Why It’s Hard to Do Less (Episode 80)

What happens when you think about doing less? If it’s hard to even consider, and your mind starts sounding off some alarm bells, you’re not alone. We’ve been conditioned to do more, not less. In this episode, your host Kay Coughlin talks about the reasons it’s so hard to do less, and how you can get started when you are ready.

As always, you can expect real talk with no judgment, no guilt and no pressure!

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Do you need to find a way to get some rest, even if you believe that you can't possibly take care of yourself when the people around you need you so much?

Most of us have been taught that we can't (or shouldn't) prioritize ourselves because there are just too many other things to do first, and too many people to take care of first. But that doesn't have to be true! You can get some rest and you don't have to figure it out by yourself.

Kay Coughlin created the "From One Caregiver to Another"® membership community to empower and encourage family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers to set boundaries, get rest and feel less alone.

Hi there. I’m your host, Kay Coughlin, and you are listening to From One Caregiver to Another. I am a life coach for family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers like me, who want to get some rest and feel less alone. I taught myself how to navigate all of my responsibilities and get into the mindset I need so that I can set boundaries, have self-compassion and prioritize myself. So that my needs get met, too. And that’s what I help my clients do. And if we can do it, I know it’s possible for you too.

This is episode 80.

Before I really get started with this recording today, I just want to let you know if you hear any kind of weird noises in the background, thumping, booming, that kind of stuff. It’s summertime, I’m recording this right at the end of June and my kids are home for the summer. And I have asked them to be quiet while I record. And they’re usually really good at that. Sometimes some background noise slips in. So if you hear any of that, just know that I’m down here, recording in my office, in my basement, living my real life. Just like you’re living your real life too.

So with that said, if you are a regular listener of this podcast, then you already know that I talk a lot about boundaries and what it’s really like to say no. What it’s like to incorporate saying no into your life. So this is already on my mind a lot.

Well today, I want to talk about that from a different angle. And I’m going to talk about why it’s so hard to do less. Now, of course, there is a lot that I have to say about this, but I think this is a great starting point to talk about why it’s so hard.

So let’s start here. What happens in your mind when you think about doing less? Do you start making a list of things that you’d like to do less? Do you start to dream about what your life could be like if you could do less? Or do you immediately start to feel anxious and maybe guilty for even thinking about doing less?

I want to let you know that I definitely used to be in that third camp. I used to feel so guilty and really ashamed for even considering doing less. I thought I was going to be letting people down. And the thought of that was too much for me to bear.

Let’s be really honest here: doing lots of things all the time, as much as we can possibly cram into our days, is something that a lot of us have been trained to do. We’ve been conditioned to want this, to think that it’s right and good and normal. And to think that it is the best way to do things. And we’ve also been conditioned to feel awful when we aren’t doing all the things all the time.

This is probably especially true for you if you were raised as a female, like I was. Unfortunately, women have traditionally been raised to know in our bones that it’s much easier to be a good person, a good wife, a good daughter, if you are seen unequivocally as self-sacrificing, as giving and putting other people ahead of yourself and your needs.

Now there’s a term for this, when your culture or the people in your life put this on you as an expectation. It is, what’s known as Human Giver Syndrome and I’ve done several podcast episodes on it. I do webinars on it frequently. So if you want to find out more, go take a listen to some of those podcast episodes, or you can go to my website and go to my events page and you’ll find my upcoming events there.

As humans, individual humans, we all have different motivations for everything that we do. When it comes to this feeling of crushing wrongness, when it comes to doing less, my motivation to do more is actually perfectionism. That’s something that I’ve talked about a lot as well.

For some people that motivation is going to be people-pleasing. For some, it’s going to be a need to get ahead to prove yourself. Or maybe it’s to have control of situations, you’re afraid for things to be out of control. Now, I want you to know that none of these are wrong. These motivations are all very common. They’re very personal. This is different for everybody.

So you could be looking at this from a very different place that I would be looking at it from. And that’s totally okay. I’m always looking at this as a person who struggles with it, but also as a life coach. I work with family caregivers who want to get some rest and feel less alone.

So, in my practice, working with family caregivers, there are more or less four things I see a lot of that get in the way of doing less.

The first one is judgment and that’s external and internal. So it’s what people think about you or say about you, but it’s also the judgment that comes from inside your own head.

The second one is being anxious about the things that aren’t going to get done if you don’t do them.

The third one is real extreme discomfort when you are not doing things.

And the fourth one is filling your time back up with different things.

And I want to talk about each of these here just for a minute so that you can see a little bit more what I’m thinking when I talk about this.

The first one I said was judgment. And this judgment can be other people, or it can come from inside of your own head. And the reason that we think people are going to judge us is because they do. And we judge ourselves. This is something that we do as humans. We have been trained to do it. It’s another thing we’ve been conditioned to do. And we’ve been conditioned that it’s really okay to believe that it’s okay to judge people.

I’m sure that that sounds really harsh when I say it that people ARE going to judge us. And I, I don’t mean it to be harsh. What’s important to know about this is that we spend a lot of our energy trying to avoid judgment. So, what if we could stop using all of that energy, trying to avoid something that’s going to happen anyway?

Now you might want to sit down before I say this next part. What if I told you to make a list of all the ways that you might be judged for whatever it is that you’re thinking about doing less of. And then take a look at that list and just say to yourself, “You know, every one of these things is probably going to happen. That’s just the way life is.”

So, what’s going on here, I think, is that the fear of being judged is the real issue itself. And what if we could take the sting out of being judged? What would that mean for you? How would that change your life? If you just don’t feel so crushed by being judged anymore.

How would it feel to know in your bones as a truth that people are going to judge you and that you are probably going to judge yourself, but it’s just not a problem for you anymore. If you do not believe that that is possible, I don’t blame you. I don’t blame you at all. but I know that it is possible because I have learned to do it. I am probably one of the least likely candidates on the face of this earth to learn how to face judgment and have it not really be that big of a problem for me anymore. So, I’m not here to tell you that you should not experience the judgment. That’s just part of life. And it still happens to me.

But what I do not do anymore is I don’t get stuck in the pain of it. I still feel a big, really a stab of emotion over being judged. And I feel that for a minute, but then I am able to remember that I already decided I’m just not going to get stuck there anymore. So it is possible to see the judgment coming, to feel it, to experience it, but not have it control your life anymore.

The next thing on my list is feeling anxiety about the things that won’t get done if you don’t do them. The truth here, what I’ve noticed, is that we tend to think everything is life or death or that everything is going to have dire consequences if it doesn’t get done. This is part of our conditioning too.

The tough thing here is that part of this is being able to get to a place of asking yourself, “Will this house actually fall apart if I don’t dust it every week?” What’s going on here is that we are not really good at evaluating whether or not things need to be done the way we’re doing them right now, or with the frequency that we’re doing them right now.

If you could take any task or chore or anything, and look at it on a scale of one to ten, where one is believing that everything is going to be fine if I do this less, or maybe I don’t do it at all. And ten is the world is going to burn down if I dare to do this thing a little less. When we think about any given task, you know, whatever it is, whether it’s exercising or doing the dishes or mopping the floors, whatever. Our brains immediately jump to an eight or a nine.

Meaning we think every choice to do a little less, really could be a potential near catastrophe. So, of course, this idea makes us anxious. Why wouldn’t it? Now, the reason this happens by the way is that your brain is trying to prevent you from changing. Our brains don’t like change. They see change as dangerous. So when you think about doing something a little less, your brain catastrophizes to try to keep you from changing. That’s why it’s going on. It’s totally normal. Nothing is wrong with you. This happens to a lot of people.

Next thing on my list then was discomfort when you’re not doing things. And where does this come from? Well, when you have a belief that you should be doing more, of course, you’re going to be uncomfortable doing less the first time you find yourself with maybe five minutes to yourself, or you suddenly have a free evening, or maybe you have an unscheduled hour. That feels really weird. It feels really unfamiliar and very uncomfortable.

For me, that actually feels a little bit like panic. I start to think things like, did I forget to do something or now I’m just being lazy or shame on me for resting when there are other things I could be working on. Or I might think a good daughter would do more, a good daughter would need to rest less. So I think these things, and then I, I feel a little squirmy, a little restless. I even feel a little lost. I don’t know what to do with myself.

None of that feels good, but you know what? It’s totally okay. It’s completely normal. It just doesn’t feel good. Now that I have been on my own journey of doing less for a while, I can recognize that for what it is. I can feel it. I can experience it. I can let it pass through me and then I can get down to the business of doing less. And it’s more comfortable at that point too.

The last one that I put on my list of really common things that keep us from doing less is filling your time back up with other stuff. Of course, we do this, we have this habit of filling up our time with stuff and we get uncomfortable when we don’t do those things, like I just talked about.

And so, we soothe ourselves by going back to that habit of doing more things. We put things back on our calendar. They might be different things. They might not be the same things. But that empty space, that white space, or even that less full space on our calendar makes us really nervous. And so we fill the calendar back up.

This is actually a pretty easy one to catch yourself doing. Because you can notice yourself doing it. You can say, “oh my gosh, I have this open space on my calendar. I don’t have to fill that back up.” So you can stop yourself from doing it. But it’s really common.

Now there’s a fifth reason that I want to add to this list. I think it’s a little less common. And this is thinking that, “If I do less and then everything is fine, they’re not going to need me anymore. Or what if I do less? And it turns out that I don’t have a purpose in this world anymore?” This usually comes from being a couple of layers deep of sort of delving into why it is that you don’t want to do less. It tends to be a little bit more hidden. That’s why I think it comes up a little less, but I want you to know that I am not dismissing that if it’s something that you feel, or if you heard me say it just now and it felt like such a good fit for you. I see you too. I just don’t often see it rise to the top of the list of the things that are the most likely to get in the way of doing less.

What can you do then with knowing all of this about why it’s hard to do less? Well, as always, the first step that I’m going to suggest to you is just noticing, noticing that you’re doing more than you want to, or that maybe you could do less of whatever it is that you’re talking about. And hopefully to notice without judging yourself. I know that’s a tall order.

It, of course, is the first reason I think that we are afraid to do less. We don’t want to be judged. So, try to notice without judging yourself. Just notice the things that you do a lot or that you do very often. Or maybe notice the things that you do more often than you think other people do, or than you think you might need to. These could be things like checking social media, exercising, going out with friends, dusting, or vacuuming. It could be volunteering for things. This could be anything really. And it’s very personal to everybody.

So just notice these things, whatever they are for you, and try to let yourself be aware without judging or punishing yourself. Please try not to punish yourself, but if you do that’s okay too. You know, if you have really challenging thoughts that make you feel awful about this, that’s where you are. That’s totally normal. Okay? You’re just being human, just like I’m human and all the rest of us are.

The next thing you might try then is to kind of try out the thought that maybe you could do less, just try the thought on for size and see what happens. See what thoughts and beliefs and feelings and habits, maybe behaviors come up for you. What really goes on when you think that? I think it’s probably going to be uncomfortable for you, whatever it is. I get that. I hear you. I see you. It happens to me too. That’s another way that you’re just busy being a normal human.

So then when you’re ready, you can actually try to do less. You can put fewer things on your calendar. You can say no to some things. You can let yourself have some white space in your calendar and see what it feels like when it comes up. And you have to actually sit there and do less. But I’m going to tell you what, that seems like an advanced maneuver to me. So if you are not there yet, if you are not ready to say, “today is the day I’m going to start doing less.” That’s totally okay, too.

You can come at this one tiny step at a time. Whatever’s right for you.

If it is really hard for you, when you start thinking the thought, “maybe I could do less,” if that’s really hard for you, then please get some help. Get some help from a therapist or from a life coach like me. That’s what I do. Or get some help from a community that feels emotionally safe to you. You don’t have to be alone in this. Changing things can be really difficult. And if that’s hard for you, please reach out and get the help that you need. That is also something that’s totally okay. And I really want to encourage that.

What I hope for today is that by listening to this, I’ve been able to plant a seed for you about the possibility of doing less, just the possibility that you could do less. Go ahead and start noticing. See what happens. And then please, please, please give yourself a lot of grace and a lot of mercy if this turns out to be challenging for you to think about in the way that it has been challenging for me to think about over the years.

If you liked this episode, you have to go check out my monthly membership for family caregivers who want to get some rest and feel less alone. It’s the place for emotionally-safe community, brave self-development and always self-compassion. You can find a link to it in the show notes and on my website at Facilitator On Fire dot net. And that is Facilitator On Fire dot net. If you are looking to connect with me, the best place to find me is in my free Boundaries Community. And I would love to hear from you. I can’t wait to be with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

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your guide

Kay Coughlin, life coach and CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is on a mission to help family caregivers get rest and feel less alone. In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the weekly "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind." She is well known for coaching family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers who want help to live happier lives.

When Kay works with businesses, she helps teams understand how to work with people of different ages through her decision-making workshops and "Building Trust Across Generations" seminar. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, in central Ohio. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2022. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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