What are the reasons behind this common tendency? And in what ways could we ease off on ourselves when we are being too hard? Psychologist Eva Rüger takes us through five essential tips to manage self-induced stress.
The self-pressure trigger
The world is already filled with so much happening. Demands, duties, and responsibilities are everyday occurrences. For this reason, it is common to experience moments of stress and frustration as a result of our own expectations.
Self-doubt, uncertainty, and lack of confidence are all byproducts of our inner enemy. This leads us to set high standards for ourselves and demand flawless results, which, nevertheless, we would never find fair to expect from anyone else. Pretty twisted, isn’t it?
“It is a human tendency to be much stricter with ourselves than with others”, explains Eva. “What would you say to a friend who made a mistake or feels down because they got some negative feedback? You would probably comfort them and remind them of their good qualities. Would you tell yourself the same?”
Being strict with ourselves makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective: in ancient times we needed to be liked by our group to survive, so we tried to perfectly fit in. And when, today, we compare ourselves to others (for instance at work) we still want to be valued and avoid mistakes to keep our jobs and advance in our careers.
One of the problems, according to Eva, is that we rarely stop to put things into perspective. Think about it: is it really that terrible if we do not get along with everyone or we happen to make some mistakes?
Change your perspective
Although striving to be our best selves might be a great source of motivation, if you’re constantly setting high demands for yourself, this could not benefit your mental and physical health.
And with no doubt, learning to put less pressure on ourselves is a daunting task, especially if you are a perfectionist.
Fortunately, our mind is a powerful tool and always finds effective solutions. Listed below are five essential tips to deal with self-pressuring and become your own strongest ally.
1. Recognize your standards
The first step to cutting down on self-pressure is to identify the tough rules and the high standards we have set for ourselves. One way to move away from judging ourselves when we do not live up to our expectations is to understand where these come from.
“It might be that from our early life we have developed beliefs or rules to protect us from negative experiences (for example, ‘I always have to look perfect to be liked and not be rejected by my peers’)”, describes Eva. “It is helpful to acknowledge that having a high standard in a certain area had a function and was useful in earlier times, but may not serve us anymore.”
Understanding where our expectations and rules come from not only gives us understanding and enables us to be kinder to ourselves, but also opens the possibility to form new, more useful and less strict rules.
2. Talk to whom you trust
A successful way to manage the expectations we have of ourselves and see things from another perspective is to discuss this with friends, family or people whom we trust. Most likely they have been in similar situations in which they were hard on themselves, so their perspective can give you a new helpful insight into the situation.
“It is normal that we are harsher on ourselves than others, but we do not have to accept this if it creates negative feelings and thoughts about ourselves”, reminds Eva.
3. Switch to the positive
Besides acknowledging negative thoughts about ourselves and forming new, more adaptive rules, switching to the positive is another powerful approach. Remind yourself of your positive qualities daily. Consider writing them down: your achievements, abilities, and successful experiences.
“The voice of our inner critic can be loud when it reminds us of our rules and judges us for not living up to our high standards”, points out Eva. “We cannot simply get rid of this inner critic, but when we acknowledge that it speaks louder and more often than usual, we can get better at paying less attention to it.”
Imagine your inner critic being a radio you are listening to on a car ride. You cannot turn it off because, in between, you might miss some important traffic announcements. A smart solution could be to turn down the volume when you want to focus on a conversation with the person next to you or if you want to think of something else.
📻 Interested in learning more about this radio technique? This short video will give you insights into this
4. Take care of your mind and body
Being kind to ourselves is at the base of stress management, and no other duty should be put above it. We can practice kindness by actually doing nice things for ourselves. That can be by treating us to a nice bath, a (possibly healthy) snack or making time for something we love and that makes us feel good, suggests Eva.
Showing kindness to our minds can also be closely related to setting boundaries and saying ‘no’ to things that we don’t feel like doing.
Try to be aware of how busy you are with thinking about your own performance and then realise that most likely everyone else around you is busy thinking about themselves in the same way. This helps take some pressure off and be kinder both to ourselves and others.
5. See the bigger picture
Eventually, the belief that you must succeed at everything you do is unrealistic and can cause more harm than good. Learning to question these assumptions when they start to be unhealthy for our wellbeing can help you turn them into a strength.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, step out of your comfort zone and try to visualise the bigger picture. Question your thoughts – are they really true? And if you made mistakes – are they truly so reprehensible? What do other people see? What would you tell a friend in your position?
If you want to practice how to become more aware of the recurring thoughts you have, consider practising mindfulness exercises directed at observing them. This can help develop more awareness of what you are telling yourself about, well…yourself!
💡 Feel like practising your self-awareness? Check out our 5-minute guided check-in
The pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect is our harsher criticism. Yet, we are not made to be perfect. Human beings are flawed, with all our strengths and weaknesses. We can excel in something and be a total disaster in something else (take me, for instance: I could write for days, but give me a math test and I’ll instantly freeze).
We can strive to give our best, and that does us credit and often motivates us, but the pressure to deliver more than what is within our (human) possibilities will only fuel our stress and unhappiness.
If you’re not perfect every moment of every day, the world won’t come to an end. So, take a deep breath and relieve that pressure off your chest. You have a new day ahead, aim for progress instead.