Caroline Cranshaw: How to STOP putting pressure on yourself and be HAPPY right now

Publish Date
Friday, 26 January 2018, 12:30PM
Photo / Getty

Photo / Getty

In this day and age of social media, there’s never been more pressure to be perfect. It’s now shocking to see a photo of someone that hasn’t been face-tuned and have several filters. I find one of the biggest issues that I come across with my clients, is that they’re putting way too much pressure on themselves to be perfect.

If you're a woman, you need to be a perfect weight, have the perfect size boobs, the perfect waist-trained waist, the perfect toned thighs (with a thigh gap of course), to complement your fantastic designer wardroom, flawless makeup, and thick, shiny, perfectly coloured and styled hair. You also need to have the perfect career, as well as the perfect partner who adores and completes you in every way.

Oh yes, and don’t forget you need the perfect house and the perfect car to match. If you want children, you also should have the perfect pregnancy, a natural labour, be the perfect mum and have gorgeous, intelligent, well-behaved children. God help you if you get stretch marks or struggle with baby weight. And If you don’t have children or don’t want them, well then there something wrong with that too.

We are constantly being inundated with messages of all the things we need to be good at, or that we might not be good enough at, from the media, from your friends and family and the fairytales we grew up reading and watching in movies. So, we put pressure on ourselves, to have the perfect body, the perfect life, the perfect partner, the perfect career, the perfect house and children. And we feel like an utter failure if we aren't achieving all of those things simultaneously.

When I was in my early 30s, with two young children, I wanted desperately to appear that I had it all. I had the husband, the house, the car, the two adorable little girls, a career as an artist and I had never been more miserable in my entire life. I was so desperate to be thin that I was up at five o’clock every morning killing myself at the gym, only eating whole organic foods that were right for my blood type, as well as doing juice detoxes weekly.

I wanted to be the perfect mother, so I never put my kids in daycare and I made all of their food from scratch. I took my kids to activity after activity, worked from home, spent my free time cleaning the house as well as finishing my study to become a therapist. My husband worked and travelled a lot, plus he liked to socialise, so he was out at least three or four nights a week. I wanted to be the perfect wife, so I smiled and pretended that everything was okay even though without the family support I felt like I was dying inside.

One morning, I woke up and I felt like I couldn't move. I couldn't stand any light in my eyes and had excruciating pain all over my body. My husband rushed me to the hospital after trying to get me out of bed and me screaming every time he tried to take the pillow off my face. The doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with me, but they knew it was bad. They did every test under the sun, but they all came back inconclusive. I was in the hospital for a week, unable to move, with a pillow over my face because I couldn't stand any light or noise.

The doctors decided it was a virus, but I know one thing for sure, my body had completely shut down and decided it needed a break. I realised as I lay there in the hospital unable to do anything, that I was doing too much. I was putting too much pressure on myself to be the best at everything that I did, and as a result, I was miserable and had burnt out.

When I got home from the hospital, I was so weak I could only do what was necessary. I found that the world didn't end if someone else looked after my kids for a few hours, if I didn't go to the gym every day, and if my house was messy. In fact, I was a lot happier.

So, how can you stop putting so much pressure on yourself, let go of trying to be perfect, and still achieve your dreams?

1. What you afraid of?

Everyone is terrified of being perceived in certain ways and it’s individual for everyone. I know for myself, growing up with undiagnosed dyslexia and dyscalculia, I seriously struggled in school and felt like I was an idiot - which my family found disappointing. As a teenager, I also struggled with my weight and my well-meaning parents offered to take me to Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig which only made me binge more and gain weight. I believed that I would only be accepted if I was smart, successful and thin.

As I got older, I had great teachers who helped me realise my dyslexia wasn’t linked to being less intelligent, but my brain perceived things differently and this was actually a gift (thank god for spellcheck!) However, I still feared being seen as not intelligent so I did everything in my power to appear intelligent and successful, probably coming off as an arrogant know-it-all, and drove myself unnecessarily to achieve. I put way too much pressure on myself to be thin, to appear the smartest, the most successful - in order to cover my negative self-beliefs.

The problem is, the harder I tried to be skinny, intelligent, and successful - the more miserable I became. I found it difficult to make friends and connect with other people since I always had a ‘front up’ - never admitting my faults and trying to appear perfect. The thing is that people don't relate to perfect. Perfect is boring and always a façade. What I realised is that almost every negative trait can be turned into a positive and the more we embrace our shameful traits, the more confident we become.

We all have a murderer, a pervert, a b****, an idiot, a liar inside of us - and we need those traits. If someone breaks into your house and tries to kill your family, you need your murder. To have great sex, you need to be a pervert. B****s get things done and refused to be walked over. An idiot doesn't know they can't do something, just look at Forest Gump, and no one can tell a good story like a liar.

I found the more I embraced the fact that I didn't need to be perfect, the more confident and comfortable in my own skin I became. The more people related to me, trusted me, and the easier I found it to make genuine connections. By embracing the messiness of life and your perceived weaknesses, you can let go of being perfect and lead a happier, more fulfilled life.

2. Stop "should"ing on yourself

Identify the "I should’s" you are telling yourself that are causing you to put too much pressure on yourself. I should lose 10 kgs. I should only eat vegan, organic food. I should be married by now. I should have a child by the time I’m______. I should be wildly successful and rich.

Or the I need to’s ... I need to buy a house. I need to get lip injections or breast implants so men will find me sexy. I need liposuction. I need to stay in a job I hate so I can pay the mortgage. I need to stay in my unhappy marriage so I don't traumatise my kids. I need to go to PTA meetings so the other parents won't think I'm a bad mum.

The only things you need to do is breathe, drink water, eat food, sleep, have a roof over your head and be kind to other people. The rest is subjective.

Write down on a piece paper "I should__________________________________________.

And finish the statement with whatever pops into your head. Writes as many statements as you can think of and identify which ones are actually true, and which ones are just things you're telling yourself or other people are saying you should be doing. It's incredible when we see on paper how many false beliefs we are allowing to drive us and cause us to be unhappy when they are not even true.

3. The problem may be your values

What do I mean by this? Our values determine how we measure ourselves against others, the type of problems we perceive ourselves as having, and what we believe our problems are - which determines how happy we are with our lives. Our values inspire everything we believe and are what motivates us. If what we value isn’t meaningful, if what we consider failure or success is shallow, your emotions, feelings and thoughts — will cause you to lack meaning and purpose in your life and be unhappy as a result, no matter what you achieve.

Here are some examples of positive and negative values:

Positive Values: Honesty, integrity, kindness, connection, self-respect, standing up for yourself and others, vulnerability, curiosity, humour, health, confidence, continuous learning, compassion, fitness, persistence, courage, commitment, flexibility, achievement, growth, happiness, love.

Negative Values: Material success, being perfect, pleasure, criticism, cynicism, bitterness, vanity, being skinny, youth, pessimism, popularity, always being right, superiority, dominance, meaningless sex, manipulation, arrogance.

When we have negative, shallow values, or in other words, superficial ideals that we set for ourselves as well as for other people — we are fundamentally caring about the things that aren’t important. We are caring about things that make us feel worse and aren’t based on anything significant. So, by choosing better values, we start to care about things that matter, things that in the long-term, will bring us even more happiness, pleasure, and success that isn't defined by our bodies or bank accounts. And therefore, it can't be taken away from you.

Now I'm not saying you can't enjoy pleasure or that it's not okay to be thin. But for example, a drug or sex addict will value pleasure above everything else - ruining their life. An anorexic or bulimic values being thin - to the point that it may kill them. When you value connection, vulnerability and love – you can have the best sex and pleasure of your life. If you value health and fitness, you can have a slim, healthy body as a side effect but your happiness won’t be conditional on your weight.

Check out this link if you would like to identify and update your values.

The truth is, at any given point, your life will feel like a mess. And that's okay. You don't need to figure it all out right now, and sometimes the answer is to just have a nap. Life isn't about learning how to live without messiness, as that’s an unachievable goal to have. You are here not only to make magic but to make mistakes since that's how we learn. The best thing I ever learned is to be okay with navigating the mess instead of trying to always clean it up.

Caroline Cranshaw is a hypnotherapist, life coach and the author of The Smoking Cure. Find out more about her at nzhypnotherapy.co.nz