What often holds me back is the all-or-nothing mentality, which eventually leads to self-doubt. In The Birth Order Book, Dr. Kevin Lehman calls this being a “discouraged perfectionist.” I basically feels like this: “If I can’t do this right, I’m not doing it at all.” Like, I only feel good about myself or matter when I’m “perfect”, or if I’ve lived up to the standard I set for myself. He says this is a definitive trait in firstborn and only children. He reminds us firstborns:
“…keep in mind that you’ve been busy all your life living up to everyone else’s standards. You may have never even stopped to figure out exactly what you want out of life. You’ve been living up to the expectations of your parents, your teachers, your spouse, and so on. When you try to live up to everyone else’s expectations, you tend to believe what everyone says about you.”
I had to think hard about that. Are my standards based in what other people think? Is that why I feel crazy? For some, the answer was yes.
Self-Doubt is when you don’t believe you can accomplish what you set out to do or what you want to do, and in my case, when I couldn’t please everyone. Being overwhelmed by setbacks allows all that doubt to creep in; when I got excited about a project and then it fell flat, or I get writers block, or I have to wait on something or someone else to get an answer. When the pieces of my perfectly planned puzzle don’t connect, I begin to question my effectiveness, credibility, and worth.
“Was I really supposed to do this in the first place?
“Maybe I’m not cut out for this.”
Then we compare. Uggggghhhh….comparing may start out as “taking notes” to find best practices, but when it ends in self deprecation and hatred, that’s where it gets ugly. Then follows the negative self talk:
“I’ll never do it as well as she does…they’re so much more talented that I am… I’m not creative, or funny, or friendly…”
….which leads to wallowing in a tub of ice cream.
It’s almost like a defense mechanism, putting yourself down so other people can’t say it about you. I’ve come to recognize it as a form of control in my life. If I can act as my own source of criticism, the others can’t hurt me as much.
When I go to that dark place, I have to fight these destructive thoughts with truth. Here are five truths to remember that may help you overcome self-doubt:
Mistakes Do Not Equal Failure
We need to get use to “failing forward,” and accept that every failure chisels our path to success. The fear of failure can be paralyzing, but it’s actually the best tool for growth. I think back to the times I made mistakes, how much I learned from it, and how it made me better. Dr. Lehman on negative self-talk:
“If you hear yourself thinking that kind of thing, stop and instead look closely at the situation. What caused the failure? What was your first mistake, which led to the second, and so on. Did you go against your better judgement? What can you do differently next time? As you analyze your failure or mistake, you will automatically be learning and setting yourself up to improve in the future.”
Aim Low Instead of High
My pastor says:
“The key to frustration is unmet expectation.”
Perfectionists: we put huge expectations on ourselves and fall harder when we miss that mark. We may stress and focus on something to overcompensate with like tons of exercise, or a super strict diet (remember that all or nothing mentality?) The pressure to overcompensate will get us back on that cycle again.
There is something to be said for operating at a slow and steady pace, but I feel like it’s a lot to ask of myself when my brain is going a hundred miles an hour. Allowing time for the learning curve to mature means putting on the breaks and aiming low, making simple, doable lists that I know can be accomplished in a reasonable amount of time. I aimed for 3 blog posts this month and I’m going on 6 already. Operating in success instead of deficit is far more motivating. Dr. Lehman says, “Beautiful cathedrals are built one brick at a time.”
Step Back and Be Objective
When I’m doubting myself, I have to shift my focus, or move to another place in the house, lay down, go for a walk, anything to mentally remove myself from the situation. This helps me to gain some new perspective. It keeps me from getting lost in my negative thinking. Dr. Lehman says:
“The key to handling failure and making it a teacher rather than a destroyer is to look at it in a detached, objective way…you have to attack it systematically with what I call cognitive discipline: a methodical, organized approach to problem-solving.”
Focus On a Few Things
I really needed to downsize my project list this year. Sure I’d like to be more involved with kid’s school, but I also have to take care of our home, have it ready for the family to come home and relax. I can’t be at every field trip, we can’t sign the kids up for every sport, but I can take baby steps to accomplish what is right in front of me. Maybe I can just stick to avoiding sugar instead of sugar, dairy, and carbs (I mean, let’s not get crazy!)
Tell Yourself the Truth
Know your worth. You are a special creation of Almighty God. You have innate value, you are loved by God, and at least one person in this world. You have your own experience and perspective that someone else can learn from. He has given you unique abilities, experience, and insight that are only yours. I try to remember this when I want to write about a subject that’s already been written by an awesome blogger or two… there are no new ideas, just recycled ones that share the same truth over time in different hearts.
“I have come this far already…”
“______ are my strengths, I need to keep operating in that and stop chasing what other people are doing.”
Yet another reason why we need community, and intimate group of people who can do life with you, who you can be vulnerable with, who will tell you the truth about yourself in the light of God’s truth. You are worth everything that’s been put on your heart to share. You are worth every honest effort you give to a new project or lifestyle.
If I’m Being Honest…
I finished typing out my little outline for this subject, opened Facebook on my phone to do the live video, and immediately got a head rush. My heart dropped and beat so fast. My hands started shaking. Everything inside told me I couldn’t do it. But when fear grips you, you have to push through. It’s scary? Do it anyway.