When Motivational Quotes Are Harmful to Your Mental Health

Those quotes telling you to keep pushing yourself can lead to burnout.

Posted Jan 26, 2019

Photo by imelonchon at Morguefile
Source: Photo by imelonchon at Morguefile

On Twitter today a "motivational coach" posted this quote: "Don't stop when you're tired, stop when you're done."  

The practice of not stopping even when you are tired, quite frankly, is dangerous and can lead to burnout.

Symptoms of burnout include no longer feeling like you make a difference, you have sleep deprivation, you can't stand the thought of going to your job or care-taking when you wake up in the morning (even to the point of nausea or vomiting), you can't find enjoyment in things you use to enjoy, and you may have even considered suicide.  People in the helping professions (including mental health professionals, physicians, teachers, attorneys, and clergy) are more at risk from burnout than other professions (Lee, Brown, & Cabrera, 2017; Cherniss, 2016). 

Burnout is so prevalent that there are even assessment instruments that measure a person's level of burnout, such as the Maslach Burnout Inventory (Maslach, 2015). 

The more we buy into these quotes about pushing ourselves, the more pressure we may feel to keep working even when we have reached exhaustion.  You tell yourself, I have to stay late at the office so I can get this project done—it's almost perfect

However, the trap many of us fall into careers, family, and friendships is that rarely in life is anything perfect.  And what a boring world it would be if everything was perfect!

I'll tell you something that may just change your life...

You have the right to do less than what's humanly possible. 

Let me repeat that, with something extra - 

You have the right to do less than what's humanly possible, at any time

Yes, at any time it is acceptable for you to not give your 100%.  It's a pretty radical idea for many of us—especially when you may have grown up with the idea that you have to do your very best, at all times. Sometimes what you're doing is good enough, and that is just fine.  It can take a while to get used to walking away from a job that is good enough, but you'll soon realize your complete mental energy really wasn't needed on that task. 

You have a mental energy account, and tasks where you keep pushing yourself past the point of tiredness or exhaustion is at an expense to you, emotionally and physically.  Stopping and resting when you feel tired is a way to add income back to your mental energy account. 

Learn more about seeing your mental energy in terms of expenses and income from this interview I had with Irene Kerzhnerman PhD.

Doing less than what is humanly possible and taking time to rest when you are tired actually can make you more productive and happier at work and at home.  Try it—listen to your body when it is tired, and take a break.  You'll be surprised at how much it improves your quality of life. 

Copyright 2019 Sarkis Media 

References

Cherniss, C. (2016). Beyond burnout: Helping teachers, nurses, therapists and lawyers recover from stress and disillusionment. Routledge.

Lee, M. E., Brown, D. W., & Cabrera, A. G. (2017). Physician burnout: An emergent crisis. Progress in Pediatric Cardiology, 44, 77-80.

Maslach, C. (2017). Burnout: A multidimensional perspective. In Professional Burnout (pp. 19-32). Routledge.