Excessive Motivation and Demanding Too Much from Yourself is Making You Feel Tired and Depressive.
How the pressure for ever better performances produces new forms of psychological violence and affects you without you realizing.
For some time now I have come across a series of people who have unconsciously acquired the habit of demanding more and more from themselves, getting to the point of setting goals that are increasingly difficult to achieve in their daily activities, many of them even improbable. Going beyond the professional and reaching physical activity, hobbies and even relationships, demanding too much from yourself is based on a habit that is increasingly present and established in people’s daily lives.
However, this pressure for constant overachieving has a direct relation to the increase of psychological diseases, such as depression, Burnout syndrome, anxiety and others. And, as such, they grow silently and go unnoticed by many.
We have entered the 21st-century society still devoid of ways of dealing with the complexity of our time. And I think it would be interesting to explore this topic, especially based on some of the writings I have read in recent months.
Man’s biggest enemies are no longer animals, bacteria or viruses, but thoughts.
The diseases that affect humans, in addition to affecting our organisms biologically, are also the product of socio-historical constructions. The whole set of economic, social and environmental policies that have been set in the world over the centuries have profoundly impacted people’s daily lives in all parts of the world.
South Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han, in his work “The Burnout Society”, using the genealogy of Baudrillard’s as a reference, says that human enemies have been decreasing in size throughout history, but increasing in difficulty and complexity to combat them. Consider the following:
1. First Stage — Wolves: Human’s first enemy was the wolf. As it was a physical and external threat, we defended ourselves by building protective barriers.
2. Second Stage — Rats: Man’s second enemy were the rats, which did not attack us directly, but in a hidden and silent way. We fought rats no longer directly through physical aggression, but through hygiene. When compared to wolves, rats are smaller in terms of size and more difficult to be dealt with.
3. Third Stage — Viruses: After some time, we went through a stage of viral diseases — viruses — , enemies which are even more difficult to be dealt with, since they are practically invisible and enter the body attacking it from the inside out. However, our immune system still manages to fight off this type of invader. When compared to wolves and rats, viruses are even smaller in terms of size and are harder to deal.
4. The Current Stage — Neural Diseases: If in previous centuries humanity’s health problems were predominantly bacterial and immunological, today they are caused by psychological problems. We live in an age marked by neuronal diseases. The flu pandemics caused by rats have been replaced by Burnout syndromes, ADHD, depression and anxiety.
Can you see how man’s enemies have been diminishing in size and increasing in difficulty to be beaten? And there lies the problem: we do not have an immune system to deal with today’s problems, psychological problems.
The causes of people’s neural diseases in the 21st century have diverse origins and manifest themselves in a very subtle way. They are harder to detect, therefore they are more dangerous, because they reveal themselves silently in our bodies through our thoughts. They are not like rats or any viruses. They are not like a wolf that physically appears in front of you. To kill or escape a wolf, you just fight or run away. It is that simple case. But in the case of psychic diseases (depression, anxieties, Burnout syndromes, etc.), treating them is not so simple. Anxiety, for example, manifests itself quietly and gradually in the organism of an individual from a conjuncture of thoughts, circumstances and experiences that life exposes them to, in addition to other factors.
It’s not that diseases from earlier times do not cause problems nowadays. Depending on the region, the socioeconomic conditions and hygiene in which these diseases manifest themselves, they surely still do. However, “Despite our immense fear of a flu pandemic, we do not live in a viral age. Thanks to the immunological technique, we have already left that era behind us”, says Han.
The society of performance, therefore, the Burnout Society.
Han sees a direct relation between neural problems, the constant idea of demanding too much from yourself, and depression, and in seeking ever better performances and results:
“ (…) The society of achievement and activeness is generating excessive tiredness and exhaustion. These psychic conditions characterize a world that is poor in negativity and in turn dominated by excess positity. They are not immunological reactions presupposing the negativity of the immunologically. Other, Rather, they are caused by a “too-much” of posivity. The excessiveness of performance leads to psychic infarctions”.
This “Burnout Society”, Byung-Chul Han’s own term, is a society that places performance as the main reference in all life’s activities and, consequently, people “become subjects of performance and overproduction. They become entrepreneurs of themselves”, he says. We live in a society dominated by fitness gyms, banks, and shopping centers, whose modus operandi is to set goals that are increasingly difficult for people to reach. And the habit of outlining unrealistic goals is unconsciously incorporated by the individual, even without a hierarchically superior individual forcing it. And this phenomenon gradually expands into all areas of the individual’s life.
Han outlines a fundamental difference here: the problem is not in the responsibilities and initiative of the individual, but in the excess of performance and demanding too much from themselves as a reference way of thought in all areas of life.
Han also understands that the pressure for ever higher performance is the main cause for the various neuronal diseases that have appeared in recent years, among which, depression:
“The depressive has been wounded by internalized war. Depression is the sickness of a society that suffers from excessive positivity. It reflects a humanity waging war on itself”.
Han points to the fact that we have not yet found the immune defense for neural problems, given that those are recent problems that accompanied the turn of the 20th to the 21st century. But it is possible to find a cause that gives rise to some of these neural diseases: the “excess of positivity”.
The Problem of Excess of Positivity.
For Byung-Chul Han, the psychic diseases of the 21st century follow a dialectic, an unconscious reasoning structure he calls “Excess of Positivity”.
This excess of positivity is manifested by the excessive demand for higher performances, overproduction and over communication in many human environments. And because it directly impacts people’s pathological conditions, Excess of Positivity is seen by Byung-Chul Han as a form of violence. A psychological violence.
“The positivation of the world allows new forms of violence to emerge.”
Although positivity itself is an important ideal for the pursuit of self-realization, its boundless excess brings with it a series of dangers that give rise to a series of problems. From my interpretation, one of the dangers of excess of positivity is the unconscious tendency of the individual to take responsibility for all things that happen around them, and we often do not realize that a big part of the circumstances that are created around us are independent of our actions, or even of our wills.
In any case, excess of positivity, like any excess, is destructive. And, just like every form of thought, it is difficult to identify.
In an interview for El País, Han says that people have gone from “must do” to “being able to do”:
“We live with the anguish of not doing everything that could be done, and, if you’re not a winner, it’s your fault.”
Excess of positivity and motivation as the origin of psychological diseases.
Byung-Chul Han sees the increase in psychological diseases as a result of Excess of Positivity:
“Depression, ADHD, and burnout syndrome point to excess positivity. Burnout syndrome occurs when the ego overheats, which follows from too much of the Same. The “hyper” in hyperactivity is not an immunological category. It represents the massification of the positive.”
And, by demanding too much from oneself, too much positivity makes so that one “exploits oneself.” They become “an aggressor and a victim at the same time”.
“Excess work and performance escalate into auto-exploitation. This is more efficient than exploitation, for the feeling of freedom attends it. The exploiter is simultaneously the exploited “
“Perfection is mutilation”.
How to live in the Burnout Society? Well, it is difficult to come to an answer, but I believe the first step must be to realize the existence of this society in us, after all, we have created it ourselves.
Either way, one of the references of life we can have is nature itself, and one of its teachings is the quest for balance.
Roberto Otsu, in his book “The Wisdom of Nature”, reminds us that society demands perfection from us, that “in society, the more, the better.” “Perfection is mutilation,” he says, because wanting to be perfect in all daily activities is quite harmful to the human being, because the organism needs rest.
Nature tends to balance and moderation: light and dark, hot and cold, high and low, work and rest, yin and yang. All manifestations of nature are based on duality, but contrary to popular opinion, opposites are not conflicting, but complementary. And, if these phenomena manifest themselves in nature, they also reveal themselves in us, human beings, after all, we are part of nature. Opposites complement each other to form a single and balanced unit, that is you.
Han also quotes the Bible to show how rest is important in our lives:
“After finishing his creation, God called the seventh day holy. Holy, therefore, is not the day for-this, but the day not-to, a day in which it would be possible to use the useless. It’s the day of fatigue. The intermediate time is a time without work, a playful time, which is also distinguished from the Heideggerian time, which is essentially a time of healing and work”.
“Knowing the thought that governs everything”, as Heraclitus of Ephesus used to say, is a sign of wisdom, therefore, of self-knowledge.