When You PUSH Yourself Too Hard
We all have a little Inner Drill Sergeant in us. You know, the voice that drives you along and tells you to push harder and do more?
While some might find benefit from more of the internal nagging, in many cultures it can be such a strong force that it drives us to dis-ease. In Japan there is even a name for it: karoshi, which literally means “death by overwork”. But no one works longer hours than the Americans. And this is nothing to brag about.
Stress and fatigue are the first rebellious cries of the individual that is suffering at the hands of their own Inner Task-Master. Signs that many of us minimize or ignore completely.
How can you tell if you are living under the tyranny of your own Inner Drill Sergeant?
“Relax” simply isn’t in your vocabulary. And, Stopping to take a break elicits that same feeling that a racecar driver has at a red light. Even when you’re forced to take a vacation to a tropical island without wi-fi, you writhe in the discomfort of not knowing what to do with yourself.
Productivity is your God. Nothing but a completed to-do list will bring you the satisfaction your Ego yearns for. And sacrificing a checkbox for the sake of self-care is out of the question!
“There’s not enough time” is a panicked phrase that echoes in your ears and becomes the default excuse for anything and everything that isn’t deemed “productive”. A healthy meal? No time! A little more sleep? No time! It’s a fast pass to deteriorating health. The late poet John O’Donohue once said, “stress is a perverted relationship with time”. Stress will always have us believing there isn’t enough of it.
Crumbs in your keyboard. Go ahead, take a look. If you are gobbling down your food while typing or driving and still chewing when you check your teeth for the next meeting, you best sit back before you get us all dizzy. Are you getting the visual picture?
“I’m tired” stops becoming a temporary state of being and practically turns into your self-identifying description. “Nice to meet you, I’m tired”. This level of chronic fatigue can become all you know as you push yourself to the next obligation.
If you haven’t checked off all these boxes, let your Inner Drill Sergeant know that’s for the best! The more stressed you are, the more of these characteristics you’ll recognize in yourself.
This act of pushing you along is actually one of the many jobs that your Inner Critic can take on. Jobs like these can show up in the six distinct roles of the Inner Critic: The Drill Sergeant, Wannabe, Over-Achiever, Banisher, Withholder or Crime-Stopper.
The Drill Sergeant is inherently well intentioned. Imagine if you had absolutely zero drive to do anything, ever. Thanks to the Drill Sergeant our feet hit the ground in the morning and it takes us from there.
But if you think your Drill Sergeant may have unknowingly staged a coop in your life, and is leading you in unhealthy directions, here are some strategies to get your True Self back in the driver’s seat:
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because it causes you some trouble doesn’t mean it’s ALL bad. What percentage of your Drill Sergeant is worth keeping? Rather than all or nothing, consider what aspects of this character are truly of value to you. And then toss out that icky bathwater.
A simple thank you. Once you’ve become aware of some value in your Drill Sergeant, do take a moment to extend some gratitude for its intentions to help you reach your goals. But keep in mind that true heart-felt appreciation for this part’s good intentions is quite a different thing from appreciation for how it harms you and puts your health and well-being in jeopardy. The former will soften your Drill Sergeant while the latter will only encourage bad habits.
You think you’re tired? Your Drill Sergeant is probably exhausted too. Acknowledge how hard it is working and how tired it must feel. It’s probably not used to being seen before, and we all feel better when we’ve been seen. Then give it a well-deserved rest and some self-care.
Conduct an energy audit. So much energy is going into this work of reaching your goals: but is it the most efficient use of your energy? When are you more productive: when you are exhausted or when you are well rested? Knowing this, will the Drill Sergeant step back and let you make self-restoration more of a priority?
Get a slower watch. A wise teacher once told me, “the more time you take, the more time you have”. After years of testing this theory, I’ve discovered it’s true. When you take a deep breath and set the intention of slowing down, time slows down with you. So enter the spaciousness of this present moment. Everything you need is here.
If you are new to the concept of your Inner Critic, you might want to begin to make its acquaintance with this quiz:
And if you’re ready to learn more about your own Inner Critic and the other roles it can play, along with the Drill Sergeant, then our course The Six Roles of the Inner Critic might be a great place to start!
Adrienne Cress is an Expressive Arts Therapist, Coach and Educator. She is the Co-Founder of The Loveliness and has a private practice in Portsmouth, NH.
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