I spent this past week in DC, having a picnic dinner in front of the capitol building and wandering in some adorable neighborhoods – just walking through new neighborhoods (and stopping in new bakeries) is my absolute favorite thing to do when I’m in a new place.
And I was thinking about something I wanted to ask you.
Something that might sound impossible.
Who would you be if you stopped pushing?
What would it be like?
What would your day look like if you stopped just-making-yourself-do-things-because-there’s-so-much-to-get-done-and-you’re-always-behind.
What would happen to your life if you were abstinent from the okay, I know I don’t feel like it but I really have to get this last thing home and then run those three errands and then do dinner?
If you thought to yourself: Everything would fall apart, I can relate. I used to be an excellent pusher. Pushing to do homework, pushing to do job work, pushing to be a good friend, a good girlfriend, an accomplished woman-in-the-world.
But when I started to investigate why I was always eating in ways that made my life painful – eating more than I wanted, or not actually getting pleasure from food – I found that it was often linked to the Pushing.
Almost every time I was overeating, I was pushing myself – to work when I didn’t want to work, to be social with people I didn’t want to be social with, to achieve things that I didn’t actually want.
Some deeper part of me was saying no, stop! But the pusher part wanted to keep going. So I continued, but I needed something to dull the pain.
And so there was food. And also Facebook. And Internet browsing. We all have our peccadillos that we use to tranquilize the pain that comes from not listening closely enough to our deepest selves.
The peccadillos themselves aren’t the problem – food, Facebook, Internet browsing are all great, in and of themselves. So are Instagram and Twitter and HGTV and reading the news, or whatever it is that you use to disconnect and numb. The problem is that when we use these things to quiet our internal truth, we lose the opportunity to get incredibly valuable information about our likes, dislikes, hopes, and dreams.
So instead of allowing that information to affect us, we push through, pretending that it doesn't exist. And as a result, we feel hard, stiff, tight in our chests and our backs and our jaws. And tired.
But what does the alternative feel like? What would it feel like not to push?
I mean, what would your body actually feel like if you stopped pushing it to do errands and be nice and get things done and go and do and try and strive and smile and plan and push?
If you can, close your eyes and just feel that for a second.
When I imagine taking the push away, it’s like I lose my bones and muscles, and my arms and legs and fingers and toes. It’s like I’m suddenly a blob of Jell-O – tingly, bobbing Jell-O.
Is that how you feel?
I’ll admit, it’s very scary to take the push away. Even thinking about it might make you nervous.
I need to work!
I need to tell people I love them!
I need to pay my bills and buy groceries!
I definitely have those fears when I think about not pushing.
But then I ask myself (or, frankly, my very wise boyfriend asks), why are you assuming that if you don’t push, you won’t work or take care of people you love or pay bills or buy groceries?
Yes, it might shake things up in your life.
If you took away the push, you might realize that the work you actually want to do is different from the work that you’re doing now, or that the people you want to spend time with are different from the people you’re spending time with now.
You might even find that what you’d like to eat is different from what you’re eating now.
And yes, we all have responsibilities. If you have a job, you probably can’t suddenly decide that you’re not going to “push” and make yourself go this week. But by integrating more and more non-pushing moments into your life, you can begin to ask whether your life is aligned with your true desires.
But maybe you’re wondering: How do I stop pushing?
My recommendation is that you mentally give yourself permission to give up all of your to-dos or supposed-to-dos, for an hour or an afternoon. Starting with a defined period of time – even 15 minutes – is a good idea.
And you start by sitting in a chair and noticing what it feels like not to have to do anything.
I’ll be honest, it usually feels uncomfortable. You get fidgety.
You'll also notice that feelings and sensations come up when you stop having to do anything.
And, eventually, you feel a genuine urge to do something. To walk or eat or call a friend or even (it really does happen) to work or exercise or pay your bills. I’m always shocked when I find myself wanting to do something practical when I’m not “pushing” myself to do it, but it really does happen, and it happens often.
It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.
So that’s my challenge to you this week. Pick at least an hour (or better yet, a whole afternoon) when you don’t absolutely have to do something, and let go of the Push. Sit down in a chair and feel how uncomfortable it is to not be moving onto anything else that your brain has decided is on your to-do list, and also not numbing out. Wait until you are pulled to do something.
If you are someone who struggles with a compulsive relationship to food, alcohol, money, etc., notice how this affects that relationship. When the push drops away for me, I find myself much, much less interested in food.
What do you think of this idea? Have you ever tried it, or would you? Let me know in the comments below!