You don’t have to look very hard to find something – a message, image, video, advertisement – in this world that is out to remind you how you don’t measure up. Sure, the vast majority of the advertising types behind campaigns across all forms of media will probably tell you that their intentions are pure and they are only out to help you by showing you how you can benefit from their products – because their products solve your problems.
Well here’s a newsflash: What if you don’t actually have any problems? What if you suddenly found out that the things you struggled with weren’t problems at all, it’s just that you had been made to believe they were problems by a not-so-secret society out to profit from your pain? (No, this is not the Truman Show, but it’s sure as anything starting to sound like it).
What if your “problems” weren’t problems at all, but you’d been made to believe they were by a not-so-secret society out to profit from your pain?
The truth is that your happiness is actually not dependent on what society says it is. Your dress size, your income, the luminosity if your skin, the whiteness of your teeth, how many likes you receive on social media…none of these things contribute to your happiness in a long-term, sustainable way. In fact, the research tells us that the externals account for a measly 10% of happiness, and even then, we tend to get used to them and return to baseline anyway.
But that doesn’t mean you can automatically go all robot and feel nothing next time you’re surfing the web, watching TV or flicking through your favourite magazine. Doing so will very likely invite something into your gaze which triggers you to feel like you don’t measure up. Something which causes you to believe that everyone else is doing better than you and that in comparison, you are just not good enough. And as long as you believe those feelings, then the companies advertising their quick-fix products profit from your self-doubt.
Here are some tips on managing the ever-present stream of messages reinforcing our doubts about ourselves, telling us we are less than, and convincing us we have problems that are not really problems. Consider these points so that you can take a stand and instead believe in your own worth and value as a human being:
Make your own definition of happiness
Society doesn’t get to decide what will make you happy. That is your freedom and yours alone. By clarifying what truly matters to you deep down in your heart, and then aligning your actions so that they are congruent with your values, you start to live your own definition of happiness, not the one-size-fits-all version promoted on the cover of a magazine.
Decide who you listen to
We only have room for so many opinions in our lives. Trying to please everyone, or gain approval from anyone other than yourself leaves your happiness in someone else’s hands – and is that really the safest place for it to be? Feedback is helpful, especially when it is constructive and given to you by someone who loves you, and who is also out there having a go, being vulnerable and failing at times. Choose to listen to someone you respect. Someone who has good intentions. And someone who walks their talk.
We all get caught up in personalising failure at times. But what if there was another way you could think about it that didn’t paralyse you into a hole of shame and self-criticism? It’s a fact that we won’t always do well but if you acknowledge that failing is a sign that you are down on the field, having a go at life, rather than sitting on the stands just watching it pass you by, then it becomes a reminder of your humanity rather than a marker of your worth as a person (which never changes, no matter what).
Make improvements on your own terms for your own reasons
Even when you accept yourself as you are, decide that you are good enough, and understand your worth as a person, there is still room to grow. I am not suggesting that you reach a psychological destination where you give up on yourself and decide that this is “as good as it gets” and strive for nothing more. There is absolutely a place for making improvements – just make sure you’re doing so on your own terms, and for your own reasons. The problems occur if you start trying to make improvements on parts of you only because society tells you that you should rather than because it’s consistent with your values and who you want to be as a person. Check in with yourself. If you were facing the end of your life and looking back on your choices, would you really regret not having your teeth whitened? Would you be satisfied that you’d spent the best part of your adult life trying to change the number on your bathroom scales?
Speak to yourself kindly and give yourself credit
It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what’s not working rather than giving ourselves credit for what is working. Too often our inner voice can mimic the media’s voice and berate us for all the ways that we could be doing better. Make a conscious choice to speak kindly to yourself and in doing so, reflect on how far you’ve come and the effort you continue to make in living this crazy, messy, wonderful life.
Choose not to compare
All of these tips take effort. Choosing to live with mindful awareness of our psychological state is definitely the harder choice. Staying on automatic is easy – but it’s doing just that which will keep you in the “I’m not good enough” rut. A little bit of effort here will make a big difference. Notice when you are making comparisons where you come up short. Remind yourself that comparisons are only useful if they are with previous versions of yourself, and even then, only if you use them mindfully for growth in the here and now, not if they are used as further evidence for how you don’t make the cut. The key is taking a compassionate and respectful approach with ourselves because we face enough criticism from society at large without adding to it at a personal level.
IMay you savour the little joys that cross your path, celebrate all you are thankful for, and find reward in using your resilience muscles to overcome any challenges that arise.