Why Forcing Yourself Can Backfire
How many times have you heard someone say, “Just do it!” (besides Nike), or “Who cares if you’re scared!” Most of the time this kind of advice is well intentioned and works like a charm. Moving forward when we’re scared can make miracles happen. Then there are those other times, when you try to push yourself or let yourself be pushed by someone else, and it’s disastrous.
One step forward leads to ten steps back.
The difference between these two very different outcomes of pushing yourself, boils down to a secret ingredient. Here’s a story about a horse named Bullwinkle to show you what I mean.
When I was in seventh grade, I rode horses with my best friend almost every day. The owner of the stables where we rode was a military man—sometimes he was laid back and sometimes he was pretty intense. My best friend’s horse was named Bullwinkle. He was pretty old, incredibly sweet, and could also be very stubborn. He’d survived all kinds of abuse before Kelly rescued him. She loved him more than anything.
One day she was trying to get Bullwinkle to side pass, or walk sideways up to a gate. Kelly was frustrated because for whatever reason, he didn’t want to walk sideways. When the trainer saw this, he took matters into his own hands. He tried pushing Bullwinkle and yelling at him. And when that didn’t work he got a 2×4 and whacked poor Bullwinkle repeatedly on the side to force him to move.
Tears streamed down Kelly’s face as he hit her horse. It wasn’t the kind of place where it was safe to break ranks, especially as a seventh grader, or I’m sure she would have raised hell. It was tragic and infuriating to watch, but what I remember most about that day was how Bullwinkle stood his ground. He dug his feet into the ground, snorting, and eyes wild with rage. And he didn’t. Fucking. Move.
After awhile, the trainer gave up and walked away. Not long after, I saw Kelly get Bullwinkle to side pass all on her own. She was being even more tender with him than ever, and as you can probably guess, that was the magic ingredient—love. The trainer’s actions were horrifying to say the least. Yet, as awful as they were, the beating he gave Bullwinkle is something too many of us do to ourselves internally, all the time.
There’s a reason it doesn’t work. There are parts of us—often very tender, young, and scared parts—that have valid reasons for why they’re afraid. When we bully them, they do what Bullwinkle did; they dig their heels in and refuse to move an inch. It’s so much more productive to open up a dialogue with those scared parts and work with them instead of against. Next time you find yourself getting mad because you’re afraid, ask yourself: What am I afraid of?
Listen deeply and compassionately, and instead of trying to force yourself to get over it, remember what worked for Bullwinkle, and try saying something like this to yourself instead:
I hear you. You have every reason to be afraid. It IS scary. But everything’s going to be OK. If we don’t get it right the first time, the second, or even the 100th, it’s OK. I’ll be there for you and love you no matter what. And by working together, we’re going to get to our goal. It’s only a matter of time.