Career Counseling

Know When To Push Forward Know When To Pull Back

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Mental health professionals have a much different attitude towards productivity than the general population because they’re on the front lines, they see what stress does to people and just how common burnout is. In our culture it’s almost blasphemous to say you should take it easy, to focus on self-care rather than pushing through it.

But there’s nothing heroic about ignoring how you’re feeling to the point of exhaustion and eventual burnout. The real issue is how to find a level of productivity that’s sustainable for you, how to find a level that you can keep up not just today or tomorrow but in the long-term.

In yoga teachers often talk about knowing when to push forward and when to pull back during a sequence. It’s a concrete way to experience what we’re talking about. If you go too hard you’ll probably end up on your mat, too tired to continue, or worse injure yourself. If you don’t go hard enough you won’t receive the same benefits from your session and you won’t progress as quickly. When you tune into how you and your body are feeling in the moment you can’t go wrong, you know when you need to go deeper and you know when you need to take it easy. Your level of output is usually sustainable throughout the course of the session.

It’s a little bit tougher to gauge the ideal effort level when energy output is primarily psychic and only secondarily physical. A good rule of thumb is to go back to the zone of proximal development, to stay on that edge where your work is challenging but doable. Once it has become easy for you, where you don’t need to think about it very much at all, it’s a clear sign that you need to ratchet things up in some way. But if it’s so hard that every minute, every second is a struggle, it’s a clear sign that you need to pull back, that you’re in the danger zone, the soil where burnout and other mental and physical ailments grow. Finding that middle ground is key. No one knows where it is except for you, and this means ceasing to listen to all the chirping telling you productivity is God. Who cares if you push a few less widgets when it means your continued mental and physical health? Who is actually benefiting from those extra widgets in the first place?