I shudder a little when I think about some of my old working habits. One of these habits was to do what I now call “pushing the moment.” When I’d be under time pressure, or I just wanted a task off my plate quickly, I’d tighten up my shoulders as I worked — as if I were physically trying to push the project to completion. Not surprisingly, my shoulders used to get sore pretty often.
Today, when I work with someone who’s looking for focus and motivation in what they do, we often discover they’re doing the same thing. Much of the working day, they recognize, they’re unconsciously tensing up some part of their body, as if their project is some big piece of furniture they’re trying to move across the living room floor. No wonder work feels so painful and uninviting to them.
Beliefs That Lead Us To Push
The most obvious way to deal with the “pushing” habit is to notice it and let it go. Every so often, as we’re working, it’s useful to scan our attention over our bodies, and notice anywhere that feels rigid. When we become aware of the tight places, they often relax by themselves, or we can breathe into those places to help our bodies let go of the tension.
But for some people, this offers only temporary relief. They become aware of the tight place and relax, but a few minutes later they’re clenching their jaw or neck again, and working again feels stifling and uncomfortable. Sometimes, I find, people have trouble breaking the “pushing” habit because of deep-seated ideas they have about themselves and the world that could use some examination.
These ideas differ from person to person, but I’ll go through a few common ones. It may be helpful to notice whether any of them resonate with you.
1. Work Takes Suffering. A few people I’ve worked with have noticed that, when they relax the tense parts of their bodies as they work, they start thinking of themselves as lazy. Somewhere along the line, they learned that, to be a responsible, hardworking person, you have to suffer while you work — “no pain, no gain.” When they look closely at this belief and see how irrational and self-hating it is, it often unravels.
2. Pushing Makes Us Work Faster. Some people tense their bodies based on the false, unconscious idea that clenching their muscles will speed up their progress — as if they’ll get more efficient if they just “put some muscle into it.” In fact, tightening up inside just wears us out, and turns work into a more dismal chore than it needs to be.
3. I’ve Got To Get “There.” In our culture, we usually don’t even consider the possibility that we can enjoy the moment-to-moment process of writing an e-mail or plugging values into a spreadsheet. The only thing we think we’re capable of enjoying, and let ourselves enjoy, is the product of our work — the money we make, the prestige of our career, and so on. This mindset can leave us literally aching for the reward, and not realizing how much we can make out of this moment.
In my experience, becoming aware of these destructive beliefs is a lot like noticing the places in our bodies where we’re holding tight. Often, when we become aware of it, the belief — like the tension we’re holding onto — dissolves on its own. And as it turns out, we get a lot more done when working is no longer such a physically painful process.