2 Reasons You May Be Too Hard on YourselfNone By Homaira Kabir
Perhaps you're one of the many who feel like a failure every time you see your friends' posts on social media.
As you compare your reality to their apparently perfect lives, the negatives in your life expand before your very eyes, and a voice in your head booms louder and louder:
"You're such a failure."
"Look at you—you look nothing like that."
"You're not even close to what they've achieved."
You probably react to this assault in one of two ways: You either plunge into despair and hopelessness—or you strive even harder, raising the bar so high for yourself that it turns into a mirage. And so does your happiness.
You're not alone. We live in an age of general discontent, where levels of anxiety and depression are high, by all recorded standards. And I can't help wondering whether social media, with its relentless display of everything others have (and we don’t), plays a substantial role. There's also the dominant narrative of “become whoever you want to become,” and a certain disillusionment that comes with it...not to mention the loss of important virtues (like patience) that are actively rejected in favor of instant gratification.
These external factors converge with the internal wiring of a brain that works in mental frameworks of self amongst others. What results is constant comparison and eventual misery. In fact, misery, as defined by economists Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells, is the consequence of simply raising expectations beyond reality’s capacity to meet them. We've raised expectations for ourselves through the roof, and are struggling to find our ground.
Does this mean that we should lower our expectations or accept reality just as it is? Not at all! Change and growth happen right in the tension between our reality and our ideal life. But before you embark on the journey, here are two key questions to guide you.
Ask Yourself: Is My Ideal Life Truly MINE?
In a world that works hard to make us everybody but ourselves, it's important to step back and reflect on the expectations you have of yourself. What are the ideals you're measuring yourself against? Are they aligned with your values and what you want out of life? Are they reasonable? Albert Bandura's social learning theory shows that when these ideals are unreasonable, individuals are dissatisfied with themselves and dismissive of what they've achieved in life.
So take a look at the expectations you've set for yourself. Are you using the language of "shoulds" and striving as if your life depends on achieving them? Or are you using words like "I want," "I will," and "I can," and feeling engaged by your goals and ideals?
Ask Yourself: Am I Appreciating My Reality?
Working on your reality is just as important as working on your vision. This is because the negativity bias hangs on to what's not working in your life, and plays it over and over again on your mental Jumbotron—which means you'll likely let the goodness in and around you slip by unnoticed. This leads to a distorted perception of our reality and a perpetual unhappiness with what is—an unhealthy place to begin the cycle of growth.
Even if your reality leaves much to be desired, take a moment to express gratitude for what is, because it could always be worse. What's good about where you are, in your work, in your relationships, in your health? These are the best building blocks from which to begin your journey ahead.
Our lives are filled with contradictions, and the gap between our reality and our aspirations is just one of them. When our aspirations are true to ourselves, these contradictions expand our hearts instead of becoming reasons for despair or self-deprecation. And when we appreciate what is, with all its goodness and brokenness, we ground ourselves to tap into what’s working, and move courageously toward our best lives.
Homaira Kabir is a positive psychology coach and a researcher on women's self-esteem. You can find lots of free resources on building authentic self-worth on her website (www.homairakabir.com).
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