Why Forcing Yourself Can Backfire

Why Forcing Yourself Can Backfire

Bl, Why Forcing Yourself

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 sometimes it 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 2x4 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.

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  • Wonderful reminder, Teri- thank you!!!

  • Brett A McCall

    Ok, I have a big challenge with this: when to push and when to let go. I am known to hold on till I am cut loose by some other force. Rarely to I believe in the magic of abandoning as a strategy and I know I need to learn the criteria for taking that path.

  • Brett A McCall

    On another note, one of the problems is thinking that NOTHING is happening because I am not getting the intended result. In the example above, the anger and frustration comes from impatience. Its the salsa jar syndrome.. twist and twist and twist then give up and hand to someone else only to have them put the last 5% needed to pop the jar open.
    I find it so important to keep the vision and intention in mind even if the result isn’t happening right away.

  • Thanks, Emily!! xo

  • Hi Brett, so, I don’t think it has to be so much one side or the other—pushing or letting go—and I certainly don’t mean to imply abandonment as a strategy. In the story above, Bullwinkle side-passes not because Kelly abandoned him, but because she stayed with him, and with him, with patience and love, until he got it. She was getting what she needed (her horse to side-pass) and he was getting what he needed (instruction with love). Our society is so encultured with strong polarities of either/or, wrong/right, bad/good, it’s so easy to move into interpreting anything that way. I see myself being drawn to do it a lot, and try to catch it when I can, and ponder the in between. I feel like there is much more to discuss and this article is one piece of that larger discussion.

    The essence of this step is to say: Heh, if you feel like pushing yourself, it might be a good time to take a pause. Resistance is very often a sign that some part of you is needing something. And so, it can be a great time to slow down, and be curious, and ask yourself: Is there something part of me needs to move forward, that I’m not currently aware of? Is there something I’m afraid of, that I need to find a new way of relating to? Is there an old belief here, that is getting triggered because it’s incompatible with what I’m trying to do? Feeling stuck is a great time to do some inner work, the value of which can go way beyond the immediate payoff of doing the thing you were trying to do when you felt stuck in the first place. Who knows, maybe that’s the primary reason we have desires to do things that lead to us feeling stuck in the first place: So we’ll be faced with the need to evolve :)

    The next one I’ll be sending you in a couple weeks is meant as a continuation. I appreciate your comments and look forward to more!

  • Agreed, keeping the vision and intention in mind is something that can help with the impatience. I also find though that it’s easy to slip into frustration with that thing you’re envisioning not having happened yet, while you’re holding it in your thoughts. I try to use the phrase: “Wouldn’t it be nice if ___ happened?” Or “Won’t it be nice when ____ happens?” As a way to hold it, but with a quality of attention that doesn’t really allow for the activation of over-attachment

  • Brett A McCall

    Ah.. that is awesome, the “as if” statements.
    I remember asking others questions like this, “If you already had ____ what would you choose?” Its a kind of mental bait-and-switch to thinking that the vision, the dream, the goal is already attained. This gets their BEing in line with the manifestation.
    That’s some wu-wu magic right there. Thanks Teri

  • Brett A McCall

    “Feeling stuck is a great time to do some inner work, the value of which can go way beyond the immediate payoff of doing the thing you were trying to do when you felt stuck in the first place. Who knows, maybe that’s the primary reason we have desires to do things that lead to us feeling stuck in the first place: So we’ll be faced with the need to evolve :)”
    Is gold. It reminds me when I discovered Susan Cain’s work around the Power of Introverts. This kind of, “Hey Brett, NOT EVERYONE SEES THE WORLD THE WAY YOU SEE IT!!!” wake up call might be my current life’s work. And the inner work you are speaking of… that is exactly the work I tend to avoid as an extrovert. Not that things are black/white like that, its simply another map that reminds me of the challenges I face when I don’t stop and do my inner work.

    Thanks Teri, I look forward to more like this.

  • Exactly. And I like the way you spell wu-wu, I used to use woo woo but I’m moving up