From Kim Kardashian’s flawlessly contoured skin on the pages of a magazine to your newly engaged friend’s stylishly manicured hand toasting her handsome fiancé on Instagram, images of perfection are everywhere. That’s why living in today’s social media–driven age, it’s hard not to put pressure on yourself. Pressure to be the perfect mother, the perfect girlfriend, the perfect wife, the perfect daughter, the perfect friend, the perfect manager—whatever you’re striving to be—it’s difficult to become when you’re under so much pressure.
Science teaches us that too much pressure, built up over time, will often result in an explosion. While you won’t physically explode when you’re weighed down by societal and self-imposed pressure, you could experience an emotional breakdown, blowout fight with a loved one, or exhausting burnout. To avoid a physical and mental crisis, stop putting so much pressure on yourself! Although it’s easier said than done, you can learn to let things go. Know that you won’t be able to change overnight, but with some keen self-awareness, you can teach yourself to stop trying to be so perfect all the time. Here’s how to cease putting pressure on yourself.
You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating over and over again: Nobody, not even Kate Middleton or Gwyneth Paltrow, is perfect. No matter how lovely someone’s life appears on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, they too will have to deal with heartache, rejection, pain, and loss. Recognize that sometimes you can’t make everything perfect—and that’s okay.
There is a lot of pressure placed on modern brides to host a sensational Pinterest-worthy wedding. However, there are only 24 hours in a day, and if you don’t have time to make 50 paper flowers to decorate your rustic wooden bar, don’t despair! None of your guests are going to look at the bar and wonder why it’s not decorated with paper flowers. You’re the only one who will know, so ask yourself, does it really matter? Will the paper flowers make your marriage stronger? Probably not.
Keep expectations of yourself and what you’re capable of doing realistic. Why? Unrealistic expectations breed unnecessary pressure. If you’ve never run a mile before, thinking that you can run a half marathon next week is unrealistic. If you think you can do it, you’ll put pressure on yourself to run 13 miles per day, and that’s just crazy! It’s impossible, so don’t set yourself up for failure. Put an end to unrealistic expectations, both big and small.
A couple of months ago, my grandmother sent me a note in which she expressed pity for my single status. “I know how hard it is to be alone. I pray everyday that you’ll find a partner soon,” she wrote. The letter made me upset, and I spent a week pressuring myself into online dating. Only after chatting with a cousin, who is also single and had received a similar note, did I realize that I was being ridiculous for letting my grandmother get to me. I am perfectly happy and okay with being single. The next time my grandma brought up my relationship status, I smiled and said, “I haven’t met anyone I want to share my life with, yet, and that’s okay. Thank you for praying for me!”
You don’t need your mom, best friend, or significant other’s approval to sustain your own self-esteem. You do you, and stop listening to what everyone else has to say. Don’t compare yourself to those around you. Everyone has ups and downs, so just because you aren’t married or don’t want to have kids doesn’t make you more or less of a person than someone who is married and wants to have kids. Stop listening to the people surrounding you, and start listening to yourself. Don’t waste time worrying about what they think or trying to get their validation.
Do your best and leave the rest. Nobody’s perfect. I am good enough. Create a mantra that is specific to your personal needs and the types of pressure that you put on yourself. Then, when you’re starting to put yourself down because you missed four questions on the biology quiz that you knew the answers to, stop yourself and say your mantra.
A friend was recently upset about a situation at work. She called me in hysterics—she was angry because she had put so much pressure on herself to be perfect that when she made a mistake that was minor, she freaked out. I told her to take a deep breath and then asked her the questions that I ask myself when I realize I’m putting too much pressure on myself: Is this a life-or-death situation? Is the mistake so big that you will be fired? Will you remember this in a year? About 99 percent of the time, the answer to these questions is no. Whether it’s a PowerPoint presentation for work or the invitation to your child’s first birthday, in the grand scheme of things, nothing is that important to make you angry, sad, fed up, or burnt out. Nothing is so important that you lose nights of rest obsessing about it. Don’t become so anxious that you make yourself sick. Instead, take a deep breath and ask the above questions. It will help put things into perspective. Don’t take everything so seriously!
A recent technique that I’ve been practicing is to identify, externalize, and eliminate the pressure. Say it’s the beginning of the month and I check my bank account. There isn’t much there, so I start to think negatively and put myself down. “If only I were more successful,” I think, “I would be making so much more money.” I spend the next hour preoccupied by this thought and begin to think of myself as a failure.
However, if I can identify from the beginning that I’m putting too much pressure on myself, I can externalize and eliminate it. To externalize an emotion, think of it as something else, something bad and distasteful. “This pressure is like fruit flies,” I tell myself. “I hate fruit flies! When they come around my house, I mercilessly eliminate them!” which is what I then do with the pressure I’m feeling.
Anxiety appears when you start to overthink the future. You’re focusing on every possible outcome so much that you start to fear the future. However, if you are present and living in the moment—focusing on what is happening at this very minute—then you don’t have time to be anxious. Being more present will reduce inner mental obstacles and other worries.
Just as nobody is perfect, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone fails at something at one point or another. It’s simply part of life. Start to think of failure, rejection, or mistakes differently. Stop thinking of it as something negative that will end your life when it happens. Redefine it in your mind. Instead of fearing it, see failure as a type of feedback and a way to improve your life. Accept when these things happen, learn from them, then let them go and move forward.
Cut yourself some slack. Instead of stress and duress, show yourself grace and space. Treat yourself like you would a treat a friend: with kindness. Stop criticizing yourself. Don’t focus on all the things you haven’t done. Praise your accomplishments and reward your achievements. Be grateful for what you have. Build yourself up instead of putting yourself down. Become your own best friend. Stop judging yourself. Accept yourself openly and show yourself some heartfelt compassion.
Below are four books that discuss the subject of perfectionism.
How do you get yourself out of the mental pressure cooker?