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Stop Trying So Hard

This article first appeared on PublicHouse.sg.

I caught up with a girlfriend of mine, Vanessa Chow, some weeks ago. I lamented about all the things I was dissatisfied with in my life. After listening at length (and very patiently, as I probably went on and on), she remarked about how similar we were. She saw how hard I was trying to take care of the people around me, and my efforts to make them happy, and just how exhausted all that was making me.

She shared that she was, and probably is, the same way. A first-born child, like me, she was given the responsibilities, early on, of both taking care of her younger siblings and helping with the family business. Brought up to be an overachiever, she only knew that to try was to try hard. After all, if you want something, why wouldn’t you work hard for it? And, surely, the harder you work for something, the higher your chances of getting it?

For the longest time, she could not understand what the phrase “letting go” referred to. When she was learning to practice yoga, she finally started to understand what the concept meant. At the beginning of her training, she was very awkward and found it extremely difficult to attain certain positions. With time, she realised that she had to be relaxed, otherwise her muscles would be too “stiff”, rendering the positions impossible. When relaxed, she could achieve some positions much more easily. And not only that, when she used her mind to consciously will her body to relax further, she was able to stretch even more. It then dawned on her that life, like yoga, can be better if she just let go of some of the control she felt she needed and simply allowed things to happen in their own time. So, she learned not to “try” too hard, to let go and just be.

Indeed, Robin Sharma, the famous leadership guru, says in his book The Greatness Guide that success is the result of a delicate balance between making things happen and letting things happen. He suggests that if you’ve tried everything possible to realise an outcome and it just hasn’t worked out as planned, to stop trying so hard.

I believe that “trying too hard” is not just an “Asian thing”. It has been ingrained in us that we need to work for anything worth having – whether it is our studies, at work, or in a relationship. How about being smart about it all? Or, pausing to enjoy what you have? Should something that comes easily intrinsically not be as valuable or worth having?

We are told we need to “work” at our relationships. What’s the fun in “working” relentlessly? At times, in our culture, it feels as though that, should there be nothing that needs “working on”, something is actually wrong in our relationship. We cannot just relax and enjoy ourselves, in our relationships, or even during sex, because we should be “working” hard at improvement or making things correct.

Some of my work involves teaching couples to see the good in their relationships, to take the “job” or “work” out of their sex lives and to have fun in the bedroom again. Sometimes, it involves breaking things down into smaller steps to make learning or re-learning about pleasure more attainable. I also coach couples about relaxing, being aware of the sensations within their bodies, and staying present within the moment. It seems like common sense, but when we are too busy second-guessing our partners and trying to give them what they want, we cannot focus on what we want and what feels good. In short, trying so hard can sometimes be counter-productive. Relax. Let go. Enjoy.

Dr Martha Lee is Founder and Clinical Sexologist of Eros Coaching in Singapore. She is a certified sexologist with American College of Sexologists with a Doctorate in Human Sexuality from Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. She is available to provide sexuality and intimacy coaching for individuals and couples, conduct sexual education workshops and speak at public events in Asia. For more, visit www.eroscoaching.com.

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