Breaking Free from the ‘Not Good Enough” Mindset

We all have moments when we question our worth or abilities. But for some people, that is a constant way of thinking. Maybe we feel like we're not smart enough to excel in our career, not charming enough to be in a relationship, not fit enough to be attractive, or not meeting our own expectations or the expectations of those around us.

Essentially, it’s having a pervasive sense of not being good enough. Even when you ace a project at work or help a friend in need, or meet a challenge, you still think you haven't done enough or that something about you is not good enough. That pesky voice in your head doesn't let you fully acknowledge or enjoy your accomplishments. That voice causes the “not good enough” feeling.

You’re not alone

Many people of various ages, backgrounds, and walks of life experience this constant self-doubt. It leads to stress, anxiety, and depression and may affect your self-esteem and confidence. It can impact your performance at work, stifle your creativity and prevent you from pursuing opportunities and enjoying your life.

In relationships, it can cause misunderstandings and strain as you may constantly seek validation or fear judgment. Fear of being judged by others and being found not good enough can lead to isolation and finding comfort in food.

All of this can lead to eating for both comfort and distraction from feeling upset. Recognizing the prevalence and impact of this “not good enough” feeling is the first step toward addressing it and creating change.

What causes the “not good enough” feeling?

There are many reasons why you might feel this way. It may be because of past experiences where you were constantly criticized or belittled, which can leave a lasting impact on your self-esteem.

It could also be societal and cultural pressures that set unrealistic standards of success, beauty, or perfection, and anything short of that makes you feel inadequate.

For some people, it’s due to a tendency towards perfectionism, where they set such high expectations for themselves that they're almost impossible to meet. So, there are many factors, both internal and external, that contribute to this feeling.

Identifying Triggers & Patterns

Being aware of the situations, thoughts, or even people that spark the “I’m not good enough” feeling is a crucial step to creating change. Imagine you're walking through a minefield – wouldn't you want to know where the mines are so you can avoid stepping on them? That's why recognizing your triggers is so important.

Perhaps you doubt yourself when you're around that ultra-successful friend whose life seems perfect on multiple levels. Or maybe it's certain situations, like attending big social gatherings or presenting in a meeting, that make you feel inadequate.

Sometimes, your thoughts may trigger this feeling. When you tell yourself you're not talented enough to finish that painting or write that book, or fit enough to run that race, you feel terrible. You may think you have to lose weight to be desired by others. You may feel ashamed of your relationship with food and think it diminishes you in some way.

These triggers can be subtle and require some introspection and curiosity to identify them. Once you recognize the thoughts and situations that lead to the shameful feeling of not being good enough, you can create change. You can learn how to navigate these situations better. The idea isn't to avoid those triggers completely – that's often impossible – but it means developing strategies that help you deal with them in a healthier, more confident way.

Steps on how to identify these triggers and patterns

It’s clearly important to identify those triggers that can make us feel not good enough. But what if you do not know what your triggers are and no idea how to figure it out. One way is to stay curious and investigate your thoughts.

Start by reflecting on your day or week. Think about those moments when you felt a dip in your self-esteem.

  • Where were you?
  • What time of day was it?
  • What were you doing?
  • Who were you with?
  • What thoughts were going through your mind?

You will start noticing patterns. Perhaps you feel insecure or self-conscious when you're around a particular group of people or when you're working on something that challenges you.

Another helpful tool is journaling, which is a great way to track your feelings and thoughts. Whenever you're feeling down or doubting yourself, jot down your thoughts, the situation you're in, and your emotional response. Over time, you'll likely see patterns emerging from your entries.

If it’s still challenging to spot these triggers on your own, a therapist or coach can provide a different perspective and identify patterns you might be too close to see. After all, it’s impossible to be objective about our subjective lives.

Keep in mind that this process takes time, and it's okay not to have all the answers right away. The important thing is to take steps toward understanding yourself better rather than criticizing yourself and labeling yourself as “not good enough.”.

The role of negative self-talk and cognitive distortions

You know those times when you mess up slightly and you think, “I'm such a failure. I can't do anything right.”? That's negative self-talk. It makes minor problems feel gigantic and also causes you to underestimate your own abilities.

Cognitive distortions are like those funhouse mirrors that distort your reflection – only they distort your thoughts instead of your appearance. They can make you perceive situations as much worse than they actually are.

For example, you might be prone to “all-or-nothing” thinking. That means if something isn't perfect, you see it as a total disaster. Or maybe you overgeneralize, in which one negative experience has you convinced that you're doomed to a lifetime of failures.

Overgeneralization is when one thing happens and gets blown into a huge, sweeping conclusion. Like, you go on a date and it is an epic fail. You decide you’re destined to be alone for the rest of your life. You're letting that one bad date influence your view of your future.

Mental filter is like overgeneralization's evil twin. That’s when you focus on the one bad thing and completely ignore anything good. Imagine your partner says something critical and you decide your relationship is doomed, completely forgetting all the good times you've had. You're looking at everything through this negative filter.

Disqualifying the positive means taking all the good stuff, acknowledging it exists, and then just throwing it out of the window. Picture this: you’re afraid that you’re not doing a good job at work, and although you get a great performance review, you tell yourself it's just because your boss didn't want to hurt your feelings. You're turning positives into negatives.

Mind reading is when you think you know exactly what someone else is thinking. For example, you see someone scowling and immediately decide they must be judging you.

Fortune telling is another classic. This is when you predict the future without any solid evidence. Like, if you're single and decide you're going to be alone forever just because you haven't found someone yet. You seeing your prediction as a solid fact when it's just one of many possibilities.

These are just some of the distortions that impact your perspective on yourself, your life, and your future. Recognizing these patterns in your thinking is essential because they can warp your perception of yourself and your abilities, making you think you're not good enough, even when the evidence says otherwise.

Here's the good news: once you're aware of them, you can work on changing these thought patterns and move towards a more balanced, positive outlook. It's like wearing a pair of glasses with the wrong prescription – once you correct your vision, you see yourself and the world around you much clearer.

Techniques for challenging and changing negative thought patterns

We can’t fight an invisible army of thoughts and ideas. We just get beaten up and feel emotionally battered. Only by making that army visible can we create change. How do we do that? You’ve already started by recognizing negative self-talk, the “I'm a failure” or “I can't do anything right.” That means you're identifying the army of cognitive distortions such as all-or-nothing thinking and overgeneralization. Then it’s time to put on your boxing gloves and fight back.

One of the most effective techniques to change your thinking is called cognitive restructuring, which is a fancy way of saying ‘changing your mindset'. It's done by questioning the validity of your negative thoughts. Imagine you make a minor mistake, and your immediate thought is, “I'm such a failure.” Instead of accepting that thought, you challenge it.

Ask yourself, “Am I really a failure, or did I just make a mistake? Does one mistake define my entire worth?” (Spoiler alert: it doesn't!).

Think of what we say to babies when they take their first tentative steps. When a baby takes a step and falls, we don’t say, “Well, that baby will never walk. That baby has failed at walking. That baby is a complete failure.”

Of course not. We cheer the baby on, saying something like, “You can do it. One more step. You’ve got this. Good job!”

Imagine talking to yourself in the same way, encouraging and supporting yourself. Also, balance the negativity with reality. Reminding yourself of your strengths and accomplishments can help rewire your mind to see yourself in a more balanced way.

The role of self-compassion and self-acceptance in developing a healthier mindset

Self-compassion and self-acceptance play an important role in developing a healthier mindset. We're often quick to show compassion to others when they're having a hard time, but with showing that same kindness to ourselves, we fall short. Self-compassion is all about treating ourselves with the same understanding and gentleness we show our friends.

Let’s go back to the idea of making a small mistake. Remember that everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. If you make a mistake, give yourself some grace. If you’re feeling down, remind yourself it’s okay to have off days. Feeling lonely? That’s a state of being, and not a reflection of your likability and lovability.

Embracing self-compassion means acknowledging that you're human, and like everyone else, you're a perfectly imperfect work in progress.

Self-acceptance is about accepting yourself wholly and completely, flaws and all. It doesn't mean complacency or not striving for improvement. Rather, it means you don't beat yourself up for not being ‘perfect'.

Learning to love and accept yourself, with all your strengths and weaknesses, is liberating. It allows you to shift from a mindset of ‘I'm not good enough' to ‘I am enough, just as I am'.

That's a game-changer. Creating a kinder, gentler internal dialogue will help you overcome that feeling of not being good enough.

Strategies for Building Self-Worth

One way to cultivate a greater sense of self-worth is to set realistic goals and expectations. It's easy to fall into the trap of setting sky-high goals. We live in a world that often praises the exceptional and the overachievers. While there's nothing wrong with aiming high, there's a fine line between ambitious goals and unrealistic ones.

If we're constantly setting goals that are out of reach, we're setting ourselves up for a constant cycle of disappointment and self-doubt. It’s like deciding to compete in a marathon and expecting yourself just to go out and run 26 miles. That is unlikely to happen. Instead, set a goal to run a single mile, and then another, and eventually work your way up to run the distance.

With any goal, it’s much more helpful – and less stressful – to set smaller, more achievable goals that lead up to your larger goal. Celebrating each victory along the way can do wonders for your self-esteem.

It’s also okay to adjust your expectations based on your reality. That doesn't mean you're giving up or selling yourself short; it only means you're acknowledging your limits.

That includes goals that are more difficult to measure. In terms of binge eating, many people set goals to “be good” or only eat certain foods while limiting other foods. This sets them up to inevitably end up overeating or bingeing on those forbidden food.

Instead, make a different kind of goal. Set an intention to be curious about why you’re turning to food, rather than focusing on what you’re eating.

Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want this food?
  • Is it because it's forbidden and I naturally want what I think I cannot have?
  • Am I distracting myself from other thoughts and emotions?
  • What do I want more of right now?
  • Do I need/want more sweetness in my life? What is it?
  • What would be on my mind if I wasn't thinking about food?
  • What are my fears about this food?
  • What's going to happen if I eat it?
  • What's going to happen if I don't eat it?

The point is to challenge and change your thinking.

Remember, your worth isn't determined by the goals you achieve, it’s about who you are as a person. You’re not a better, more valuable person if you lose weight. And you’re not a lesser person if you gain it.

You wouldn’t like your friends more if they lost weight, or like them less if they gained weight. So, reflect on why would you imagine you’d be better at a different weight?

After all, when’s the last time you said, “I like so-and-so a lot. They’re so thin.” Consider the qualities you like about others, such as loyalty, understanding, humor, empathetic, and fun. Take a moment to appreciate those qualities in yourself.

The journey to feeling “good enough” isn't about striving for perfection or constant achievement. It's about shifting your perspective, practicing self-compassion, and celebrating your uniqueness. Stumbling or having “off” days is part of life. Those experiences don't define your worth or your journey. So take a step back, recognize your inherent worth, and finding joy in your progress, no matter how small. It's important to be patient and kind with yourself as you navigate life's ups and downs. Always remember that you are not alone in your struggles and are good enough just as you are (and you always have been). Here's to embracing ourselves, imperfections and all, and to living a life of self-love and acceptance.

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 The Author


Dr. Nina Savelle-Rocklin is a psychoanalyst, author and radio host specializing in binge eating disorder. She is the author of The Binge Cure: 7 Steps to Outsmart Emotional Eating and Food for Thought: Perspectives on Eating Disorders, and co-editor of Beyond the Primal Addiction. She hosts The Dr. Nina Show radio program on LA Talk Radio.

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