It is frankly absurd when you think of it that an overwhelming majority of the population has got the feeling of not being good enough. This begs the question: good enough for what? The answers are varied and the feeling of not being good enough covers just about everything from getting a promotion to being loved. Just note that, often, it’s not your environment that dictates to you that you’re not good enough: it’s yourself! Not feeling good enough could be the reason why your projects don’t come off the ground, why you seem to be stuck in the same old rut, why you’re not getting the success you crave.

Because what would happen if your projects DID come under way? What would happen if they DID work? What would happen if you turned out to be a success, got a promotion and found true love?

Well, you would no longer be able to say that you “weren’t good enough”, would you?

Your subconscious is always working FOR you, trying to preserve you, making sure that you’re right. So if you THINK you’re “not good enough”, your subconscious is going to make sure that you’ll be right, you’ll remain UNsuccessful so that you’re won’t be proven wrong. Simple, really, when you think of it! But just a tiny bit frustrating!

In the language of research this phenomenon is called self-verification. This is how Tal Ben-Shahar describes it:

The mechanism of self-enhancement is the desire to be seen positively by yourself and by others.  Self-verification is the desire to be perceived accurately by others, to be perceived as you really are or as you believe you really are. These two mechanisms (self-enhancement and self-verification (my comment)) are often in conflict. For example, a person with low self-esteem may want to look good in the eyes of others, self-enhancement, and at the same time may want to be seen as negatively as she sees herself, self-verification, On the one hand she wants to be perceived as worthy, on the other, her low self-esteem makes her feel unworthy, and so in order to feel that she is being seen as she feels she really is, she wants to be seen by others as unworthy. Self-enhancement and self-verification, are strong internal drives, and whether one or the other dominates when they are in conflict, depends on the individual and the specific situation.

When you’re a victim of not feeling good enough, you find it difficult to see things through to the end. You stop short of success. Indeed, as you haven’t tasted success, you might develop a resistance to doing anything because… what’s the point? You don’t know what it feels like to be successful so there goes your self-motivation. In fact, what’s the point, you might be saying, of saving up for a holiday because you just KNOW that you won’t make it, that you’ll fritter the money away on something else. What’s the point of beginning to write that book? Somebody has already done it before you. And they’ve done it better too!
Apart from bringing out the perfectionist tendencies in you, it’s also an excellent way to not do anything because if everything has already been done better than you can do it, or, if you can’t do it PERFECTLY, there’s just no point in doing it, is there? This is why perfectionism is linked to procrastination: procrastinators procrastinate because they know that whatever they do, it just won’t be good enough. So where’s the point in starting? If you start something, it’s because you think you’ll finish it, it’ll be fun and that it serves a purpose. If you know that it won’t be good enough because imperfect, why would you start?

In my opinion, you should just start. Take the first (baby) step towards beginning something. You don’t have to have all the details figured out, but you have to start. What happens to people who don’t feel good enough is that they

  • Compare themselves to unrealistic role models
  • Set themselves unrealistically high standards
  • Adopt an all-or-nothing approach

It’s in our nature to compare ourselves to others. I don’t think that that is really useful in most situations (it’s so much more fun just being yourself, unapologetically). What is even worse is that if you don’t feel good enough, you’re probably comparing yourself to not just anybody, but to THE BEST! Chances are that if you feel that you’ve got a less than perfect body, you’re comparing yourself to super models or Hollywood film stars. Not very helpful. Granted, some of them are just otherworldly beautiful, but can you really compare yourself to them? Chances are that they spend hours every day at the gym, that they’re on a strict diet, that before they have their picture taken, a make-up artist and a hair-dresser have been working on them for hours. And I’m not going into the subject of Photoshop.

So why compare yourself to them? You’re bound to lose. I’m NOT saying that you shouldn’t take care of yourself, that you shouldn’t make the most of what you’ve got and try to look your best. That’s my point, look YOUR best, not somebody else’s best.

If you set yourself unrealistically high standards, you’re bound to fail again. This is where self-verification sets in: because you can’t be perfect, any result you may obtain will always be below perfect and you’re sure to draw the conclusion that you’re not good enough because imperfect.

I feel that this comes to expression especially in what is sometimes called the work/life balance. You want to perform well at work, doing everything to the best of your ability and why not better? You want to be the perfect parent, after all, your children are all wished for and cherished. You want to avoid making the same mistakes that your parents made with you. You also want to be an attentive, fun and loving partner, making sure to stay fit and good-looking so that your spouse will have no excuse… When off work, you find it necessary to do something meaningful and interesting even if it’s a bit of a strain to fit it in…. In short, you set yourself impossible standards that few people can maintain. And at what cost? Overwhelm, stress, frustration, hurt. There’s no joy in it. You might have persuaded yourself that you can compensate by doing MORE, always more, so instead of enjoying your children’s or your spouse’s company, you’re trying to answer work-related email and phone calls. Instead of listening to what people are saying to you, you’re planning how you could do the shopping and still find the time to go to the dentist’s.

We learn behaviour from other people. When we were little, we would watch our parents put food up to their mouths and eat it. Having observed that for a while, we had a go at it for ourselves! If our parents allowed us to experiment, to get some of the food in our hair and on the furniture, we would eventually get the hang of it and some of the food would land in our mouths and then later in our tummies! Our brains would light up! “Food is nice! This feels great! I’m a powerful person! I just fed myself”, it would be thinking. It’s the same mechanism and strategy we used for learning how to walk, trial and error. When you were a toddler, you didn’t think: “I don’t just want to get up and walk, I want to dance the pas de deux from Swan Lake, act 2! It’s either that or nothing!” Had you been thinking like that, you’d still be sitting there on the floor! My point is, why change a mechanism and strategy that works? It was good enough to teach you how to feed yourself and how to get up and walk, some pretty useful stuff. Why discard it now? It served you well in the past. You were settling for less than perfect and relying on the trial-and-error method to get you to your goal.

So instead of adopting the all-or-nothing approach, what you might want to try out is my good-enough approach. This is something I’ve had to teach myself and that I’m still experimenting with! In order to experiment with this, you need to be a little flexible with yourself and with your mindset. It’s about setting yourself different standards from what you’re used to and avoiding comparing yourself to an idealised version of yourself or to anybody else. It’s not about having low standards or letting yourself off the hook, playing small. You have to get real about where you’re at NOW, then determine where you’d like to be, and then negotiate with yourself to see what you’re willing to settle for 😉

Here goes:

Take a piece of paper or use mine: How-to-overcome-the-feeling-of-not-being-good-enough. Draw 3 columns. The title of the 1st column is REALITY. The title of the 3rd is IDEAL. Sit down, relax, and get real. Where are you at now? Honestly. If you’re embellishing reality, this exercise is not going to work for you! So let’s say you want to get fit. You want to exercise, but you somehow never get around to it. Always something more important and besides, where would you find the time? So in your REALITY column, you write for instance: occasional Sunday walks, going to the swimming pool 3 times a year, biking with family during holidays… Have a look at the exercise you REALLY do, not what you think you ought to do! Once you’ve filled up the 1st column, move to the 3rd column. What would you IDEALLY like to do? At the moment, you have a lot of lofty ideas about going to the gym 6 times a week, going out running after work, doing yoga and meditation every morning. In most people’s lives, this would take up too much time and I suspect in yours too, but write it down anyway!

You’ve now got something written down in 2 out of 3 columns: what you’re really doing and what you’d like to do. You’re going to take the reality check even further. There’s most likely a HUGE gap between what you actually do and what you’d like to do. You’re going to bridge that gap in the 2nd column by writing down what would be good enough for YOU! Not for Gwyneth Paltrow; YOU. What is realistic, taking into account other obligations and desires. Do you really want to spend all your leisure time exercising? You might feel you ought to, but is it really desirable if it means spending less time with friends and family, neglecting your piano practice or gardening?

So in the middle column, the 2nd, the title being GOOD ENOUGH, you could write something down that looks like this: meditating for 5 minutes every morning, running 30 minutes 2 times a week and taking the children out with me, to the park, to the woods, to the sea, to the swimming pool during the weekend. You’re now constructing something realistic, something doable than won’t compromise your other activities, duties and pleasures.

If you manage to do this four weeks in a row, guess how you’d be feeling! You’d be feeling GOOD ENOUGH! You wouldn’t have set yourself unrealistic goals so you would be able to achieve them! You could also journal about the following question:

How would my life be different if I let go of perfect?

When you’ve practised the good-enough method for a while, you might want to revise it. You’ve been making progress and you’re starting to feel good enough. You might actually begin to feel GREAT! This could spur you on to work on other areas of your life or you could revise your “good enough column” and perhaps add a few things. Maybe you could meditate for 10 minutes in the morning, maybe you could take out the children both Saturday AND Sunday. The key word being EXPERIMENT! Have fun with it and please let me know if this was helpful.

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