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How to deal with the feeling of inadequacy

When nothing is enough

You’ve done a full day at work and it's six o’clock. The to-do list has surely gotten shorter, but there are still a bunch of things to do. If I just did this one more thing… Soon it's seven o'clock and you're sorry that the day ran out again, and the family time was once again left short. On your way home, you find yourself ruminating about that one presentation that could have been better prepared.

At home, you open up social media where your friend has posted about their successful round of funding. You like the post and congratulate your friend, but at the same time, your own achievements seem somewhat insignificant. In the second picture, one acquaintance happily presents his biceps to the mirror in the gym locker room. You remind yourself that you should visit the gym more often.

Does the story above sound familiar?

Self-demandingness behind the feelings of inadequacy

Feelings of inadequacy are familiar to many of us - especially they are common among ambitious entrepreneurs and leaders. Underlying the feeling of inadequacy is often a demanding attitude towards ourselves. Self-criticism whispers thoughts into your ear about how you should always do a little more, be a little better, and work a little more effectively.  The self-satisfaction of a demanding person seems to depend on the quantity and quality of their performance, and they believe that perfect performance would ultimately bring them the reward and fulfillment they need.

In reality, however, there is no perfection, and one always comes up with a new goal to anchor their satisfaction to, and the accomplishments already achieved seem insignificant. It's like watching a dog chasing its own tail. This behavior often isn't easy to recognize. Actually, you might not see yourself being demanding at all! Rather you convince yourself that you only want to “do your best” - because anything else would be stupid, lazy, and lead to failure.

True, demandingness can be the trait that seems to enable success and has actually helped you to get to the point where you are now. But sometimes it's the trait that takes you to the ground and makes you feel inadequate, bad, and miserable. So where does the feeling of inadequacy and unreasonable self-criticism come from, and how can it be better harnessed?

Beliefs from childhood guide us in adulthood

Demandingness is often maintained by our persistent beliefs and thought patterns. These beliefs have developed throughout our lives — often already in early childhood — and have been designed to help us survive and meet our needs. As children, we may have learned that by performing well and being brisk and hard-working, we receive praise and love from the people who matter to us. For example, the belief has been, "I have to do well to be valuable." or "In order to be loved, I need to do something useful all the time." Through these beliefs, we then look at the world also as an adult.

Actually, it’s pretty natural that we believe that our value and self-worth is somehow dependent on our performance. After all, we are measured and put in an order with various metrics throughout our lives! Already at the maternity ward, you get your first score, which tells you how you relate to other newborns who have just been pushed out of the womb. That's where the marathon of the neverending performing and measuring starts, and gets even stronger in the work-life. No wonder, one begins to think whether they are worth anything if the grades are not the best, the waist-to-hip ratio isn´t optimal and performance isn´t always at its peak.

Question your belief

The problem is not aiming for high performance or striving for success, but the interdependence between performance and self-esteem. If your self-esteem is heavily dependent on your performance, every little underperformance will show up as a direct strike to your worth as a person. You may feel that your self-confidence and sense of security are directly related to how well you achieve your goals and exceed your self-set bars. You think you can avoid feelings of inadequacy and inferiority by always raising your bar higher and demanding more of yourself. The vicious cycle is rolling.

However, if you are able to differentiate your own value from your level of performance, thus, to question the belief that perfect performance = a valuable person, you are more likely to be able to better manage your own demands and utilize it in achieving your goals. Demandingness no longer paralyzes or dominates you. You will also be able to value yourself in situations where you have not reached top results. You feel compassion for yourself, and allow yourself to take a rest without feelings of inadequacy, as it does not make you any less valuable, lovable, or accepted as a person.

So the most important first step in taming one's own demeanor is to identify and question the beliefs related to one's self-worth. Is it really the case that my value as a person is greater, the longer I work, the faster I grow my business or the more I can do push-ups? And how believable is the thought that if I haven’t made an exit, written a book, and run a marathon yet in my forties, I’m useless and worthless? It is not always easy to question and change sticky beliefs, so do not hesitate to ask for help with it!

Harness your demandingness wisely

Questioning your demanding beliefs doesn´t mean you need to give up your high-reaching dreams and goals. At its best, tamed demands give you good energy and strength to work towards your goals without making you feel inadequate. Here are a few tips on how to manage situations where demandingness starts to become troublesome.

1. Put things into perspective

Create routines that remind you of perspective. Use to-do lists, roadmaps, coaching, or any other tool to help you notice your own progress even when you feel like you’ve been inefficient. Remember, we are constantly overestimating what we can do in a day, but underestimating what we can accomplish in a month.

2. Set realistic goals and break them down

Make sure your daily goals are realistic and clear. And even if you’re aiming for something big, be sure to break it down into small enough milestones. Above all, reward yourself when you succeed in your small goals. No achievement is too small for you to pat yourself on the back and treat yourself to your favorite food, for example.

3. Choose your battle

Allow yourself to be demanding selectively. It is possible to strive for top results, as long as it is not the goal of all your projects at the same time. For example, you can set goals high for the coming quarter in a work project and at the same time accept that during that period, your home doesn’t have to be perfectly tidy. Or you decide that the next period is dedicated to the family when the bar in work is lowered with permission. Be sure to listen to your values ​​when choosing your battle!

4. Always compare your performance to your previous performance, not to the performance of others

The comparison adds fuel to the flames of inadequacy for a demanding person. Sure, you can seek inspiration from others, but remember that the best reference point for your own accomplishments is always your own past. So if you want to compare what you are doing to something, always compare it to your previous performance.