The Problem Of Pushing Yourself Too Hard


One of the most satisfying feelings that we can have as humans is the feeling of growth. Positive change. Especially when it is something that we have been constantly practicing. Whether you improve at salsa dancing, getting more flexible and balanced at yoga, or simply adopting better habits for your life, growth is a form of transcendence on some level, no matter how small. It is one way to own your life story. It is powerful.

If the future and its uncertainty is what gives this thing called life its zest, then personal growth, particularly conscious growth towards a specific target, is how we measure the success of our lives. Life wouldn’t be interesting if we didn’t change. Growth wouldn’t be transcendent without the possibility of regression. The feeling of having control over your life wouldn’t feel nearly as good if life weren’t so out of your control. Do you see what I’m saying?

You need the apparent chaos in order to organize it. Organization only exists when disorganization is close by to compare it to. Growth only exists in contrast to stagnancy and regression. We only know what “success” is because we have so firmly embedded in our mind what “failure” is. Black needs white and chocolate needs vanilla. One team needs another to compete against. But the most difficult part to remember is why we play the game in the first place.

In order to grow, you need to push yourself. You need to push yourself a lot. Particularly if it is something that you are afraid to do, you have to do a lot of it. The fastest way to conquer a specific fear is to get to the point where you afraid to not do the thing you were afraid of. Let me say that again. The fastest way to conquer a fear is to become afraid of the opposite thing, namely not doing the thing you’re afraid of.

Let me give an example. Say you want to get good at public speaking. You’re terrible at it. It absolutely crushes you when you do it. The easiest and quickest way to beat your fear of public speaking is to do public speaking. A lot. So much so that you would feel terrible about yourself if you didn’t speak in public that day. Do you get what I’m saying? The quickest motivator to conquer a fear is to be more afraid of what would happen if you didn’t do the thing. To fear that you would hate yourself so much if you didn’t do it, that you automatically force yourself to do it.

This is the best way to learn things and get good at things quickly. But it’s also not exactly healthy.

The problem with it is that you are primarily acting out of fear, yet again. Say you want to do standup comedy but are afraid to start. So you force yourself to do it, and do it, and do it. By now you’ve somehow done it twenty times. It’s not as bad as it first was, but it’s still a little scary to get onstage. But right now, if you didn’t go perform tonight, you would hate yourself for succumbing to the fear of doing it. You are afraid of how you would feel about yourself if you didn’t do it.

You are afraid of yourself.

In both instances, you are acting out of fear. Most people don’t do things or continue things because of some sort of fear of seeming stupid, not being good, etc. And some people get really good at things because they are afraid of not doing it. The thing is that this doesn’t seem like you’re conquering a fear, does it? You are merely replacing one fear with another. The emotion that you feel is the same even though you have seemingly externally experienced growth. You’ve expanded your comfort zone, but it is this new fear that keeps nagging you to maintain and even grow it.

To grow, we need fear. That’s how humans work. We need some sort of dynamic energy, some inertia, and fear is a very powerful motivator. It gets us out of the bed in the morning. It helps us do our work. It’s helping me write right now. It has its place. But it is important to remember that it only exists relative to moments where you are not fearful.

Trying to constantly grow involves constantly pushing yourself. Constantly pushing yourself to the brink, of fatigue, exhaustion, and hurt, is masochistic and usually a mask for some sort of fear of who you are right now. If you are always trying to grow, you are probably just as afraid of yourself as someone who is constantly afraid to start.

The whole point of growth is to expand your comfort zone. The point of a comfort zone is exactly that. Comfort. C-O-M-F-O-R-T. And to go back to the beginning, you can’t enjoy the personal growth that you accumulate if you cannot sit and enjoy it. If you can’t turn your thoughts off for one second to appreciate how far you’ve come. Even if you think you haven’t grown at all. How much more do you know now than you did five years ago? Crazy, huh?

Which is why you shouldn’t focus on making plans for the future if you cannot sit and be grateful for right now. Stop. Breathe. Put down your coffee or your breakfast food and just sit. And look around. Do this for five minutes and see how restless you are. How many things you are trying to do right now. How many thoughts you have about who you should text, the work you need to do, how much more information you need to consume. Please. I beg you. Stop. And look around. And smile.

This is the relationship with fear that you have been seeking when you have tried to grow. You push yourself to grow because you are afraid of fear. You want to get rid of it. But fear of fear is another type of fear. So remember to sit and look around and look at yourself and your thoughts. This is how you live with it and laugh at it, and laugh with it! And then it will slowly creep back, asking you to transcend yourself once again.