The Dangers of Doing Too Much

Earlier this year, I introduced our “Get It Done!” issue of Experience Life magazine (March 2011), with a letter warning against the dangers of doing too much. A bit counterintuitive, perhaps, but as a person prone to overdoing, I feel it was, um — the right thing to do.

Indeed, while I follow most of our magazine’s excellent advice most of the time, the piece that poses the biggest challenge for me personally is not the healthy eating, nor the regular exercise. It’s that pesky life-balance bit: setting boundaries around work, making time for play and relaxation, and recognizing that I can’t possibly get absolutely everything done all the time — certainly not to my own satisfaction.

Hello. My name is Pilar, and I am a chronic over-doer. I’m in recovery now, but I often open a talk I give on “How to Stay Healthy Through Stressful Times” with the story of how, before I got a little smarter about all of this, I suffered from rashes, hormonal imbalances and even a broken foot (long story — you can read it in “The High Cost of Being Hurried”).

This was all the result of chronic overdoing. And when I relate my story, I always see a lot of heads in the audience nodding, like, “Wow, yeah, we can relate.”

I think this particular area of challenge helps keep me, and the magazine, honest. Because I know how hard it can be to get it all done — the wholesome cooking, the conscious eating, the regular activity, the time with family and friends, the yoga and meditation, the daily supplements — and to do so in a healthy, non-frantic way while balancing a super-intense workload.

I also know how tempting it can be to just pour on the adrenaline and start rushing around like a lunatic whenever our schedules seem to demand more than our bodies and minds can possibly deliver. But that approach is neither sustainable, nor particularly satisfying.

That’s why I appreciate point No. 6 in our article, “As Good as Done”: Accept Your Limitations. To me, that acceptance is an essential first step in developing the serenity and skills to accomplish the things that really matter, the faith and courage to let go of the things that don’t, and, perhaps above all, the wisdom to know the difference.

With that in mind, here are the top three lessons I’ve learned from personal experience over the past 10 years:

1.Take breaks. Interrupting a relentless workload with breaks — whether for daydreaming, naps, activity, deep breathing, social interaction or even trips to the bathroom — allows your brain and body to recharge and come back focused and reenergized. Scientific research definitively shows that we get more done, and experience far fewer negative effects, if we take a 10- to 20-minute break every hour and a half to two hours. So take breaks, even if you don’t feel like it.

2.Train for intense times. Healthy eating, exercise and adequate sleep are always important. But they’re even more important when you are putting major demands on your body, as stress always does. The more stress you’re under, the better you need to treat yourself. The more stress you can thrive under, the more you can accomplish with grace.

3. Ask for help. This has never been my strong suit, but I’ve noticed that the better I get at inviting others to do the things I’m not great at, or don’t have enough time to do well myself, the better my work and my life go, and the more gratitude, ease and abundance I experience.

Here’s to all of us doing more of what lights us up — and less of what doesn’t!

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