Are you putting too much pressure on yourself?
You’re not alone. Oh, the pressure we put on ourselves. The pressure to do more … be more … get more done. The pressure to be seen as smart and competent. The pressure to overcome our challenges and stamp out any and all undesirable circumstances in our lives. The pressure we put on ourselves to be liked and loved and admired and appreciated and be seen as valuable.
So much pressure. I feel the weight of it crushing down on me now just by talking about it. Imagine what that weight is doing to us as we submit ourselves to this pressure day after day, year after year. The thought makes your heart sink a little, or a lot depending on how much pressure you’re under right now.
Is there any benefit to living under pressure? I’m reminded of a saying that’s been going around on social media about the value of pressure over time:
No pressure, no diamonds. ~ Thomas Carlyle.
Truth is I often work better under the pressure of a deadline. I’m more efficient and I don’t waste time, because wasting time is not an option.
Another truth is that I never work well when pressured to be someone I’m not or when I’m pressured to do something that doesn’t feel right in my gut.
Pressure applied to a bleeding wound stops the bleeding. Too much pressure applied to a body and the body breaks. The secret in life is to identifying when pressure can benefit you and when it paralyzes you.
If you’re putting too much pressure on yourself, it’s time for a shift in perspective.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll crumble under the weight of so many pressures of this life, but when I stop to take a closer look, I realize that most of the pressures I’m facing are self-applied. Why do I do this to myself?
- The pressure I put on myself to be like others never helps me. From an early age, all I wanted to do was to fit in and be accepted by others. Instinctively, though, I know that I am unique … I must trust that I’m fine just the way I am. Sometimes this means I fit in with those I’m around, and sometimes it means I don’t. We must all trust that who we are is who we are meant to be. Not everyone will get you but never let that discourage you from being yourself.
- The pressure I put on myself to succeed does little to help me achieve success. I’m not saying that having high goals is unhelpful; having a vision for where I want to be and what I want to achieve is important. Yet, if I operate under the pressure of anxiety, I tend to see only problems. When I remain in a state of calmness, I see solutions. Stepping back is often far more helpful for me than turning up the heat.
- The pressure I put on myself to be perfect just adds more stress to my life. I’m a person who likes to be in control and who likes being right. Place too much value on those two things, and you’re sure to face more pressure in your life than is good for you. You’ve got to accept that some things in life are beyond your control. You’ve got to accept that you won’t always be right … no one is, and there is no shame in being wrong.
- Financial pressures are sometimes all-consuming. Financial burdens can be real and scary. Studies show that 80% or more of us find ourselves under financial pressure at some point in our lives, so there’s a lot of people on the planet in this boat. Yet, obsessing over our financial predicaments night and day never helps anyone. If you’re facing financial pressures, you have to take smart action to address your circumstances and then find ways to release the pressure while you’re waiting on the tide to turn for you. Allowing stress to build and build will be more damaging than helpful. Ruminating in worry won’t help either; offering help to others and being generous with your time and attention can.
- You’d think the days of peer pressure would be long gone, but I find this isn’t the case. Surely the terror of peer pressure is most painfully felt in elementary school or high school, yet peer pressure doesn’t automatically disappear as we become adults. At work or in your community or even among your friends, you may still experience the pressure to do what others do. Peer pressure is always a test of what you believe about yourself. There’s no better time than now to finally say “I’m happy with me the way I am and I don’t need to change or pretend to be who I’m not for anyone.”
The thing about pressure is that you have to figure out if it is coming from the outside or if it is coming from within.
If the pressure is coming from outside, you get to decide whether the tradeoff is worth it. Here are a few examples:
Gloria used to work for a boss who wanted more and more and more. Though the quality of Gloria’s work was always exceptional, nothing was ever good enough for the boss. No amount of contribution was ever enough. The pressure to perform was ridiculous and there was no end in sight. Gloria could accept working in the high-pressure conditions or decide to make a change. Gloria made a change.
Molly was a gifted musician and her teacher knew it. Molly thought she worked hard, but her teacher knew that those who were able to lead successful careers in music worked much harder. So the teacher put pressure on Molly to work harder … strive for more … she pushed Molly to be the absolute best she could be. The pressure was difficult for Molly, but not unbearable; it was the price she felt she needed to pay to achieve her lifelong dream of being a professional musician. In the end, Molly went on to travel the world thanks to her extraordinary talent … talent that was honed under the pressure of those early days with her first music teacher.
If someone is putting pressure on you, ask yourself this question: Is it worth it?
If it’s not worth it, then it’s time to move on. If it is worth it, don’t think you’re stuck: you can still step up and let your discomfort be known and ask if there’s a better way to relate to or work with the other person(s) involved … this sometimes can alleviate the pressure.
For Molly the pressure was worth it, for Gloria it was not. Your circumstances are unique and you must decide what to do, just make sure you’re not basing your decision to put up with a high-pressure situation or high-pressure tactics from others based on any sense of lack of self-worth: have confidence in yourself!
Now, for the bigger test, because this is where most people face the most pressure: what do you do if you’re the one putting pressure on yourself?
If you’re applying the pressure on yourself, ask yourself this question: Is this pressure necessary to achieve what you want?
More times than not, what you want can be achieved without putting so much pressure on yourself. In fact, the stress and anxiety that comes from high-pressure tactics could actually be holding you back. Instead of putting so much pressure on yourself, you can always choose to motivate yourself through encouraging behavior that is positive while still being goal-focused.
Being hard on yourself may have become a habit, but like any habit, it’s one you can exchange for more positive habits. Here are a few tips for reducing pressure in your life:
- Don’t take things so seriously. Not everything in your life needs to be faced with such intensity. Lighten up more often. I love this quote from Wavy Gravy: “Laughter is the valve on the pressure cooker of life. Either you laugh and suffer, or you got your beans or brains on the ceiling.”
- The moment you feel the pressure building, stop and do some deep breathing. Breathe deeply and slowly for at least 2-5 minutes. This will help you reclaim your sense of calm and release the pressure that could otherwise build up to unhealthy levels.
- Recognize perfectionism and stop it in its tracks. Sometimes the pressure mounts up because we want to be perfect; we’re afraid of being wrong or making a mistake. Grant yourself the right to be human, because we all make mistakes. Allow yourself to move forward knowing that even if you make a mistake, it’ll all turn out okay anyway.
- Add more downtime to your life to make your “up time” more productive. The pressure to perform often constricts our imagination. Taking time away from a problem can actually be more beneficial for finding a solution than non-stop deliberation. So check out for a while. Take a walk. Watch a movie. Go play a game. Spend some time in the garden. Do whatever helps you relax so that you’re refreshed and rejuvenated. Smart answers seldom come when the mind is in chaos, so give yourself more free time and you’ll find that new ideas emerge.
By the way, remember that Carlyle quote … “No pressure, no diamonds” from the beginning of this post?
What a clever saying. It almost makes you want to sign up for more pressure in your life, right?
Well, honey, you’re already a diamond. You’re not a piece of coal … you don’t need to add pressure to your life to transform. Know when the pressures you’re under are helping you and when they’re hurting you. When pressure is destructive, it’s time to find ways to release it and the unhealthy stress that accompanies it.
You can set high goals for your life without piling on more and more pressure. Reaching for peace and calmness in your life is going to be far more rewarding than living under constant pressure. Plus it’ll feel oh so much better!
~ Wishing you peace, joy and happiness on your journey, J. Marie Novak, Founder of BelieveAndCreate.com