Community//

The Cure for America’s “Not-enoughness” Epidemic

How to address perfectionism and how it erodes feelings of joy.

 Full disclosure, I started writing this blog hours before getting my jacket caught in the elevator doors while taking my 9.5-month-old son out for a walk.  Motherhood has taught me so much about this topic and I am humbled every day.

So much of the human experience involves comparing ourselves to others, evaluating how we measure up, being judged or valued based on performance or standing.  It’s a tricky societal norm that unfortunately leaves most of us feeling self-critical, overwhelmed, and falling short a lot of the time.  Whether the context be work, relationships, appearances, parenthood, or status, the result is the same: not enoughness.

 Not enoughness (adj.) the experience of feeling alone, judgmental, and critical of oneself, while operating with the belief that everyone else has figured this puzzle out and you are behind, late, or incompetent.

 This description is two-fold, not only do we feel critical of ourselves and not enough, we compound this difficulty with further isolation where we trick ourselves into believing this isn’t a common experience held by most human beings today.  The antidote is connection, vulnerability, and honesty. However, let’s be honest, how many of us feel compelled to double down on connection and vulnerability when already feeling the above not enoughness. That we open ourselves to further criticism and scrutiny would not be “smart”.

 What can we do? How do we find ourselves in the midst of this isolating space and see a way forward? Practice.

1.What does not enoughness look like in you. Everyone has their own flavor. Identify where this comes up most; what triggers it, who brings it out most in you. What does it look like, sound like, feel like? What thoughts, feelings, and behaviors accompany it? We need to be able to recognize when it is happening to redirect, refocus, and be skillful. The question is not if this experience happens for you, it is when and how frequently?

2.Check the Facts. When you identify being in the not enoughness space, look around. Check the facts, what is objectively true about this situation.  For example, it’s not objectively true that making a mistake, or not achieving perfection makes a person not enough. This may feel true or be someone’s belief but it is not a fact.  The belief that we should know how to do something innately without ever learning how to do it, or being trained in it, or practicing, is not a realistic expectation. If you identify the feelings of not enoughness and then when you check the facts realize you don’t have any objective evidence to support this feeling state, there are two choices:   

a.) Charge ahead anyway, beating yourself up will help keep you on your toes!

b.) Acknowledge you are being unfairly critical or harsh and then to whatever degree possible with your current practice level, let it go.

3. Use a wise mind mantra to ground yourself in the facts: (personal favorite) “I am enough, I have enough, I do enough.”Reframe/Check the comparisons: Often a common trigger for “not enoughness” is comparing ourselves to other people, or our perception of other people. Before getting down on yourself about not having what another person has, ask yourself if it’s something you would actually want.  Sometimes we see things we don’t have and immediately think “I want that, I don’t have that, why don’t I have that?!” Before judging ourselves for not being enough or having something someone else has, first, let’s examine if we really desire it and secondly if we are willing to make the commitment to the behavior changes that it involves to get and keep the thing.  For example, we watch tv and see an actor who is playing a superhero in a movie, there is a scene where actor saves the day using a sword and takes off armor to reveal a flawless, chiseled body; wait for the immediate “I want that” to sink it.  Okay so couple things to consider, IT’S A MOVIE, THEY ARE A SUPERHERO, THEY HAVE HAD MONTHS OF DAILY/PROFESSIONAL COACHING AND PREPARATION TO GET TO THE SHAPE THEY ARE CURRENTLY IN, SWORDS ARE ILLEGAL. So, could I be a superhero? No, but if I really wanted to commit to the hard-dedicated work that goes into getting into that kind of physical shape I’d likely have to quit my job, my marriage, my kid, and my friends which isn’t something I am willing to do and therefore my choice. I am not a superhero, because I am choosing other things instead.  It isn’t that we Can’t do or have the thing, we are actually choosing how we want to use our energy and live our lives.  When we can think of this as a choice it puts the power and perspective back in our hands. We can do a lot, but we cannot do everything.

4. Let it Be Good Enough: Perfection is the number one destroyer of peace. Allowing our best to be enough, enough to be enough, and then to get busy doing whatever parts of life come next.  We can get trapped in the perfection game and caught up treating every task as precious. This results in not having the energy, time, or bandwidth to give to our valued priorities.  We must choose what we are prioritizing. We can’t be perfect, but we can be really good enough in areas that matter most. Don’t let your tasks take over your life.  They don’t have a strong enough return.  Figure out what things matter most and remind yourself of them when drift happens.

5. “Beauty lies in the details” or “The devil is in the details”: Don’t over think it.  You can find “evidence” to support all points of view on the internet these days. The black and white, non-dialectical nature of perfectionism is exactly why it is so destructive. Life is full of nuance and there’s no google search that can give us those answers. It matters, and sometimes it matters a lot, and sometimes it matters too much. Sometimes it doesn’t matter.  Do a good enough job, don’t be flippant or irresponsible about a task, or a conversation, or a commitment- give it a time, effort and respect and then move on. Don’t look back. If you are someone who struggles with perfectionism, I promise your good enough is enough!

6. Give each other the benefit of the doubt and collectively let go. We must stop taking ourselves so seriously, or seeing our actions as definitions of character. Of course, we should all take ourselves seriously, sometimes, and of course our actions make up who we are and what we value, sometimes, a lot of the time. And some of the time we just trip up, or need a break, or need a kind compassionate voice to remind us that we have all been there and then keep it moving.  

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