A common theme in my work is helping clients work through the anxiety that comes from setting standards for themselves that are impossible to reach and then feeling disappointed that they are never doing enough. As you can no doubt imagine, this is an uncomfortable feeling to live with on a daily basis. Repeat it over and over again, “I am not enough”. How does that feel in your body when you keep saying it?
Examples of this look like… decorating cupcakes for your kids bake sale and then berating yourself that you waited until the last minute so they don’t look nearly as good as if you had gotten started earlier, or, you are not slim enough, or your eyebrows are not shaped well enough, or you didn’t “put enough heart into blah blah blah…”. And, the list goes on.
I find that the problem, rather than being what people euphemistically call “high standards”, is, more specifically, that no qualifying standard is actually set. Rather, there is a limitless, perfectionistic, “I will know when I get there”, approach to most of life’s daily activities. I frequently ask clients, “how do you know when you have done a good enough job at X?”. The answers I hear invariably resemble, “I don’t know”. Then I ask them to set a limit, based on what they would find adequate in a given area, what they would consider sufficient. I ask them,”so, if someone else did this amount of X, you would find that quite satisfactory, correct?”. From this point, we can use this as a standard for “enough”. If we use cupcakes, for example, a person might say that what they would find “sufficient” to buy at a bake sale tends to be a standard quite a bit lower than the “never good enough” standard they use to measure their own cupcakes. Re-orienting yourself to contemplate what is enough and be clear about that is often a very effective tool for limiting the amount of wasted energy and negative self-talk that comes from “I’ll know when get there thinking”, because you never get there when you don’t know where “there” is,
It never ceases to amaze me how frequently regular folks live under these ongoing stories of “I am not enough” or “everyone else is doing a better job at such and such”. Its actually exhausting to think about, and I know, because I have spent plenty of time thinking this way in my life. Its a relief that I am now choosing to put far less of my precious energy into activities like that. Whew!
I have included a link to a relevant article by Elizabeth Gilbert about cutting ourselves some slack. I love the message, which I heard to be, have compassion for yourself. Treat yourself as you would treat others.
Can you imagine saying to another person, a friend or loved one, some of the things you say to yourself?, “Those cupcakes look like you didn’t start early enough”, “your eyebrows don’t have a nice enough shape”. Practicing compassion for ourselves is not being a wimp, its being smart. If you strive for realistic goals and give yourself full credit for achieving them before you move on to setting new goals then you will probably experience a little bit of time feeling proud of what you have accomplished. Wouldn’t that be nice. Wouldn’t it be nice if you would let yourself be proud of your cupcakes.
I find a general theme in Western culture to be that if you let yourself feel proud of your accomplishments then you may be seen as full of yourself or conceited. I have touched on this in other articles (Changing Your Personal Stories Changes Your Life) (The Truth About Honest Liars) because it is so pervasive and truly discouraging. We watch people in the media achieving goals, winning races and being honored for them over and over and then when it comes to our own achievements so many of us have standards without limit and a sense of shame for admitting we have done a good job. I mean seriously, how can anyone win (a.k.a. feel good about oneself) with this going on inside our heads?
Maybe its time to set an example for others about what you really feel is “enough” and, how about, the fact that you “are” enough. You were born enough. We all are. We are born lovely, wonderful and sufficient. Unfortunately we are trained out of this way of thinking all too often. I suggest that media influence is the biggest factor in that training but that’s an upcoming article…
Cut yourself some slack and feel more peaceful everyday in all situations. Enjoy your cupcakes, its your choice.
For more information contact Dawn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 250-216-9422