Speaking Mental Health
Forward Times Mental Health Advisors
In a “performance driven” world, it is easy for people to get left behind. Top performers get top pay, the recognition, the perks, the corner office, etc. What happens to those, however, who do not oust their competitors, meet the established metrics, and consistently perform at peak? If there was an infinite amount of time and an unlimited number of opportunities available to people to explore and express their maximum potential, underperforming in one area might not be so critical. As it is, however, society seems to rate people superficially based on a number of different irrelevant factors, but namely, on performance. When you make a decision that leads to the big win or creates the best-case scenario, you are heralded as the greatest, for that moment. If you fail, however, to make decisions that yield best case scenarios consistently, your fall from grace is swift and you become yesterday’s news. There is much to be said about competition and the adverse effects associated with being number one, but I will save that topic for another day.
Many people experience anxiety and other mental health challenges, in addition to physical ones, that are exacerbated by performance-related pressure. Whether it is a test you are required to pass in order to advance to the next rank in the hierarchy or it is a skill you must demonstrate on demand, the weight associated with being successful in the moment can be frightening. What is at the core of the performance driven anxiety is that idea that one’s value or worth is tied to the successful accomplishment of the desired goal at hand. If you succeed, you will be deemed worthy by others but if you fail however, all hope for being respected or rewarded by others is diminished. Interestingly, many people will not see just how distorted this logic is because they have been conditioned to operate from a state of panic or stress. Truthfully, however, no one flawlessly accomplishes every task, passes every test, or achieves every goal because a timer has started, a whistle has been blown, or their position is at stake. What is even more concerning is that many people who contend with this issue have not acknowledged it as an issue; or have acknowledged it, but refuse to accept it and are not willing to seek help to appropriately deal with it.
You are not what you do or how you do it, as many would have you to believe. Say it with me this time, “I am not what I do.” It is important to understand and believe this; to not do so suggests that you will ever only be as good as how good you do what you do. Sometimes goals will not be achieved, and objectives will not be met because we cannot have full control of outcomes. What matters more than winning is your mindset, your effort in the process, and lessons learned. Replacing the distorted thinking pattern of praising or condemning people, or yourself, based on your performance at a given moment is not an easy task, especially if it has been done for so long. There are, however, some steps one can take to address this irrational tendency that attacks our mental health.
First, accept and love yourself for who you are. Know that you are unique and there is absolutely no need for you to ever have to be like, or liked by, any other person. Second, take some time to identify your likes, dislikes, passions, hobbies, interests, etc.; these will likely help you to determine how you should spend your time and could possibly identify potential career pursuits. Next, surround yourself with people and things who suit and support you. If you find yourself posturing to perform to please people or to get things, without reciprocity, take it as a clear indication and consider it time to remove yourself from the presence of those people or things. Finally, invest in your mental health. Seek assistance from a mental health professional who can assist you in identifying, addressing, and working through any negative feelings, emotions, behaviors, or thought patterns you are battling with. Mental health professionals can also assist you with learning skills and developing techniques to combat the compulsion to succumb to unnecessary external pressure or the anxiety associated with it. If you want to live your best life, not the one that requires others to label you as “the best”, it is time to find your good.
Michael Dangerfield, LPC, NCC
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