You are your own worst ememy and you know it. Admit it. You are a complete bastard towards yourself most of the time. If you treated other people the way you treat yourself, everyone would hate you. So why do you insist on treating yourself in this way?
Because you are human, that’s why. It seems to be hard-coded into every human being that they must be hard on themselves at all times, sometimes ridiculously so.
If the way we treated ourselves were externalized, we would all be walking around flagellating ourselves till our backs bleed, or carrying heavy wooden crosses on our shoulders.
In many ways, this relentless slave driving of ourselves is why the human race has achieved so much in its relatively short time here on Earth. Individuals drive progress, and the internal slave master drives the individual.
There should be limits to this kind of internal slave mastery however. There comes a point when it stops being a healthy drive and becomes something counter-productive and self-limiting.
This is why it is important to ease up on yourself. You are always going to have that internal drive to feed your ambitions, and that’s a good thing. You need that to get anywhere in life.
But that same drive has to be regulated. If you let it become too relentless and too all consuming, it will eventually make you sick in some way, usually through stress and exhaustion. Burn out.
Psychologically you will feel as if you are banging your head against a brick wall. You will try hard to make progress but you will get nowhere, which will frustrate you even more.
I’ve been there many times, and the only things that helped me are the things that I am about to discuss.
At some point, you have to give yourself a break.
Here are some suggestions on how to do that:
1. Let Go Of The Need For Perfection
You obviously want to get things as right as they can be, as good as they can be, but there comes a point when you have to let things go and admit that you have done all you can.
Beating yourself up because things don’t measure up to your expectations is not the way to go.
Do your best with any project and then let it go. Move on to a different project after that.
It is the moving on part where we make the most progress. Each time we move, we improve and get better. That’s how the process works.
Trying to make something perfect can be counter-productive. There comes a point when you have done your best. That’s when you should stop. Working beyond that point will not make things better and you will only be wasting time that you could be spending on a new project.
From John Wooden:
“Don’t mistake activity with achievement.”
The reality is that “good enough” will always outrank perfection.
Good enough will keep you productive and successful. Perfection will keep you unproductive and unsuccessful.
2. Practice Gratitude
This is one of those practices that sounds like the wishy-washy advice found in many self help books.
In actual fact, practicing gratitude can be life changing in the most practical of ways.
Every time I practice gratitude, I feel better about myself, and my sense of well-being increases. This is no accident. Biologically, feeling grateful boosts dopamine and serotonin levels in your brain, the same way anti-depressants do.
So if I find myself stressing out or complaining about something, I turn my attention to things that I am grateful for in my life, which can the smallest of things. It doesn’t matter. The point is, the searching for things to be grateful for makes me feel better, which in turn helps me regain my perspective.
From The Upward Spiral:
“It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place. Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence. One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.”
Listen to Ophra:
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”
3. Get Yourself Out Somewhere
Anywhere at all! Physically step away from whatever you are working on. Go out with friends. Go to the gym (recommended). Take a long walk. Spend time with your loved ones. Whatever. You get the idea.
Take yourself out for a while. It’s one of the best ways to give yourself a much needed break.
And don’t forget to have some fucking fun!
From Randy Pausch:
“Never, ever underestimate the importance of having fun.”
4. Practice Acceptance
Accept the fact that you are human, and as such, that you are allowed to mess up sometimes,or not get things right all the time.
It is okay to fail. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s even okay to quit things if you want.
You are not a fucking robot. Don’t treat yourself like one.
Cut yourself some slack. Give yourself a break.
When you do, life gets easier and ironically, you will achieve more.
Listen to George Orwell:
“The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.”
Find A Balance
It is all about finding a balance. If you let your internal slave driver tip the scales too much, you will suffer and your progress will degrade over time, eventually grinding to a halt.
Likewise, if you tip the scales too much the other way, you will suffer as well, but in different ways. If you become lazy, unmotivated, self-indulgent, undisciplined or generally lacking in drive, you will obviously end up achieving little or nothing at all. I’ve been down that road too and it sucks just as much as being stressed all the time.
I can’t really tell you exactly how to find that balance. You have to find that out by yourself.
As Frank Herbert says:
There’s no secret to balance. You just have to feel the waves
But rest assured, however you find that balance, it will definitely involve giving yourself a break at regular times.
You just have to keep reminding yourself to do it!