6 signs you're trying too hard (& how to stop )

written by Erica Quam

As coaches, we're hardwired to work hard. When we don't reach a goal or if something doesn't work out the way we thought it would, we're conditioned to try harder...put the nose to the grindstone. Eventually we'll have a breakthrough. Right?

Trying harder isn't always the solution. Sometimes its smarter to take a step back, get more information, and look for another way.

It doesn't always have to be so hard. We don't always have to struggle. 

Let me share a quick story with you. It's a story about a fly. 

I'm reminded by this story during times that are hard, challenging, or frustrating.

Maybe it'll be helpful for you.

There’s a small fly burning out the last of its short life’s energies in a futile attempt to fly THROUGH the glass of a windowpane. The whining wings tell the poignant story of the fly’s strategy - try harder. But it’s not working. The frenzied effort offers no hope for survival. Ironically, the struggle is part of the trap. It is impossible for the fly to try hard enough to succeed at breaking through the glass. Nevertheless, this little insect has staked its life on reaching its goal - through raw effort and determination.

Across the room, ten steps away, the door is open.

Ten seconds of flying time and this small creature could reach the outside world it seeks. With only a fraction of the effort now being wasted, it could be free of this self imposed trap. The breakthrough possibility is there. It would be so easy.
— The Tale of a Fly (adapted from Price Pritchett)

6 signs you're trying too hard:

  • Taking on other people's problems
  • Making sure everyone is happy 
  • Always doing what other people want you to do
  • Feeling guilty when you do something for yourself
  • Saying yes when you want to say no
  • Getting overwhelmed and burnt out

When you sense you're trying too hard, remember the fly trying to break through the glass window. Take a moment...rather than launching into your same old tactic, same old complaints, same old patterns.

Just stop for a moment and breathe. Then, try asking yourself a few more productive questions like:

  • Is there a decision I need to make?
  • Is there a boundary I need to set?
  • Is there a conversation I need to have? 


When we leave decisions dangling in the air and put them off...they STILL take up our time, our energy, and our valuable attention. 

Practice making decisions. Make decisions more quickly - both big and small. Once you've made a decision - good or bad - notice how it frees you up. You don't have to go through life perfectly. Go through life with more freedom! We allow ourselves to get so bogged down in the smallest details - tiny minutia - and it literally stops us in our tracks.

How much will this matter in the big picture? Make a decision. Get it done. And move on.


When we don't set boundaries, we aren't fully valuing ourself and our time. We literally give away our power. People test us all the time - to find out where we've set our limits. If we haven't set them, people will often push buttons until we find ourselves getting triggered - sometimes by the smallest things.

As Brené Brown writes, "Setting boundaries and holding people accountable is a lot more work than shaming and blaming. But it's also more effective."

When little triggers come up and you blow up, it's definitely a clue. Where there's a stress, there's a lack of a standard. Figure out what that standard is...then communicate it to the other person. 


When we avoid conversations instead of practicing our communication skills, we give away an opportunity to lead.

Communication is a leadership skill. Yet, we often avoid having difficult conversations. We shy away from giving constructive feedback - many times because of our own experiences of taking things personally. Feedback is a gift. Give it with positive intent and the relationship will more often be strengthened instead of strained.

Begin to see struggle as a teacher

Instead of always trying harder, start to see struggle as a teacher. Think of the fly. Is that you? Look for your part in the situation - where can you take ownership, take responsibility, and take back some control. We can't control others - but we can take charge of ourselves and how we move about the world.

What can you take away from the story of the fly? Share one thought in the comments below.