Do High Standards Leave You Feeling Low?

Are you one of those people who has a tendency to write an exhaustive ‘to do’ list at the beginning of the day or week and then feels slightly disappointed when you haven’t managed to tick everything off? I am.

Before I had my baby, I had a great piece of advice from my sister. She told me to see getting up and getting dressed every day as a major achievement. I’ve come back to this little nugget of wisdom when I sometimes find myself changing out of my pyjamas at 11 am.

When it comes to setting standards about what we do and how well we do it in our day, week, month or life, we can fall into the trap of setting unrealistic targets, judging ourselves when certain standards aren’t met and then feeling bad about ourselves in a way which negatively impacts our wellbeing. Internally we take on the role of a completely irrational and unreasonable boss, giving ourselves an impossible set of tasks to achieve, and then berating ourselves when we don’t get everything done, or done impeccably. 

This can be an exhausting cycle to be in, and we can hide our exhaustion well from the outside world. To the objective observer, we may seem to be achieving a gold standard in everything we do, but internally we’ll give ourselves a bronze at best. We’ll perhaps convince ourselves that everyone else has got it wrong -“‘if only they knew” we think, and our imposter syndrome kicks in... Again, that can be challenging for our well-being, leaving us with a sense of anxiety about being “found out” to be not as good as other people seem to think we are.

Exploring what standards we set ourselves is not about being lazy and settling in for 8 hours of daytime TV; it is about recognising where the perfectionist in us or the “inner boss” sets unrealistic goals and is not really doing us any favours.

If any of this sounds scarily familiar, here are some things it might be helpful to recognise and be aware of:

  • Making comparisons: Let’s face it, if we judge our achievements against other people’s, we can get into an unhealthy habit of comparison. This isn’t helped by the fact that a lot of social media tends to be like a trip adviser of our lives, portraying experiences that are either really great or really rubbish.

  • Noticing what you’ve done as well as what you want to do. The problem with to do lists is once we cross off the achievements they are gone. Maybe have a ‘done’ list as well.

  • Recognising the standard that actually needs to be set. Before I had a baby, I really worried about becoming a parent. I had a conversation with someone very sensible who told me that: “You don’t have to be a perfect parent. You just have to be good enough”. This was said at exactly the right time, and was freeing. There is no such thing as perfect. But sometimes we don’t tell ourselves we are good ‘enough’ at something, which is important. We should. It is not about high-fiving ourselves every time we walk past a mirror, but about being kind to ourselves and not belittling ourselves at each and every opportunity.

  • Remembering most people have imposter syndrome from time to time - that won’t necessarily make it easier, but it may be reassuring to realise how common and normal it is. 

  • Making some time for ‘being’ and not ‘doing’ - this is where I’ve found mindfulness very helpful - just coming into the moment right now, and noticing what is going on. It provides space amidst all the running around we can do, both physically and mentally.

  • Last but by no means least, seeing the underlying importance of what you do achieve. When we get into a negative mindset about how little we have done, we can forget to stop and recognise the value of what we have actually done.

So as I’m finishing writing this, my main achievements in the day so far have been doing two lots of washing, feeding and changing my baby, and locating a good cake stop on my walk. If I look at those in the context of a mammoth to do list they seem fairly insignificant, but if I look at the actual outcome of those tasks, I’ve made sure my baby has clean clothes to wear, food to live, and isn’t sitting in filth all day. And I’ve also ensured I’m in a good mood because I’ve had some excellent cake. Objectively, all of those things are more important than writing a blog … so I’ll try to remember that at the end of the day if I feel like I haven’t got anything done.

Thanks very much for reading my blog:) .

If you would like to find out more about mindfulness you can visit this page. And if you want to follow me on social media, I’m on twitter at @calmcitymind and @calmcitymum and facebook at calmcitymind