Why You Just Can’t Stop Working
“Why do I feel guilty when I’m not working?”
Or, are you too busy to even think about it?
Do you have fond memories of relaxing and having fun years ago?
Or, are you lifelong workaholic?
Have you struggled to create balance in your life?
“Just separate work and home,” people tell you. You can’t seem to do that, so you blame it on smart phones and 24-hour work culture.
But even on days off, do you keep yourself crazy busy?
Have you struggled more over the years to take time off?
Why is it so difficult to have a life?
The 2 Main Issues Here
Issue 1: “Why can’t I stop. . .working, doing, going?”
This is about the inner drive that demands you to conduct your life in a certain way.
Issue 2: “Why does it keep getting harder to take a break?”
This is about the mechanism that causes your inner taskmaster to grow into a bigger and bigger monster over time.
The Source of Issue 1
You’re not alone in this.
In fact, you couldn’t have more company.
Everyone. . .I mean every last person in the world. . .has it.
The reason you can’t stop working is that you feel there is something wrong with you being just the way you are.
You absorbed this Learned Distress® early in life, and it became trapped in your sense of self, which stores how you feel about being you.
Then, your sense of self became the automatic, generating force behind every moment in your life.
Before you had any choice in the matter, you absorbed the feeling that there is something wrong with you, and now it’s generating all your negative moments, without your conscious input or control.
Your Demanding Inner Master
Learned Distress is a horrible feeling, so your brain also developed ways to survive with it.
One survival mechanism is to work hard to overcome or avoid Learned Distress.
If you can only work a little more, be a little more perfect, keep things under control one more day. . .then, you’ll be OK.
Or, if you keep going 24/7, you won’t even have time to feel that there’s something wrong with you.
Do you see why it’s so hard to “achieve balance”?
Your rational brain says, “Rest and fun are good!”
But, your survival mechanism says, “You can’t stop now! There’s still something wrong with you!!”
So, you make like the Energizer Bunny and keep going. And going.
How Time Piles on the Misery
Issue 2 is the fact that over time, the intensity of your need to work all the time has increased. Right?
Years ago, you could take breaks. Take vacations. Evenings and weekends were for relaxing.
Now, there’s just a never ending stream of projects, and you keep putting more things on the list.
Here and there, maybe you take time off. But, it takes more effort to make yourself do it.
Deep down, you’re scared of having free time.
Here’s why. The amount of Learned Distress your brain stores isn’t a constant.
It keeps growing in intensity through your life.
In fact, it intensifies every night.
The Peril That Sleep Holds
Your sense of self gets renewed while you sleep.
Think of it as a rechargeable battery that stores how you feel about being yourself—good or bad.
During the day, your brain uses the contents of your sense of self to generate moments that feel the same as those stored feelings.
At night, your sense of self gets recharged with the energy of the most intense feelings you experienced that day.
Most of the time, are your most intense feelings the good ones or the bad ones?
Like most people, you probably answered, “The bad ones.”
So, you go to sleep, your brain recharges with your Learned Distress, and you wake up feeling that there’s something wrong with you a bit more intensely. Time has gradually turned up the volume on your Learned Distress dial.
Then, to try and overcome or avoid that intensified feeling, you work a little harder. A little longer. You put off vacation another 6 months.
The Promise That Sleep Holds
There’s another kind of feeling stored in your sense of self.
I call it your natural well-being. It’s the feeling that you are completely good being yourself exactly as you are.
This wonderful feeling is the core of who you are. It’s the little kernel of energy you began life with, before you started to absorb Learned Distress.
Well-being has been at work in your life, just as Learned Distress has.
Any moment that feels good effortlessly is the automatic output of your well-being.
So, I bet you’re thinking, “I want to recharge with well-being at night, instead of Learned Distress!”
That’s exactly what a researcher named Mimi Herrmann figured out how to help you do.
She spent 20+ years discovering how we absorb Learned Distress, how it becomes the source of our negative moments and situations, and then how we can unlearn it by telling our sleeping brain to recharge with the good feeling at our core, instead of the bad stuff.
Then, I helped her refine the process. We distilled it down to three integral elements that allow you understand what you want to change, how to communicate that to your sleeping brain, and how to understand and navigate the repeating cycle of change that results.
Engaging in those three elements permanently removes layers of Learned Distress.
As layers peel away, natural well-being takes over as the automatic, generating force behind more and more moments and situations.
The Output of Well-Being
You’re well acquainted with the output of Learned Distress.
You feel that there’s something wrong with you and you struggle to overcome it or avoid it.
Even when you’re successful coping with or avoiding the Learned Distress, and therefore achieving a positive result, you’re still largely experiencing the outcome of your negative feelings.
Have you noticed that it has become harder to for good things to happen in your life? That’s because you’re having to leap over, struggle through, or wiggle under your Learned Distress and then make those good moments happen.
What’s much less familiar is the effortless experience of feeling good and having good things happen easily, as a result. That’s well-being working for you.
Clients often don’t even notice this shift until someone else points it out to them. “Wow, you’re so much more relaxed!” “You came out with us for girls’ night! You’ve never said yes, before!”
Then, once they realize something is different, they tell me that their demanding, inner taskmaster has quieted. It might still talk, but in more of a whisper than a scream.
Others have told me that for the first time ever, they leave free time open for themselves. People who have avoided feeling their Learned Distress will notice those negative feelings coming up to be released. But, they’re first shocked to discover that it doesn’t kill them to feel that stuff, and then they’re delighted to find that they can enjoy some real down time.
My friends and colleagues will tell you that I have a long history of working a lot. What I’ve noticed is that now, I can take breaks and enjoy them, rather than feeling anxious about getting back to work. And, much to the surprise of people close to me, I actually initiate fun things, rather than what I used to reluctantly go along with them, at best.
What Do You Really Want?
You’ve read about the people on their deathbeds who say, “I wish I had enjoyed my life more. I wish I hadn’t worked so much.”
Now, you understand why so many people experience that regret.
Why so many people, despite their best intentions at achieving balance, find that they’ve lived at the mercy of their inner taskmaster.
Do you want to keep overcoming or avoiding your Learned Distress, or would you like to discover what it’s like when life flows from your core well-being?
There’s a really important reason to choose the latter.
It’s not because you’ll feel better and enjoy your life more—that’s just a side benefit.
It’s because your natural well-being is the source of the uniqueness that you have to offer to the world.
The more you tap into it, the more good you can contribute in ways you’ve never imagined.
Your friends and family, your community, and your world will benefit tremendously when you openly share that deepest part of yourself.
Are you ready to say yes?
Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.