Isn’t it time to stop pushing yourself so much?

I’m seeing more and more women running themselves into the ground as they push themselves to the absolute limit.

And if you were born after 1965, you’re part of the ‘push, push, push and you can have it all’ culture. Combine this with the perils of comparison (mostly against other women), the need to prove themselves (often against men) and the glorification of being busy (which is everywhere), I believe we’re sitting on a female modern day health bomb that is about to explode.

Last year, a client of mine, sent me an email that had a link in to an article that she thought I might like to share with my clients and followers, suggesting it might be inspirational for you all to read. I set to reading it with eager anticipation, but rather than finding it inspirational, I surprisingly found the complete opposite. It confirmed what I’ve been seeing a lot with my clients: strong core beliefs that in order to be successful or recognised or respected you need to push yourself to the max. Be extreme. I felt so sad and disappointed.

The article, featured in the guardian Toddler twins, a demanding job… why not take on an ironman  is about a woman, called Zoe, who started doing Ironman races.(I must stress this blog is not a personal attack on Zoe at all, so I hope it doesn’t come across like that!).

So the iron man involves 3.8km swim, followed by 180 km bike ride, followed by a marathon in often very challenging conditions. The training as you can imagine would be very intense and she shares the story of ‘18-mile training run on a hot August day on the back of a 10-hour day at work, and the day after a 105-mile bike ride and 30-minute run. And let’s not forget the 620 miles of biking, 115 miles of running and 12 hours of swimming in the four weeks before that”

Now, I’m all for women stepping out their comfort zones, setting themselves a challenge or becoming fitter, absolutely! But my concerns about extremes are three fold:

1) The reasons behind women pushing themselves so much often aren’t authentic to them – they are doing it because they think they ‘should’ or they are doing it to ‘prove themselves’ to others (often to people that deep down they don’t really care about – or as the article states because of inequality in the work place) and often because they are so stuck on what others think of them.

2) Many women still don’t realise that being super fit and pushing yourself to the max doesn’t make you healthy overall – in fact often it’s the opposite as I share in a sec.

3) So many women are not defining what success is to them, instead falling into the trap of doing what others do or cultural habits deem successful or great. Success and great mean completely different things to everyone.

Now I’m not one to knock anyone for being self-motivated and wanting to pursue a sport, nor getting up to train around twins and work (as you’ll all know I’ve been a single Mum to my twins for 8 years now and I often get up early to train around them and my toddler daughter – a vital component to my mental sanity as well as fitness levels!). But some of the things I read in this feature, really did set the alarm bells ringing my end and confirmed so much of what I’m seeing at the moment; women determined to prove themselves at all costs, pushing themselves to the max and being seen as super-human, often getting a real kick out of the ‘how do you do it’ comments and in some cases playing the Martyr of all this juggling and hard work too.

But it doesn’t have to be this way ladies. Aren’t women enough just being themselves? Can we not make balance and self-care clever? Why the extremes, why so much pushing? Is this what you really want for yourself?

And a good question to ask yourself if you’re hooked on extreme behaviour and habits (whether fitness, work, eating or all three) is you prepared to pay the price long term?

Here are some extracts I wanted to share and comment on…

 “In the last three to five years, it has been FMIK [fit mums in kit] that have been on the increase (at the triathlon training company). It’s usually about wanting a challenge that non-sporty people will massively respect, and Ironman is regarded as an extreme sport. It’s a way for many to feel good about themselves and raise self-esteem.”

Do women need to really do extreme things to prove themselves? I find women often look for things to do that gain the respect of others to improve self-esteem. But self-esteem (to me) is an inside job. Are we putting our focus on the wrong things? Surely it’s about saying this is me, I am enough, I don’t care what others think of me because I am so completely comfortable in my own skin? Extremes are easier than balance for a lot of women though, as a result from a belief system they’ve inherited / created / accidentally fallen into from this push push push culture. Balance has never really been rewarded to women has it? But the stressed, busy, overwhelmed? Juggling 25 plates above your head? Give yourself a crown!

“Ford also believes it’s linked to the desire to compete on a level playing field with men “in a world that increasingly hasn’t moved on to acknowledge or recognise female achievements in the ways that men take for granted”.

Is the best way to tackle inequality in the work place to push yourself to the extreme? I really can’t see how this is a solution! In fact I think it completely avoids the core issues going on and in some ways actually says women are prepared to tolerate what is going on. Do women need to run themselves into the ground with over training, working long hours and a lack of relaxation and sleep to achieve this equality? I personally think this is nuts. You’ve only got to read Dr Chaterjee’s new book the Four Pillar plan to see what can happen to women who do just this. The effects on your body over time are scary. Is it really worth it?

“Everyone is doing it now,” Timms says. “All of the mums at the school gate are doing some kind of Ironman or extreme boxercise or something.”

Why are extremes so cool? Why is it women are still so bothered about what others think of them? Are women doing these extreme things because they really want to or because they think they have to, to fit in, to be recognised? If you want to do extreme sports, AMAZING! But I’d always be questioning your ‘reasons’. I love being strong and fit but as a busy single working mum of three my adrenals can take a battering if I do too much. Adding extreme exercise to my life would have a completely negative affect on my health. I’ve started to connect with Dr Vivian Lord who is a Naturopathic Doctor from Canada who is also a female hormone specialist. She’s on the same page as me, with regards to women needing to find the right level of activity for them and to stop pushing so much. But lack of sleep, pushing the adrenals with work, children, and a heavy fitness routine backfires on SO many a few years later. We must as a generation of women take command by asking questions like “Is this right for me?”,  “Is this right for my body, mind and health?”, “What are the reasons I’m doing this?” and “What beliefs do I hold that are making me want to do this?”.

Our generation grew up thinking women could achieve anything they wanted. During our school years, Margaret Thatcher was running the country. We ladetted our way through university, out-drinking and out-partying the boys

I’m part of this generation, but are these the reasons (or some of the reasons) that more and more women of my generation are getting cancer in their early-mid forties? Binge drinking, long hours, daily coffee and wine intake high, the glorification of being busy and juggling, wanting to have it all because we we re told we can. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we have to. Last year alone I know of at least 7 clients who were diagnosed with stage 2 or 3 breast cancer in their early forties, most having a double mastectomy within a week of diagnosis. Most of them were busy women and big wine and coffee drinkers too, many burning the candle at both ends, often working long hours, exercising hard 5-6 days a week, pushing themselves more if they had a hangover, quite a few happy to admit to being a chocoholic and a little sugar addiction. Many had great bodies too and were very fit. Now I’m not saying all of their habits and choices caused all of these cancers, of course not. But I believe we have to ask whether they could have impacted them and most importantly, the million dollar question “isn’t it time we started to redefine what health is?”. One cancer patient I worked with said “I just can’t understand why I’ve got cancer!” She was a size 10, trained hard 6 times a week and ate lots of salads and greens. But she always had a coffee in her hand, always ended the day with at least 2 glasses of wine, didn’t sleep well and I very rarely saw her truly relax (unless with the afore-mentioned wine!). She looked great, but what was going on the inside of her body? Dr Vivien Lord and Dr Chaterjee are professionals like me want to change the narrative of what health means, I know these would both agree that lifestyle choices in just about all cases are impacting the amount of dis-ease we are seeing on the increase. It’s also one of the reasons I’ve taken a good look at my own choices, giving up coffee at the start of December (I was only having 2 cups a day but still) and why I went on a wine-lowering journey last summer and am now a week in to a 90 day booze free challenge (see my latest blog on the difference between 21 days and 90 days!)

Psychologist Marica Reynolds in the article states

“As [women] cope with the ongoing inequality in the workplace, their disappointments of dreams unmet and continually feeling misunderstood and mismanaged, they begin to drop off the corporate ladder.” It is then that women look for other goals to fill the void of corporate advancement. “For smart, goal-driven women, a midlife crisis isn’t about recovering lost youth,” she writes. “It’s about discovering the application of their greatness. The problem is that no one has defined what greatness looks like, so the quest has no specific destination.” She calls this phenomenon “the burden of greatness” and says it could explain the increasing numbers of women choosing to take part in extreme sports.

So let me ask you what does great mean to you? I asked my BEST co-coach psychologist and NLP practitioner, Gill Harvey Bush about her take on this and she says this “Rather than comparing themselves to what others are doing it is important that women define specifically what would make them feel great on the inside when accomplished, regardless of any external praise they might receive as a result. For some women a good feeling might well come from pushing themselves in an extreme sport regime. But for others it could be learning a language, climbing a mountain, painting a picture, helping others, having a part time job in a shop they love just because, and speaking in public. Challenges and a sense of achievement are reached in different ways for everyone. And of course many women don’t really want a big challenge or go out and achieve lots of things. And that’s OK too! One of the reasons I love being part of the BEST program, is that when women really get to know themselves and their values so many of them stop doing so many of the things they were doing before. By reconnecting with themselves and not worrying what others think and not having a need to prove themselves anymore and they realise they are just enough, their behaviour, needs and choices change”

“I achieved something great. But the problem with a little bit of greatness is that it wears off, and it’s not long before you need another fix”

And here lies the problem. The hits from the extremes are addictive. But addiction is basically never getting enough of what you don’t really want. And so the cycle continues. Often pushing harder and harder each time too.

If you want to do an ironman, great! I mean that, I really do! If you want to have a high powered job with a 3 hour commute around 3 kids, go for it. I’m not one or knock or judge anyone’s personal choices. My point is that being part of the extreme brigade to push yourself so much that it could make you ill and imbalanced and in some cases, well many cases in years to come I’m convinced, die as a result when it’s not an authentic choice.  That’s what I want to address.

Arianna Huffington is a pioneer of redefining success after she crashed from pushing so much. Check out her great book “Thrive” and she’s also written a great book on sleep too.

You don’t need to push yourself to prove anything and how about we move towards a world where women can recognise their own strengths, skills and greatness and actually fight against inequality rather than against themselves. And heavens above when women are good enough. And lovely. And great. And beautiful. Just the way they are.

Need help addressing any of the things here? You’ll love my BEST annual mindset program (starts 8.1.18 – literally just a few places left) or my SELF-CARE bootcamp (next starts 15.1.18).  Plus I’ve created something called the Make it Happen Club in 2018 too. Where you can be supported and encouraged all year long by me and my co-trainer Sarah Honey-Lawson who together want to help women redefine health and fitness.

What is is that YOU want for yourself? Are you sure you need to push yourself so hard?

I hope this has inspired you to think a little differently about the things we give recognition to in our fast paced 21st century world. And any questions let me know or grab yourself a place on one of my programs!

Janey x

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