There is an art that not everyone learns. That’s the art of doing just enough. In a performance culture, we may be surrounded by encouragement to go the extra mile. This is all very well, but we can sacrifice a lot of mental health getting there.
I am not saying that we shouldn’t try hard, when the situation demands it. But I am saying that, if we are feeling anxious and pressurised, we should learn the art of ‘doing just enough’, and not killing ourselves with over-challenge.
Performance cultures surround us. There is the Olympic culture, whereby athletes set an example of obsessive attention to their craft. There is the career culture, where business people are held up as heroes if they focus on work to the detriment of everything else.
Hollywood films do not help. It is a pretty standard theme, to have a hero who begins life in an unremarkable environment, discovers a special ability inside themselves, and battles to overcome averageness, and to achieve an exceptional nature.
LIFE IS ROUTINE
But these Hollywood tropes often ignore the after-story. Once they have achieved their gold medal, or won their battle to be king or queen of their territory, there is a long period of adjustment which may or may not go well. Many famous ‘achievers’ may tell you that life for them is as full of boredom and routine as the next person. What seems glamorous from the outside, if you do it every day, ends up being remarkably similar to the life you left to find glamour.
DOING JUST ENOUGH
In the spirit of balancing up the performance culture, we do well to develop, in addition, a sense of when enough is enough. Eventually we will all be in the grave anyway, and so our athletic bodies, or active minds, cannot be all there is. We need to learn to stop, to have gaps in our quests, to have a cup of tea together, to chill.
The art of doing just enough, is the art of knowing when to do more would be obsessive, and would hurt our general principles of doing good. The obsessive cleaner can learn to do just enough cleaning, and then focus on something else. The workaholic can learn to do enough work, and then balance their life out. The sports person can learn to do their exercise, and then rest.
What am I sacrificing to my obsession with doing things my way? Do I sometimes feel anxious and pressurised? If so, what can I do to modify my actions to make them more gentle to myself and those around me?
Am I a victim of the performance culture? Do I feel guilty that I am not winning something – that I am not like the heroes in the films? Have I been fooled into thinking that this is important? What would it be, if I relaxed a bit, and was a little less keen to be extraordinary?
Perhaps life is full of boredom and routine, whoever I choose to be. Maybe I am better off learning to master myself, and my reaction to the daily life we all have to face in the end.
Perhaps I can learn the art of doing just enough. What am I being obsessive about, in a way that alienates other people? How can I balance my self-focus with other-focus? How can I balance my work with rest?