How do I know I’ve done enough? That I am enough? That this is enough?
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a coach who works with sensitive people so they can stop second-guessing, make decisions confidently and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about working with me here.
You can listen to this essay as audio here
These were the questions that started pinging my inbox, one by one, when I shared some prompts and thoughts about the inner critic on my Instagram recently, eventually turning into a steady flood.
I had done a poll on what course folks wanted me to create next, and had thrown in a course on the inner critic almost as an afterthought.
It got almost three times as many votes as any of the other options.
Intellectually, of course, I know that people struggle with inner critics but I hadn’t realized it was so prevalent amongst my audience. (I’m not sure why, since my journey with my inner critic has been a defining part of my life, but sometimes I miss this stuff in others.)
Intrigued, I asked questions.
“What does your inner critic say to you?”
“What do you want to know about your inner critic?”
“What is the hardest part of having an inner critic?”
And the enoughness themes came through so strong.
“It tells me I’ve never done enough.”
“It tells me I could always be doing more, and I’m lazy for not.”
“You’re not good enough.”
Enough, enough, enough.
The flood of responses and their theme of enoughness, or not-enoughness, got me intrigued by the overall concept of “enough” and why we, and our inner critics, struggle so heavily with it.
As I often do when looking to more deeply understand a concept, I turned first to the dictionary. Here’s what showed up:
- adjective adequate for the want or need; sufficient for the purpose or to satisfy desire: enough water; noise enough to wake the dead.
- pronoun an adequate quantity or number; sufficiency.
- adverb in a quantity or degree that answers a purpose or satisfies a need or desire; sufficiently.
- fully or quite: ready enough.
So the word and concept itself can be explained intellectually and logically, but it eludes a meaningful definition of knowing when it comes to us as individuals: what does “enough” look like for each of us, in different situations?
And that’s where I find people getting stuck, especially in regards to their inner critics:
We’re looking, as we do in so many areas of our life where we feel we need validation, for others to define what “enough” looks like for us.
But I think that the honest truth is that “enough” is a carrot dangled in front of us externally by systems or others who benefit from us believing we’re lacking. A carrot that will always be hanging just out of reach, that will be snatched away at the last second with the promise of just a little more work, a little harder trying, a little “if only you…”
So how do you stop chasing the punitive carrot that you’ll never get to taste, and settle into where you are, instead?
I think the answer lies in reclaiming the word “enough.”
It means defining what “enough” looks like for you personally, in any given situation.
And trust me: this is actually a lot harder than it might seem.
See, when we’re stuck in a relationship with inadequacy, or any relationship that is harming or undermining us, I do believe that at some level, we are in fact actually somehow benefitting, even if it is in a very small way, from the set up of the situation.
In our current toxic relationship with enoughness, the fact that we’ve been allowing others to define enoughness for us means that we do not have to make the difficult decision of reclaiming our personal agency in the decision of enoughness. We don’t have to be the ones deciding what enough is, and that’s a relief, in its way.
I learned this in a really tough way when I started working for myself. In ways I hadn’t truly understood until I stepped out of them, I had truly benefited and felt comforted by knowing exactly what was expected of me; 40 hours a week; this many projects; that many metrics, and in turn I would get this much money, that many benefits, and this kind of office. Though I often also felt trapped by those expectations, there was a deep sense of comfort in having somebody else make those definitions and decisions for me.
So when I stepped into working for myself, I flailed deeply without those expectations of enoughness in place, struggling frantically to replicate them, then out do them, then abandon them, and finally redefine them, for me, and me only, trying on uncertainly the act of deciding I actually knew exactly what I needed.
See, if you are chasing somebody else’s definition of enoughness, you are allowing others to define expectations and outcomes for what your effort and entire life should look like. An individual definition and reclamation of enoughness is us putting a stake in the ground, come what may, and accepting what that means for us, accepting responsibility, and also accepting how others might push back against it.
That’s the scary part.
If you’re struggling with enoughness, may I invite you into the practice of beginning to define what enough actually looks like for you, by you?
Here are a few places to start.
- Identify a pillar in your life where you struggle with enoughness (work, dating, body image, productivity, money, or some other area). Then, if you can, define a pillar of your life in which you can recognize you do *not* struggle with enoughness. Write down 10 ways in which you are able to step into and accept the enoughness in the latter pillar, then brainstorm, from that list, 10 ways you can begin to apply those lessons to the other pillar where you feel you are lacking.
- Try on the concept of “micro wins”: This is something I taught in my dating course. In relationships, a “winning” outcome seems so black and white: Marriage, or nothing. I instead taught students to lean into the concept of a micro win when dating. Sometimes, creating an online profile was a micro win, if they’d been avoiding or fearful of online dating. Sometimes, a micro win was sending messages to 3 new people on the apps. Sometimes it was having a hard conversation with a partner. Sometimes it was being vulnerable with a date. These micro wins took away the all-or-nothingness we can often apply to situations and helped the students realize they were growing in so many ways during their journey.
- List observable outcomes: In a similar vein as micro wins, when I’m working with a 1:1 coaching client I often ask them a month or so into our engagement to define 3–5 outcomes they want for our work together. A lot of times they were writing stuff like “feel happier” or “feel more confident.” Those are good goals but too vague by half, so I started having them write down outcomes that were observable — that is, somebody could witness them doing that outcome. “More confident” became “do public speaking once a month,” “feel happier” became “go on one hike a week,” “kinder to self” became “journal daily and create 3 affirmations I believe in.” See where you can create observable outcomes for the area of enoughness you are working on.
- See if you can connect with what “enough” feels like in your body. I was leading a client through a grounding meditation last week meant to center and help her feel present, and at the end she sighed and smiled, saying she was able to step into the physical feeling of being in a spot in Hawaii she had vacationed to in the past. “In that feeling, on that beach, I was just content and present and I knew I didn’t have to do anything or be anywhere,” she explained. Pause and consider: what does that sensation of completion, of enoughness, of safety and presence feel like in your body? Can you describe it? Then, think about a few ways you may be able to cultivate it more frequently.
- Try on this wild tip that I have to remind myself of daily: when you actually complete your to do list don’t add on more just for the sake of it, because you have the time. Stop where your list stops. You are teaching yourself the self-trust to stop when you said you would; you are trusting that what you have set out to do is actually enough, and you don’t have to add on more just because you have the time.
- Finally, begin to step in more deeply to your intuition. On February 14th I’ll be leading a free 30-day challenge to help you start to listen to your intuition more regularly. With deeper, better intuition we gain a more solid sense of what does feel like enough to us. By signing up for the challenge here, you’ll receive a new assignment or practice in your inbox for you to participate in. Each practice should take no longer than 20 minutes and will be designed to help you connect more deeply to your intuition. Practices will range from journal prompts, to guided meditations, to emotional and space clearing activities… and a lot more.
I hope one of these tips centers you and encourages you to begin a journey of reclaiming and defining your enoughness in the world.
Because you are the one that gets to decide, and that’s both a liberating blessing and a responsibility to your own personal power.
It’s time to step into it.
PS: Don’t forget to sign up for the free intuition challenge here! We start February 14th.