It’s not working. And as hard as I try, it’s not getting any better. In fact, the harder I try, the worse things seem to become.

Ever been there? I have. You probably have too.

Yes, there are times when working harder is exactly what we need to do. If it were easy, anybody could do it, and probably already would have! Almost nothing important or valuable comes without more-than-average effort.

But for people with Type-A personalities like me, the more common problem is working too hard at something, rather than not working at all. And that can end up making all our effort nearly useless.

This principle may be especially important in the areas of our life that matter most:

  • Parenting – ever try to force a teenager to do things your way?
  • Studying – your mind can only absorb so much in a given period of time. Many of us never stretch those limits, but students cramming for a major exam know the truth of this.
  • Physical recovery – whether it’s major surgery, a sports injury, or a serious illness, the body takes time to heal. Trying to do too much too soon only delays your recovery.
  • Relationships – the heart is a delicate thing. “Working hard” at feelings is usually counter-productive.
  • Spiritual growth – while this takes being intentional, those who have learned to hear God’s voice or experience His power know that comes through being still.

When we become frustrated by our lack of results, it’s useful to put up the mental stop sign and pause. Our mind has a limited ability to think creatively when we’re focused on working hard in one direction. If what you’re doing isn’t working, try the STOP SIGN, and ask yourself some questions.

1. What’s the real goal I am working toward? Do I want my teen to only listen to my kind of music? Or do I want them to develop the character and maturity to make wise choices in the future? Do I want to prove how fast I can get back to work after an injury? Or do I want to recover as completely as possible so I return to maximum productivity?

2. Am I missing something? Is there some basic idea I don’t understand that’s keeping me from learning this study material? Is there something about my behavior that’s pushing my spouse away? Am I trying to force God to do what I want Him to do?

3. Do I need some outside help? Am I trying to push too much into 24 hours a day? Can I delegate some tasks that someone else might do to allow me to focus on what only I can do? Is this a time when I need some professional advice?

4. What might God be saying to me in this? Is He trying to adjust my course so I might be even more effective for His Kingdom? Am I worrying too much about what others think rather than what He thinks? Is my heart and life clean, allowing Him to bless me where He wants to? Is this a time when I must simply be obedient and let Him worry about the results?

None of this personal clarifying reflection can happen when I’m panicked, rushed, or emotional. If I feel pressured, it may take a determined effort to STOP long enough to mentally calm myself, think, and reflect. And by the way, God almost never screams over the top of our mental loudness. It’s when we STOP that we can hear His still, small voice.

Your turn: Do you feel challenged in trying to do more? How have you found time for the mental STOP signs? What helps you adjust and move forward more effectively? I’d love to hear from you!

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