Not _____ enough.
It’s amazing how we can each fill in that blank with our own version of how we’re somehow not enough. Not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, creative enough, driven enough, rich enough, talented enough…
We could sit here for days if you wanted to count all the ways we think like this.
And yes, I do mean we. The “not enoughs” are tricky thoughts, and one of the biggest pranks they pull on is making you feel as if you’re the only one with these thoughts.
Not enoughs make you feel like you’re the only person in a crowded room who is nervous or scared. Not enoughs trick you into thinking everyone else is casting a judgmental eye on you. Not enoughs trap you in your own head, where you’ll sit and think about all the ways you come up short and somehow lack what you need to live the life you want.
Thinking this way is what it means to be human. Consider that while you’re in that crowded room, every single person there is also feeling nervous, jittery at the thought of judgment, and worried that they’ll come up short somehow.
You’re not alone, not by a long shot.
Recently, I spent two solid weekends in a room of 150 people. We were taking a personal development seminar together. I cannot tell you how many times someone shared something they struggled with or suffered from, and their story included some form of how they weren’t good enough.
Many times, the leader of the course would acknowledge the person sharing, then turn to the room and say, “if you’ve ever felt _____, raise your hand.”
Multiple times, every hand in the room went up to show that everyone had experienced the same specific thoughts or feelings around inadequacy, fear, shame, judgment, exclusion, failure, and more.
The not enoughs are very human. And the first step to getting past them is to stop making yourself wrong for having thoughts like these.
Your Thoughts Are Just That: Thoughts
Like most other endeavors in life, not making yourself wrong for having specific thoughts or feelings is easier said than done. But it helps if you can understand what’s actually going on during times when you feel this way.
Let me share a recent conversation I had to demonstrate what it means to combine what’s actually happening in your life with the thoughts you generate about what’s happening.
I recently spoke to a talented, creative, and driven woman and she shared she’d had a really rough week and was struggling. The problem? All her life, she’s been able to get away with far less than 8 hours of sleep every night.
She’s been able to function and perform just fine — but now, she feels lack of sleep is catching up to her. She notices she’s not doing what she knows to be her best work, and knows something needs to change in order to stay at the top of her game.
But the fact that she can no longer get by on so little sleep makes her feel like a failure.
There are two things going on here: what’s happening, and the story my friend made up about it.
What’s actually happening is her body is doing some stuff. The story she’s making up about it is “I’m a failure.”
See yourself in this and consider a time when you experienced something similar. (Maybe you were tired, so you performed badly, so you felt like you weren’t good enough.)
Again, all that’s happening is your body is doing stuff. That doesn’t mean anything unless you make it mean something. And if you make it mean something (like, “I’m a failure,”) then you’re actions are going to correlate with that meaning even if you don’t intend for that to happen.
We all do this. With every experience, there is what happened and separately, there is the story you told about what happened. You can’t get rid of the story; “story” is just a catch-all word for things like thoughts, feelings, personal experiences, judgments, and all the other ways people make meaning and interpret what happens.
That’s extremely human. You can’t get rid of your interpretations. And they’re not even wrong! You don’t need to make yourself feel bad for having thoughts like “I’m a failure,” or “I’m not good enough.”
It’s not wrong. Just human. You’re gonna have thoughts and feelings. But you don’t have to let them run your life.Having thoughts, feelings, judgments: all very human. But they don't have to run your life. Click To Tweet
Finding the Source of Not Good Enough
If you can identify the source of your story, there’s a good chance you can get it out of your head and set it aside. You can’t rid yourself of the thoughts or feelings (or fears, for that matter), but you can recognize when these things pop up.
Doing so allows you to say, “I know what’s going on here. And this mechanism that I have is not going to run me.”
For me, I realized the source of my “not good enoughs” came from a conversation with my Dad. I was in elementary school, and I just lost some sort of competition. I was a high achiever, and anything less than high praise or flat-out winning sent me into a tailspin of tears and whining.
My Dad, in an effort to console me — and no doubt, in an attempt to help me become a better person — said, “it’s okay! You’re not always going to come in first. You won’t always be the best at everything you do. There’s always going to be someone better than you.”
Now, what happened at the most basic level is that my Dad said words. What happened with his intention is that he wanted his daughter to understand her life was not going to be very satisfying if she lived as if “if you’re not first, you’re last” motto was Truth. He was coming from a wonderful place which I appreciate.
But the story I developed from this — without even knowing I did it, until literally a few days ago — was that I would never be good enough. I would always be second-best in all areas of my life. There would always be someone smarter, prettier, more talented and creative, kinder, wiser, more interesting, funnier… and so on.
The instant I realized I completely made this all up, I felt free of it. I saw exactly what happened and the story I created from it — and realized that these kinds of thoughts didn’t need to control my behavior or my life anymore.
The Real Impact of Thinking You’re Not Enough
I also saw the impact my story has had on my life up until this point. In so many areas, I have shut down or shut off. I have not shown up for fear of coming up short, and that’s cost me.Are you holding back for fear of not being good enough? This is why you should stop (and how) Click To Tweet
The biggest areas of impact have been my relationships, both with people and with creativity. I hold people at arm’s length because I’m terrified of them because I have thoughts that say, “I’m not good enough to be that person’s friend. I’m not good enough to be around them. I’m not good enough for them to like me.”
What might be even worse is that my own “not enoughs” go both ways. They drive me to think I’m not enough and they can sometimes sabotage others, too.
Because I think I’m not enough, I tend to think other people are superhuman. I find amazing things to admire and love about most people, and I get swept away in how fantastic these people are.
I put them on a pedestal, which is perhaps the most unfair thing you can do to another person.
Because that’s just it: that other person is human, just like me. And they’ll make mistakes or do silly things or say stupid stuff. Inevitably, they slip off the platform they didn’t ask to be on — and then I fault them for that.
With my creative work, it’s like someone turned the dial up to 11 on these thoughts. There are so many things I have not even attempted. My not good enoughs have left me paralyzed and scared.
I take no actions. And I get no results.
All because of the way I interpreted advice given to me when I was about 7 years old.
Your story likely looks a little different than mine, and you’ll have to dig to find the source of your not enoughs. But if you can find the source, and recognize that there’s a profound difference in what happened versus what you made up about what happened, then you can hold these debilitating thoughts out in front of you.
Make no mistake, you won’t make them stop. You won’t make them go away. But you can metaphorically grab the story when it comes up, hold it out in front of you, and look at it as separate from yourself. And then you can set it to the side.
Once you can really get that what happened is wholly separate from whatever story you made up about what happened, you can think about your story like a little machine. It’s automatic and mechanical. It has no awareness of its own; it’s not out to get you.
It just does its thing and runs in the background.
So if your not enoughs are mechanical, automatic, and most importantly, not who you really are, then you can see there is no reason to let this little machine dictate how you live your life.
You wouldn’t allow a microwave to determine what you do or do not do, or what you say or do not say. Letting thoughts of not good enough control you is just as absurd.
Don’t cling to your limiting thoughts and beliefs. Recognize them, let them come up — and then set them to the side so you can move forward.You are more than your limiting beliefs. Start moving past not feeling good enough Click To Tweet