On the achieving treadmill, is it ever enough?!?
How many of us feel like we achieve one thing, barely stop for a breath never mind to actually reflect on what we’ve accomplished and then are on to the next thing?
We rarely take time to celebrate our successes, that achievement be it big or small that has taken effort or time or courage becomes worthless once we’ve done it because there is always more to do or achieve.
I’m guilty of this and recently had a very timely reminder from a friend to step back and look at all I’ve achieved in the last few months and to perhaps take my foot off the gas a little. I was genuinely surprised by this, Me? Achieved a lot? How could I possibly take my foot off the gas, there is so much to do! And then I actually looked at all I’ve done and had to admit (albeit reluctantly) that yes perhaps I had been going full pelt on the achieving treadmill.
So why do we do this?
When we are achieving or gaining something we get a wonderful hit of dopamine, this heavenly brain chemical is released when we are anticipating reward. So while you are working away on that project, or social media post or meal for loved ones you are getting a hit for the anticipation of getting a grade A, hundreds of likes or their praise. Once you have it though the dopamine stops, until you get on to the next thing that could give you a reward.
Now this is a very natural process and one that helps keep us motivated, it however becomes problematic when this dopamine hit is the main source of our happiness and self worth. It’s shocking how many people feel that they are their achievements, be it their jobs, fancy houses, well-mannered kids or sporting accolades. If for some reason these things are taken away people can feel like there very identity has been stripped. I speak from experience here, before I became ill I was proud of my job, my fitness, my charity work and my cooking to feed those around me as a way to show love. When these were taken away so was my sense of self, I had no self worth without these external status symbols.
So how do you start to feel good without relying on these external achievements?
First of all awareness that you do this is key, so well done you are off to a great start – now pause for a moment, notice that you’ve overcome that first hurdle, rather than rushing on to what’s next.
Mindfulness and meditation have become very popular in recent years for self-care and managing stress, but why, what do they do?
When we are achieving we are working towards something in the future, believing that if and when we get this thing it will make us happy, but of course it doesn’t, we just move on to wanting the next thing. With mindfulness and meditation we stop looking to the future for happiness and find it in the now, we take the time to be present in our lives, as they are in this moment and when we do that we can often find that there is happiness there. For example, I’m sat writing this blog now, it’s work and I’m anticipating it going out and wondering if it will be well received. But if I take a moment to be present I can hear my dog snoring next to my desk and it makes me smile, I can smell the nice cup of green tea I have made and can take the time to enjoy drinking it and actually taste it rather than drinking it while my mind is actually on other things, I can feel the sun coming through the window and warming my back. I’m still sat here working but with awareness of the present moment I can enjoy where I am now rather than looking forward to 5pm. I can also notice if I’m tense in my shoulders or jaw and release them, if I’m rushing what I’m doing when there is no need to I can slow down. Meditation and mindfulness are practices that help us live in the now and notice actually that it can be quite nice.
Of course this isn’t always the case, sometimes the now can bring its challenges and I’ll be sharing more on how to work with that next week.
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