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7 Ways to Go From Doing Too Much to Doing Enough

Might we be happier if we scale back the demands we routinely make of ourselves?

Key points

  • Creating a life that’s well balanced can be challenging because of unconscious contradictions in our values and priorities.
  • We can undermine our physical, mental, and emotional health by demanding too much of ourselves or taking undue risks.
  • When we realize how our personal expectations are overly ambitious we can begin to change what is unworkable for us.
Public Domain Picture
Source: Public Domain Picture

Ironically, the well-known Goldilocks metaphor seems to be forever “trending.” And its enduring popularity relates to the fundamental need to create a life that’s well balanced—equitably divided between work and play, activity and rest, even seriousness and silliness.

But that can be extremely challenging because of unconscious contradictions in our values and priorities.

Nonetheless, it’s worth exploring consciously what may not be enough for us and what, indeed, may end up being too much. The reason this is so tricky is that we’re likely to experience ambivalence about just which behavior better reflects our ideals. In fact, much of our indecisiveness can be traced to this uncertainty.

This post centers on steps we can take to ensure that we’re not unknowingly twisting ourselves out of shape. For unless we can increase our awareness about straining to get things done—or to get enough things done—it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of perpetually overdoing it.

A second increasingly common expression is “running on fumes.” As soon as we recognize that this is what we may be doing, such awareness should function as an obligatory Stop sign. After all, just as we wouldn’t intentionally harm our vehicle by making it do more than it was designed to, we wouldn’t, rationally speaking, want to do the same thing to ourselves.

So it may be time to look at how we can undermine our health and quite literally make ourselves sick either by demanding too much of ourselves or risking hazards to prove that, indeed, we can do it all. When we realize how our personal expectations are unrealistically lofty, if not downright masochistic, we can begin to change what, in the long term, is both personally unfair—and, frankly, unworkable—for us.

Ultimately, putting constant pressure on ourselves to do more devolves into workaholism, an addiction with all kinds of negative connotations. But it should be added that “playaholism”—a term not yet included in the dictionary—is really just as bad because it, too, signifies a life out of whack.

7 Solutions for the Problem

Failing to Plan, We Plan to Fail. This adaptation of a quote by Benjamin Franklin pretty much encapsulates what most needs to be emphasized here: If you’re to succeed in making major life changes, you must first plan just how you’re going to accomplish what you aspire to. Similar to adopting the proper stance to prepare yourself physically to dive into a pool, you need mentally to prepare yourself to undertake significant alterations to your lifestyle. For at first they may feel awkward and uncomfortable.

Be Patient With Yourself. If you’ve developed habits preventing you from living a well-balanced life, you need to anticipate that, unawares and over time, you’re likely to fall back on them, for they’ve become all too familiar to you. Consequently, you need to be kind to yourself (vs. self-critical) when you find yourself relapsing into behaviors you’d decided to change.

Feelings of anxiety, guilt, shame, or regret only serve to renew or strengthen the inner conflict that's normal when you’re engaging in acts that heretofore have been unprecedented. So you need to recognize relapses as typically inherent in the process of stabilizing positive lifestyle changes. Consciously, you may embrace what you’re trying to achieve, but that doesn’t mean your unconscious won’t at times do (unwitting) battle with you.

Work Wiser, not Harder. Many workaholics are so intent on getting (too many) things done that they don’t devote enough attention to matters of efficiency. Therefore, if you’re to examine how you’re applying yourself to the job at hand, you may discover that you can accomplish just as much, or even more, if you take quite viable shortcuts that earlier you hadn’t considered.

Don’t Rush. True, there are times when you have to work hastily to meet a pressing deadline. But in general, it’s crucial to find ways of applying yourself to a task without putting yourself under undue pressure.

Your prior conditioning may have saddled you with a program dictating that you over-exert yourself; perhaps a critical parent or teacher gave you this message. But you’ll be better off working at what is a more natural pace for you. Moreover, you’ll make fewer mistakes this way.

Entrust Another to Do What May Be Overloading You. Obviously, if you believe that no one can do something better than you, you’ll be loathe to delegate any of your chores or tasks to them. Same thing if you’re convinced it would take too much time to train them to stand in for you.

But ask yourself whether it’s really that important for a particular aspect of your work to be done speedily, or superlatively. You may well realize that your lofty standards could be adjusted downwards without any appreciable loss to the final result.

Take Care Not to Mindlessly Agree to Another’s Request. If you tend to be a people-pleaser, get more comfortable with saying “no”—or at least, “not now.” That response, by itself, is unlikely to cost you the relationship. And if it does, it probably wasn’t a very supportive relationship to begin with.

Remember, it’s not selfish to put your needs first. Doubtless, if you’re married and with children, it may sometimes be appropriate, or necessary, to make sacrifices for them. Still, don’t neglect your own needs unless there’s a compelling reason to do so. Besides, depriving yourself for the sake of others has negative ramifications not simply for your self-respect but (although less directly) for those around you.

Be Flexible. Change, ironically, is a constant in life. So what in the past may not have been too much for you can at any time become too much. So if, for instance, you feel called upon to take care of an ailing friend, sick parent, or child, you may have to put off or relinquish some chore or responsibility that till now hadn’t felt burdensome.

All of these recommendations might strike you as, well, “too much.” But to employ one last maxim: “When there’s a will, there’s a way.”

© 2023 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.


Although in preparing this piece, I didn’t personally refer to any of the essays listed below, for those readers who’d like to explore this subject in greater detail, I’ve selectively included some pertinent articles.

Babauta, L. (n.d.). Too much to do, not enough time.

Grosswald, B. (2003, Dec). Shift work and negative work-to-family spillover. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 30, 4.|A111933182&v…

Koch, J. (1996, Mar 1). Downshifters workers are scaling back. Are you ready?…

Kowalski, K. (2019).What is downshifting? How to transition into simple living.

Seltzer, L. F. (2010, Feb 17). Not enough time?—All we have is time!…

Shelley, B. (2017, Spring). Too much doing and not enough being?

Yearning for balance (n.a., 1996, Spring/Summer). Yes! A Journal of Positive Futures.

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