Sometimes it happens like this: It’s a weekday, just another regular day. Then a couple of your coworkers get a promotion. You’re happy for them (kind of), but also start to wonder, “They got a promotion ― am I going to get a promotion? What am I even doing at this company?”
The day goes on but the feeling that you’re falling behind still lingers. You log into Facebook or Instagram that afternoon. You see that a neighbor had a baby. An old friend from college is engaged. Another couple you know just bought a house.
And now you feel full blown terrible, like everyone else is rolling doubles and skipping spaces, and you’re getting no where.
But hold on just a minute: Surely you’ve accomplished something in your lifetime. So what’s up with feeling like you haven’t?
That nagging feeling that you haven’t done enough, could be related to a number things like social pressure, high expectations or even a lack of purpose, according to experts.
So how do you fix it? Getting to the bottom of why you’re feeling unsatisfied with your accomplishments will take a bit of work. There’s also a few important things to remember when this feeling sneaks up on you. Below, experts explain how to handle this feeling:
Get specific about what’s making you feel bad.
“I have not accomplished enough in my life” is a very vague and self-defeating statement, according to Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Instead, get specific about what is making you feel unsuccessful.
One way to do this is through journaling. Grab a pen and paper and write down what you think you haven’t accomplished, Whitbourne suggests. Then analyze it further.
For example, does it bother you that you don’t own a home? Jot it down then consider the factors that led to this so called “failure” and check them with reality. Have student loans or living in an expensive city made it hard to save for owning property?
It also might be helpful to jot down the things you have achieved and consider how long that achievement sustained you, according to Vincent Passarelli, a clinical psychologist based in New York City.
“If you’ve done something that’s great but then [your sense of satisfaction] fades very quickly, that’s definitely a red flag,” Passarelli said. It’s likely that specific “achievement” is not fulfilling you, and that you need to turn your energy to doing something that does more longterm, he added.
And it’s also fine to feel both disappointed and proud of what’s on the list you create. It’s normal to have successes like getting a master’s degree and failures like a string of relationships that have gone south, Passarelli said.
Do not compare other people’s lives to yours.
Comparing your life to another person’s Instagram feed ― a person whose personal challenges may be entirely different than yours ― is a recipe for making you feel wrecked.
“Half of what people post on social media is not exactly what it’s cracked up to be,” Krauss Whitborne said.
When you stack your life up against someone else’s without real knowledge about how they truly feel or what it took for them to accomplish something, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re not enough, Whitborne said.
And if social media contributes to your tendency to compare your life to others’, dial back your use. Research shows that more than two hours of social networking per day is associated with psychological distress, anyway.
Have your own definition of success.
Success is different for everyone, Passarelli said. What may look like an accomplishment for someone else may not exactly be a fit for you ― and that’s okay.
For example, success for one person might be securing the job as a CEO of a company. Success for another person might be a full-time job with flexibility so he or she can get home early to take care of kids. There are so many ways in which people define what works for them.
Look at your failures objectively.
Sometimes failures make people feel like they haven’t done enough, according to Passarelli.
But here’s the thing: Failure is normal and can also be quite helpful if you learn something valuable. Look at your failures through an unbiased lens and determine what you can do differently the next time in order to feel like you accomplished something, Whitborne says.
“Pick yourself up, move on from there,” she explained. “And maybe set more realistic goals for yourself. Where was it that you went left instead of right, and can you go back to that place and start on a better trajectory upwards?”
Use multiple aspects of your life to build out your identity.
Don’t let one thing define too much of who you are, Passarelli says. You may be proud that you’re succeeding at work, but that’s not the only thing you bring to the table.
It’s better to think about your self-worth in a holistic way: Are you a good parent, sibling, aunt, uncle or friend? Do you volunteer in your community? Do you participate in a sports league every week? Apply value to all aspects of your identity, not just if you’ve, say, made partner at your firm.
The same goes for break ups: The end of a relationship or marriage shouldn’t define who you are or are not, Passarelli said.
Reaffirm your values.
Rather than focusing on productivity as it pertains to accomplishing goals, build stronger ties to accomplishing things based on what you value. These values could be character traits such as integrity, loyalty, honesty or kindness.
Shifting focus to values and away from how much “success” you’ve earned helps you recalibrate, Passarelli said. It can also help you feel more fulfilled in your endeavors, which is the point.
Remember that a hectic life does not equal an accomplished one.
“We falsely assume that being busy means that we’re smart and successful,” Passarelli said. “If our life is hectic, we’re successful or we have more value. Not true at all.”
In fact, a lot of times your best ideas come from down time. Research shows that carving out time for creativity, such as writing in a journal, sketching or playing an instrument just to unwind, can help lower stress and give people a sense of purpose.
“Leisure time does not equate to being lazy, does not equate to being unproductive,” Passarelli said. “Most successful people actually have that kind of down time. It’s where we learn a lot about our self and learn a lot about others and life.”
Now all of that sounds like the real recipe for success.