmother who would descend from the clouds every time we found ourselves in the pressure cooker, who could wave her magic wand and make it all better, the truth is we have to be willing to "do" our lives differently. When we find ourselves at the choice point, where we feel the pressure to do, be and have it all, instead of sucking it up and pushing through, and driving ourselves like workhorses, we need to stop, pause, breathe and say no to sacrificing our happiness and health.

There will always be more to do, achieve and take care of. We have to be willing to say "Enough! I've done enough. No more."

Then instead of feeling guilty, feel good that we've made a choice for our own self-sustainability. Connected to an inner feeling of self-love, instead of crabbiness, self-criticism and self-sacrifice, we can check in with our inner wisdom to reflect, reassess and realign to find the path that helps us achieve our goals but not at the cost of our own happiness or health. When we give enough, instead of giving in excess, everyone is happier and better off.

Super-Power, Pressure-Release Tool -- Try this!

For times when you feel pressured and are tempted to push hard, instead pause, and check in with your inner wisdom, and just do enough. I use this myself and it's worked wonder to reform those inner slave driving inner mean girls and inner mean dudes.

Step #1: Reflect: Admit you are pushing yourself too hard. Get honest with yourself and say out loud, "I am pushing myself too hard to... " (Saying the words out loud shatters the pressure and creates space for new insight.)

Step #2. Re-assess: Reconfigure your expectations. Close your eyes, take a breath and put your hand on your heart. Ask your inner wisdom, "What would enough look like?"

Step #3. Realign: Give yourself permission to just do enough. Take whatever actions you need to release the excess and embrace just doing enough. No more. No less. "I choose to... and that is enough."

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