“I know what I need to do to get healthier,” a friend said. “I need to work out several more times per week.”

I wasn’t so sure. Yes, I know that exercise is an important part of mental and physical health. But I also know this person’s calendar, how many hours he’s working each week, all while trying to juggle family responsibilities. He’s already doing so much. Will pounding on the “Do More” button really bring him the benefits he’s hoping for?

Almost every leader I know right now is totally slammed. You see them on Zoom and it looks like they were hit by a truck after running a marathon. Every day. The good news is that most don’t have to commute. The bad news is that they’re simply up earlier pounding through the emails before spending most of the day staring at others through a camera.

This is where the wisdom of the Goldilocks Principle comes in. If you’re trying to become the best version of yourself by addressing an unhelpful pattern, start with this question: Does the pattern come from doing something too much (an excess) or from doing something too little (a deficiency)? If it comes from an excess, the best thing you can do is to pull back, to do less, to do something very countercultural – to abstain. 

Here are a few practices of pulling back that some of my clients have tried:

  • If you dominate conversations too often, try talking less and listening more. This will help you curb your understandable desire to contribute and be heard so that it’s useful and not counterproductive.
  • If you argue too much or too often have to have your own way, try letting someone else have the last word for one day. Yes, this will baffle your colleagues and family. It will also work to tame your desire to win so that it doesn’t get in the way of getting important stuff done.
  • If you’re obsessed with cleaning out your email inbox – perhaps the most futile activity in corporate life – take one day where you refuse to write or read email. The world will not end.
  • If every day is jam-packed with meetings and calls, make a standing appointment where you go walk around the block. Slowly. This might help wean you off the need to control every outcome and calm the nervous energy that drives that impulse.

My friend wasn’t suffering from doing too little. He was suffering from doing too much. You can imagine his relief when the realization hit him that cutting something out of his schedule would do more than trying to jam in a workout, no matter how “healthy” that activity looked on the surface.

How about you? Does that pattern you’re working on come from doing too much? If so, why not step back? Sometimes less really is more.Be bright