The Subtle Difference between Effort and Force

“Our inner guidance comes to us through our feelings and body wisdom first – not through intellectual understanding.”    Christiane Northrup

I was in my yoga class last week and I’m doing some crazy posture; a posture of which I, of course, cannot pronounce the name. All I knew is that it was really uncomfortable in my body; it hurt. As a matter of fact, I have tried this pose many times before and it hurts every time I do it. I was breathing deeply, trying to stay present but my ego would not let me drop that pose – so I forced myself to stay in it – pain and all.

Even if you’ve never done yoga, you know that forced feeling I’m talking about:

  • Maybe it was a project at work that kept you stressed out and awake many nights.
  • Maybe it was running every day for exercise even though you hated every step of it.
  • Maybe it was a painful relationship that you forced yourself to stay in longer than you should have.
  • Maybe it was trying to get your children to do…well anything that they don’t want to do.

There is a subtle, but important, difference between effort and force:

  • We know that our marriages are going to require a great deal of effort.
  • We know that work, our jobs, our businesses require effort.
  • Taking care of ourselves requires effort.
  • Keeping connected with family and friends requires us to make an effort.

There’s not a damn thing wrong with effort. Many good things in our lives come with some effort; there’s strength in effort.

Almost nothing good comes from force. It can be painful, grueling and leaves us feeling weak and often, defeated.

But how do we know when we’ve crossed that line from productive effort and stepped into the grueling arena of force?

Our bodies will tell us.

  • I knew that day in that yoga class that I simply shouldn’t be doing that pose, or at least not that version of that pose. I could feel it in my body. My body was screaming at me; I just needed to listen.
  • When we’re not sleeping because of some stress at work, that’s our bodies telling us that we’ve crossed the line.
  • When relationships that are supposed to be fun and joyful feel a lot more like exertion and struggle; when there’s tightness in our stomachs and tears that are appearing more often than they used to…that’s force.

Our bodies are always talking to us, helping us navigate the terrain between effort and force. We just need to listen to its’ wisdom.

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