Every January, we hear people share their New Year’s resolutions, and they almost always seem to involve doing more. They want to work out more, read more books, spend more time honing skills outside of work. This time of year, we’re also bombarded by advertisements and messages that make us feel unnecessarily guilty about who we are and how much we do. In spite of all that, I’d like to propose something different. I think we should do less.
I’ve always been one to work hard, even too hard. I’m an Enneagram type three, “The Achiever,” meaning motivation, success, and social image matter more to me than I even care to admit. I’ve always been wrapped up in hustle culture, a term that was coined to describe the need to do everything all the time. And as a freelance writer now, if I don’t work hard and find ways to do more, I may not make enough money.
For quite a while, I put my work over my mental health. The number of articles I wrote each day was never enough. I’d cry when I felt incapable of writing another word because I worried I needed to do more, both for my self-esteem and my finances. I felt anxious and became irritated easily, always feeling guilty later for snapping at the people I love most. After dealing with those ramifications for months, if not longer, I learned the value and importance of doing less. My loved ones helped me realize how much stress I was putting myself under, and I’ll always be grateful to them for bringing it to my attention.
Knowing when to take a break can be difficult. Sometimes I ask myself if I can push just a little longer or why I need a break after “not even working that hard.” In these times, I remind myself a break can’t hurt. I don’t want to experience burnout again, and I know breaks can increase efficiency, boost creativity, and more. I remind myself that many affluent countries don’t have 40-hour work weeks, and that my worth isn’t in what I do but who I am.
In addition to actively reminding myself of these truths, I take other steps to better care for myself, like getting adequate sleep, going to therapy, and setting limits on how much I do each day, whether that means allotting only a specific amount of time for work or paring down my to-do list. I also sometimes let my loved ones know about these limits so they can help hold me accountable.
But even when I’m able to push myself to rest and practice self-care, I still feel restless and fidgety. I’ve learned that “productive” breaks are best for me. For example, if I’m watching a TV show, I need to keep my hands busy by playing a game on my phone or doodling at the same time. Or if I’m taking a bubble bath, I need to take a book with me. These are ways I can have fun and relax while also expelling some of that anxious energy.
By putting less pressure on myself to be perfect and by practicing self-care, I’ve led a happier life.
By reaching out to loved ones who keep me accountable and by being honest with myself about my well-being, I learned when I needed to take breaks and how I needed to take them. And since I’ve done this, I’ve felt much better and worked more effectively. I cry less, and I enjoy what I do more. While learning to do less was and sometimes still is scary, I never want to go back to the way things were before. And that’s what I keep in mind when I try to convince myself to push harder.
This year, I encourage you to make conscious efforts to do less. By putting less pressure on myself to be perfect and by practicing self-care, I’ve led a happier life. I learn each day that I’m enough as I am, and I’m still (healthily) productive along the way.