Licensed Mental Health Counselor
Most of us have high expectations of both ourselves and others. This is not always a bad thing. We set goals, we make plans, we want to be successful people as it relates to family, relationships, and money. But oftentimes, how we react to a different outcome of an expectation we had of ourselves can be debilitating and painful, instead of being motivating to move forward with our goals and desires. These self-imposed beliefs cause us pain because the self-talk in our heads can often go on a “not good enough” loop, seemingly unending. So how do we break free from that downward spiral? It is easier said than done, but it is not impossible. It takes some practice. And truly, from my professional and personal experience, this is one of those life lessons that we will have the opportunity to continuously practice, if we are open to it. So today, I invite you to think of how you respond to a “should have” belief and if you respond with unkindness, try to think of how you would approach a friend going through a similar situation.
Who decided that making mistakes was such a bad thing? Why do we sometimes expect perfection? We are so afraid of doing something wrong that we even miss out on a lot of opportunities. What will they think of me? Do I sound stupid? Do I seem incompetent? How could I have made that mistake? Will s/he think I don’t care if I say no? Was this the dumbest question in the history of the world? We give a lot of power to others when we evaluate ourselves based on what we think our partners, parents, children, friends, employers, others, might think. I am with you on this one, I get caught up in it as well. But I continue to learn that while mistakes are painful, they are actually the best teachers. Yes, some mistakes have more dire consequences than others, but in our everyday lives, we still often berate and are deeply unkind to ourselves when we make the most simple of errors.
“Be careful what you say to yourself, you are listening.” During times you don’t meet an expectation you had of yourself, be a friend to yourself so that you stop the downward spiral of negativity. In short: how would you respond and what would you say to a friend if they were in your shoes? I will share a personal example, and it may sound dramatic, but it was a powerful experience I am grateful for because I didn’t know how hard I could be on myself over a simple mistake. I was sitting with a friend one day and noticed on my calendar that I had double-booked myself. My immediate response was, “Ugh, how did that even happen?” I was clearly frustrated with myself and my body language said it all. That was my initial reaction, and given some time, I would have been able to problem solve. But why was I so mean in those first moments of realization I made a mistake? I guarantee you that if our roles had been reversed, I would have said to my friend, without even thinking, “Hmm, I guess you’re going to have to reschedule one of those.” I would not have thought that mistake was a big deal at all! And I certainly would not have thought that making a mistake said anything about my friend besides that they are human. So the point is, practice responding to your mistakes in the same way you would respond to a friend’s mistake. My friend wanted to show me what I was doing to myself and so she responded, with the intention of highlighting a harsh limiting belief: “God Juli, how could you do that? You are so stupid.” She said out loud what I was thinking and feeling, and it was not very kind. But I got the chance to replace my unkind evaluation of myself with a more forgiving and kind appreciation. Hmm, I guess I am going to have to reschedule one of those. I made a mistake, and it is okay, and I am okay.
In my work, I have also used this approach to help my clients become aware of how they speak to themselves and what limiting beliefs and expectations might be holding them back. One of the teenagers I work with shared she felt stupid and not smart enough when she did not do as well as she had hoped on a test. We talked about how hard she worked in class, and how much she studied and prepared for this test, but in the end, she did not do as well as she wanted and expected. She felt stuck in this loop of “I am stupid.” So we talked about being a good friend to herself in this situation and what that might look like. I invited her to think of having this conversation with her best friend, and asked, “Would you say to your friend, ‘Jeez (friend), you worked so hard in class, you studied a lot for this test, but man, you’re so stupid, no wonder you failed it.’” She looked shocked and without hesitating said, “No! I would NEVER!” Then it hit her, “Ohhhh, I am saying that to myself. Yikes!” So we practiced a more loving and compassionate response to her not doing well on her test. The conversation that ensued revolved around these seemingly little stories we tell ourselves and how unaware we often are that we do this. But once you know, you can begin to try a new way of thinking, feeling, and being.
So my challenge to myself and to you is this: resolve to speak to yourself with the same love and compassion you extend to family and friends. Being mindful with our words will create awareness of these thoughts and feelings, and it will be easier to catch ourselves not being kind. I then invite you to replace these unkind words with a more loving and compassionate storyline. Let’s all be good friends to ourselves. Or at least try. The point, always, is to try.
If you feel that you can use additional help in navigating your way out of overwhelming feelings of “not good enough” or you are struggling with how you handle expectations, fear of failure, desire to please others, and perhaps perfectionistic tendencies, the Orlando counselors and life coaches at Life Skills Resource Group are here for you. We can be reached at 407-355-7378 for a free phone consultation.