We are regularly bombarded with messages about what life should look like and often compare our realities with the fantasies that play out on the big screen or on social media. When our experiences don’t match idealized standards, many of us worry that we’re doing life “wrong.”
When a mother lacks an instant bond with her baby, she is left to believe something is wrong with her because her experience doesn’t match the ideal. With intimate relationships, rom coms and Instagram alike lead people to believe that they’re “settling” if they don’t like everything about their partner. Or at work, people compare their feelings of insecurity to their colleagues’ apparent confidence and Instagram highlight reels and imagine that they must be frauds.
We incorrectly assume that others are closer to the ideal than we are.
In reality, it makes sense that the pain of labor might make a mother feel more depleted than enamored. As for relationship myths – no one likes 100% of someone’s qualities when they’re up close and personal. And for those who are afraid they’re “frauds,” a quick Google search will reveal that there are many esteemed individuals who struggle with “Imposter Syndrome.”
All this to say, while you may worry that you’re not doing life “right,” odds are that many others are doing life just like you.
Understanding that we’re not alone helps reduce the shame and stigma that accompany cultural ideals. Still, thoughts, feelings and the persistent belief that you’re doing life wrong are likely to still crop up. How do we navigate these internal experiences?
1. Notice thoughts, feelings and unhelpful mental behaviors.
You are going to have thoughts. Lots and lots and LOTS of them. You’re planning your day, considering what you’re going to have for lunch, when out of nowhere, your brain shouts: “You’re a fraud!” This probably makes you feel anxious and sad. You may end up squandering time in an internal debate, trying to prove that you’re not an imposter. Sometimes we win the debate – the mental gymnastics yield an answer that makes us feel better for a time. Sometimes it doesn’t. Either way it wastes time we might otherwise spend engaged in life. And while we try to disprove the theory that we’re doing life “wrong,” the attention we put on the idea that we’re flawed makes us feel pretty crumby.
We can’t control what thoughts and feelings decide to pay us a visit. Trying to resolve those thoughts and feelings traps us in our minds. The good news? We have control of mental behaviors. Mental analysis, rumination, thinking – they’re all actions, albeit invisible ones. So while we can’t eradicate thoughts and feelings, we can choose to drop the act of thinking as soon as we recognize we’re caught.
2. Practice mindfulness meditation
Once you’ve caught thinking in the act, mindfulness meditation can help you drop it. Mindfulness meditation supports nonjudgmental awareness and reorienting to the present. Translation: if we catch ourselves having thoughts of inadequacy, feeling sad or berating ourselves for not measuring up, we are free to shift our attention. Try it here [link to my meditation].
3. Prioritize your values
Whether you’re living your life “right” is far less interesting than whether you’re living the life that you want to live. In the face of thoughts of inadequacy and feelings of isolation, you still have the freedom to cultivate the qualities that you want to embody. Once we’ve dropped the rumination, our brains are free to consider what qualities matter to us. Do you want to be loving, kind, curious, generous? Prioritizing actions that cultivate the qualities we care about can take us from focusing on what life is supposed to look like to creating the life we want.