When choice turns to compulsion

Filed under posts • Tagged: Productivity, Health

When our own choices turn to compulsions, we suffer a loss of meaning.

It’s when “I choose to” becomes “I should” or “I have to”.

Perhaps a habit felt great at first, but now we’re squeezing everything possible out of it. Perhaps our situation has changed.

Regardless, the inner judge takes up the war cry, constantly nagging and attacking. Keep moving, keep pushing, this is important. It can easily become a cruel tyrant, a thoughtless momentum.

It’s not that unconscious habits are the enemy. We need vast amounts of our daily activities to be familiar and routine.

Complex tasks need to be simplified. We should be able to pick up the coffee without thinking about every muscle that’s being used in the arm. Driving a car should not require a deep contemplation on the internal combustion engine.

We need shortcuts that can filter the noise and drive us forward. Anything less would make basic tasks overwhelming.

Yet we must continually turn back on our unconscious autopilot to check if its still guiding us in the right direction. We must pause to think slow and aim high.

In a recent period of burnout, I realised that many of the habits I practice had become compulsive. The care they were originally built upon had faded, along with the meaning that they had given me.


I had to stop and remember that:

I choose to write to share ideas and clarify my own thinking.

I choose to workout as it makes me feel so much better physically and mentally.

I choose to meditate because I value the peace and insight it brings.

These habits all connected me to my deepest values, and yet suddenly they were demanded of me. A constant looping loudspeaker of guilt and judgement. I ignored my underlying exhaustion and kept trying to double down.

I’ve been here before. There are two ways out: full burnout, which often means illness and a forced pit stop. Or consciously slowing down.

Slowing down feels like the last thing on Earth that will help, but perhaps it’s not so insane when you notice that you weren’t getting anywhere anyway. The temptation is to push harder, to get the results. But sometimes we need a different approach.

You have to turn the volume down to reconnect with the whispers that originally lead you to do what you do. Fresh contact needs to be made. How will you respond, now? What matters, now?

We all choose to say and do certain things that reflect our values. This alignment brings us meaning and joy.

You make choices every day, but it’s easy to forget that. What are you choosing? Do your choices suddenly feel like compulsions? Burdens?

The antidote is not a new lifehack. It’s not more information. It is the honesty and courage to simply stop and reflect.

It is the awkward confrontation with what is easy to rediscover what is true.

—Dan Bartlett
3 Mar 2018

Pssst! want some dedicated support in your goals?

When I'm not writing, I work 1-on-1 with people as a coach. If you want the space and accountability to make real, lasting change in life, work or waking up, book in a free discovery call and I'll explain how I can help 💪

hello substack

All my new writings are published on Substack. I cover anything from awakening to burnout; meditation to the meaning crisis. Please drop your email below to subscribe: