Although it’s hard to see it in the moment, doing the best you can really is good enough. So many of us struggle with the universal fear that we’re not good enough or that we’re not trying hard enough to overcome our difficulties. We compare ourselves to others and set our standards in line with their achievements. We form beliefs about ourselves and then set about finding proof that these beliefs are true, whilst ignoring or distorting information to the contrary.
Take, for example, my struggle to breastfeed N. The standard and expectation I had set myself was that I would be able to breastfeed my baby. I had researched it thoroughly and knew beyond doubt that it would provide her with the optimal start in life, not to mention being free, convenient and natural. So when things didn’t go to plan I firmly believed that I had failed as a mother. I continually sought to confirm this belief by finding examples of women who’d gone to greater lengths than I had to breastfeed and comparing their experience to mine. If anyone tried to tell me that I had done my best or tried harder than others I ignored (‘they don’t know what they’re talking about!’) or distorted (‘but that woman is nothing like me!’) this information because it didn’t suit the purpose of confirming my belief.
Every time I gave N formula I felt like I was poisoning her. I lurked on hardcore breastfeeding forums where other mamas raved on threads about exclusive pumping and how they would rather die than let a drop of formula pass their baby’s lips. I called the Australian Breastfeeding Association, who were kind and supportive but also firm in their approbation of ‘artificial baby milk’. I ignored my doctor who suggested that ‘breast is best, except when it isn’t’ and also reassured me that the most important thing a baby needs is a happy mama. I looked for a breastmilk donor, despite feeling extremely squeamish about the idea. I read story after story about women who had overcome latching issues and weight gain problems and went on to breastfeed exclusively and I completely ignored the fact that every woman and baby is unique and there is no single solution.
This kind of behaviour is unrealistic and unfair but worst of all it’s counterproductive. In trying my hardest to do the best by N, I sacrificed myself in the process and ended up with postnatal depression. It wasn’t because I couldn’t breastfeed her – it was my belief that I hadn’t tried hard enough.
The people you compare yourself to when you’re setting your standards are comparing themselves to others. Everyone you meet is fighting their own inner battle that you know nothing about, so it’s foolish to assume that someone else is better than you or tries harder.
Focusing on confirming the belief that you’re not good enough leaves you with less time and energy to enjoy the things you’re actually good at and that make you happy. Lori Deschene, founder of the amazing Tiny Buddha, says ‘we can’t hate ourselves into a version of ourselves we can love.’
It’s important to realise that you can actually change your beliefs (thank you, Jess Lowe!) and you don’t have to believe your negative thoughts about yourself. The first and most crucial step is awareness. Once you’re able to identify the beliefs you hold you’re more than halfway towards changing them. The next step is to shift your perspective, without judgement. It’s not so easy to do this because so many of our core beliefs about ourselves have been deeply ingrained since childhood. It requires a fair amount of unpacking and a lot of practise with defusing negative thoughts.
In my own example, I shifted my point of view and focused on progress rather than perfection and was able to see how far I’d come and how much I’d achieved. When I threw myself into doing things I enjoy (like writing!), I had less time to ruminate on my negative thoughts. Instead of comparing myself to others who might have tried harder I wrote down my story and reflected on how very hard I had tried.
Ultimately, if you’ve tried the best you can, the best you can is good enough. Maybe Thom Yorke meant it to be ironic but it works for me.