Chasing your goal. Making it happen. Persevering. Those are important things to do, right? Yes, they’re usually admirable and effective. But sometimes the best thing you can do is to stop pushing yourself.
Here are three instances where letting up can be difficult, but worth it.
1. During your lunch break
It’s easy to reason, “If I just work on this project over my lunch break, I can have it on my boss’s desk by the end of the day.” In a recent survey, one in five people said they worked through their lunch break every day. Of those who did eat, nearly half ate at their desks.
The consequences of all that sitting can range from back and neck pain to increased risk of serious illnesses, like heart disease and cancer. Even if you’re eating the world’s healthiest salad, if you do it while hunching over a keyboard in the same posture you’ve held for the last five hours, you’re not reaping the health benefits of your lunch break. The operative word is “break.” Leave the desk. Relax. Go for a little walk or try a 10-minute workout.
2. In the last leg of your workout
We all know it’s a bad idea to lift more weight than we can safely handle or stretch further than our bodies can bend. But there’s another reason to dial back the intensity of your workout, especially toward the end: it can make you more apt to work out again.
Think about it—if your workout is pure pain and discomfort till the bitter end, will you really want to put yourself through that experience again? That’s not to say you can’t push your limits. By all means, go hard earlier in the workout. Just make sure you let up at the end. Researchers refer to this as the “peak-end rule.” Our impressions are shaped by how an experience feels at its peak (when it is most intense), but they are also strongly shaped by how we feel right at the end. Even if an experience is somewhat painful, as long as it ends with less pain, we’ll be more inclined to remember it positively. Finish your workout on a fun note, and you’ll want to head back to the gym later that week.
3. When you don’t pass the self-care test
Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize that you’ve been pushing yourself too hard in one area of your life at the expense of another. You might be more physically fit than ever before thanks to a killer diet and exercise regimen, but when’s the last time you looked after your emotional health?
It helps to do a quick, regular self-care test. Assess each area of your life—mental, physical, spiritual and emotional—by assigning each area a number between one and 10 (one being completely lacking, and 10 being totally satisfied). Do you rate lower than a five or six in any area? If so, it’s time to stop pushing in one area and start nurturing another.