The evidence suggests that I do not know when enough is enough.
I have always been mad about to-do lists, believing that they help me to stay accountable to what needs doing during the day. The chronic downfall of this scheme is that there’s no real end to the to-do list, is there? And staring at the gap between where I am and where I want to be (on that mythological island called “100% Done”), I am compelled to further effort. Often late into the evening, as it happens. The idea of enough has not been on the table.
Athletes who lapse into overtraining know what this is like. If some training is good, more must be better, right? Executives who lurch toward burnout and divorce know what this is like. There’s always something else to do, a problem to solve, and people to talk with. And when we love what we do, the seductive pull of That Next Thing Needing Doing, or the siren song of Let’s Just Keep Going…can be super strong.
But the cost of this orientation, particularly for those like me who pride themselves on this Uber-gritty approach to productivity, is clear. Injury, deep fatigue, suffering relationships, and even burn-out if we are not careful.
All of this has led me to ponder the word, enough. Especially now at the start of a new year when the urge to set those resolutions and get stuck back into work routines and outputs is strong. It’s all about behaviour change--adopting or dropping habits--and usually about getting more. Of something. Fitness, money, health, stuff.
In the face of all this activity and industriousness...let’s pause and consider what the idea of enough really means. Merriam-Webster says it this way: occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations. In the circumstance of over-gritting, it sounds like the word enough isn’t the problem as much as how we come to terms with the idea of fully meeting our expectations. This is where I—and gritty people in general—fall down. The only satisfactory way to fully meet our expectations is when all jobs are done. This is, as we have noted, impossible, since even the end of any to-do list is simply an arbitrary line in the sand, dependent upon what we threw onto the list to begin with.
So what’s the alternative? How can we embrace this idea of enough in a way that helps us thrive and live to fight another day?
Make it Enough…for Now. This idea, that I have done enough, for now, lets me take a break without breaking me. It lets me off the more simplistic hook of done/not done. Yep, I may not be “done done” as it were, but I’m allowing another priority to surface. The doing something else priority, or in this instance, it’s the let’s call it a day and go hang out with my family priority.
Ask the Question. It’s the process of developing self-awareness in the sense that you first have to just remember to ask the question, can this be enough for now? Or to be fair, it might have to be more of a statement, in that if you ask me that question, my knee-jerk answer will be no, not til it’s done.
Either way, if you don’t remember to check in, you’re screwed. I created and hung up the sign that you see at the top of this newsletter to remind me.
From Outcome…to Process. Goal-setting theory posits two major types of goals: outcome and process. A mistake many rookie athletes make is to fall in love with the seductive Big Win and set an outcome goal to do that…without building the process-goal map—and then ticking off those goals—that would increase their chances of getting there. If, for example, sprinter Alice’s desired outcome was to win a given competition, her process goals could involve improving her start technique, more specialised weight training, and better nutrition.
In this same way, over-gritters might benefit from breaking down a big project into a series of smaller ones that create easier let’s stop for now breaks.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up. Our gritty love for “doneness” can easily be compared to an addiction. And as addiction experts will tell you, being addicted—to anything—is not a sign of weakness or a moral failure, but something learned, reinforced, and deeply rooted into specific brain centers. The urge to use, or engage in the addictive behaviour—in this case, working beyond reason on a project or over-doing training—can be super strong…and for a long time, has probably been super rewarding. All this is to say that kicking the perpetual effort habit won’t be easy (or you would have already done it) and we will all make mistakes. Be easy and go again.
Don’t Go It Alone. Talking about and acknowledging to someone we trust the issues we are having with the not-stop habit can be liberating. But pick wisely. My partner has never aspired to high grit—being more of the easy-going and probably longer-living middle gritter—and when my inability to finish my day impacts him, he can get understandably miffed. But when I put down my self-righteous defensiveness and really listen to his ideas for slowing down, for doing less, for celebrating enough, invariably there is gold to be mined.
Do you know when enough is enough...and when to quit? If this is a struggle for you (and take it from one who knows!), I can help. Let's make 2023 good AND sustainable.
P.S. My book has been published! To get your copy, go to Amazon or Booktopia. I'd love to hear how you found it!
P.P.S. In case you missed my main message, I believe that high performance shouldn't hurt people. I provide individual and group coaching on achieving the performance goals you want without hurting yourself or your people in the process. In ways that are healthier, happier, and more sustainable. If you want more information or have questions, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org