You’re certainly not wearing the same clothing or driving the same car as you were two decades ago, so why are you really punishing yourself with the same outdated beliefs?
“I’m only successful if I’m better than someone else”
Beating others out for promotion or being the skinniest person at your high school meeting may feel good at the moment, but in the long run, this tendency to define yourself by being better than others will end up backfiring, says Emily P. Lockamy, a therapist based in Wilmington, North Carolina. “A more effective way to foster a positive sense of self is to develop self-compassion and self-appreciation,” she says.
Better say: “Success is being fulfilled, and the more fulfillment there is to go around, the better.”
“I need to do everything”
There is immense pressure on young people from an early age to succeed in everything they do. You’re supposed to get straight A’s at school, be a community leader, make the travel sports team, have many friends, be invited to a fun party, and have a body like a supermodel, says Tracey Masella, a licensed social worker at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut. But this leaves you still looking for a better chance and never fulfilled having enough good experiences, not to mention exhausted! It’s time for you to ditch these expectations by the time you’re 40.
Better say: I don’t have to do everything, I can choose to only do what makes me happy and fulfilled.”
“I’m a freak”
It’s normal to worry about whether you’re “ordinary,” particularly when you’re growing up because everyone tries to fit in and have friends, says Traci Stein, PhD, MPH, author, psychologist, and assistant professor at Columbia University. This line of thinking will lead you to do some horrible things in the hope of being accepted by other people. Let go of your freak flag!
“I can’t go to the gym until I lose weight”
Are you waiting to get married, find a new career, go to the beach, take a trapeze class, or go to the gym until the scale says you can? “Don’t wait any longer! Start living your life right now, “says Margit Berman, PhD, associate professor at the Minnesota School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University. “Will you experience weight discrimination? You might, but don’t let it hold you back from doing what you love.”
Say this instead: “I can do anything I want to do.”
“I have to do something big to impact the world”
“Most people want to be a positive force in the world they live in, which is admirable. However, many people hang on to the idea that making the world a better place requires drastic, earth-shattering action,” says Sal Raichbach, Psy.D, LCSW of Ambrosia Treatment Center: “But no one person can save the world. Small, positive acts of kindness, like holding the door for someone, are the most effective ways to spread goodness into the world.”
“Why would anything good happen to me? There so many others who deserve it more”
If you’re thinking about a house that you’d like to buy or a raise that you’d like to get, it can be easy to default on “I don’t deserve good stuff,” Schochet says. But happiness and achievement aren’t a zero-sum game, and just because someone else may deserve something amazing doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it, either.
Better say: “Why shouldn’t I expect good things?”
“No one really ‘gets’ me”
One of the best aspects of growing older is the opportunity to find your”tribe”—the people who encourage and help you. It’s easy to feel left out, alone or lost when you’re different, but the most amazing thing about this planet is that it’s full of “special” people, some of whom will be just like you, Johnsen says.
Repeat after me: “There’s nothing wrong with me and I can push myself to try to connect, join, and approach others I’d like to know more.”
“I am going to get rich, fast”
Earning enough money to afford what you need and some of what you want is a wonderful goal, but getting obsessed by getting more money to help an ever more extravagant lifestyle can become a vicious cycle, says Jonathan Alpert, psychotherapist, Wall Street Performance Coach, and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.
“Upon close examination, I find many peoples’ idea of a “good life” is warped and largely influenced by Hollywood and media,” he says. “Instead, focus on what is realistic and what you actually need.”
“I don’t care what anyone thinks”
“Unless you’re a sociopath, everyone cares about others’ opinions to some extent,” says Michele Quintin, LSW, and owner of Shift Happens Therapy. “The problems begin when you let someone else’s opinion define who you are or make you doubt yourself.”
“I’ll never be good enough, no matter how hard I try”
When you have received a lot of criticism in the past, it may be tempting to believe that you are a failure, but that assumption may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, generating a cycle of fear of failure that prevents you from trying. And the insecurity is strengthened if / when you don’t succeed, says Dr. Stein.
“If I can’t do it perfectly, it’s not worth doing”
“Many people overestimate the probability that they will not do well or assume a negative result which can lead you to avoid doing things altogether or not put forth your best effort,” says Flo Leighton, RN, certified mental health nurse practitioner and therapist with Union Square Practice. Having the mentality of a perfectionist is a fast way to sabotage your happiness and growth.
“I will never find love again”
Nothing hurts more than being dumped, especially if you thought that person was the love of your life. But one thing people learn when they age is that time really heals all the wounds and that there are so many people you can love and who will love you, says Sara Stanizai, a licensed psychotherapist and the owner of Prospect Therapy.
Repeat this in your head every time you feel hopeless: “I’ve had relationships before, I’ll have a relationship again.”
“I’m too shy, I can’t talk to other people”
Social anxiety is a real thing, and it can be really frustrating, but it doesn’t have to control your life, and you can conquer your fears. “Start by recognizing that just because you have a thought, it does not mean it is true,” says Jennifer Welbel, licensed professional counselor and owner of The North Suburban Center for Anxiety. “You have thoughts all the time that you don’t give meaning or credence to.”
Make sure to take small steps to increase your comfort when it comes to a larger social circle.
“I have to check my Instagram feed before bed”
Most of today’s adults still feel tremendous pressure to constantly know what’s going on with everyone, but this mindset can make you feel confused, insecure, and even afraid, says Kendra Kubala, Psy. D, Philadelphia’s licensed psychologist. “Before the advent of social media, we were more able to gradually absorb news from others, and choose to respond at our own pace and in our own manner. Now, we may feel pressured to ‘like’ an event to avoid feeling like a hater.”
“I’ll just lay low at this meeting”
Many younger people wrongly think that no one at work wants to hear their opinion, assuming that their boss would rather hear from more experienced people, says Sheina Schochet, a psychotherapist based in New York City. As you get older, you become wiser, and while you might not be the oldest person yet, you certainly got a good experience.
“I will get hurt, so I won’t put myself out there”
Being vulnerable requires confidence and trust, and once that’s broken, people sometimes close up and decide that vulnerability is no longer a safe choice, but while it may protect you from pain, it often prevents you from experiencing love and healing, says Kailee Place, a licensed professional counselor in Charleston, South Carolina.
Repeat after me: “Everyone gets hurt sometimes and the risk is worth the reward.”
“Being with someone who hurts me is better than being alone”
On the other hand, people who are so scared to get hurt that they end up alone are people who are so scared to be alone that they let people hurt them. “I see people settling for less than great relationships because they think they can’t find anyone better,” says Julie Williamson, licensed professional counselor at Abundant Life Counseling.
Better say something like this instead: “I deserve to be treated with love and respect and I will find a partner who does that.”
“My boss thinks my work sucks”
Everybody is worried about their professional success sometimes, but attempting to anticipate the reaction of your supervisor or even boss, or putting words in his or her mouth, would only make you nervous and needlessly stressed. Alternatively, look for real examples of how you’re doing and reflect on your strengths, Leighton says. Speak to your boss, read your performance review, and get an outside perspective to help you look objectively at your work.
“I can’t go out without makeup on”
It’s normal to worry about what people think about your looks, including your clothes, accessories, and makeup, but while these things can help make a great first impression, it’s important to keep in mind that they don’t define who you are, says Prakash Masand, MD, psychiatrist and founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence.
“I might as well give up soccer, I’ll never be Abby Wombach”
Professional athletes make it look simple, but they’ve spent years perfecting their skills, says Dr. Kubala. You may have dreamed of— and even prepared for— the same goal, and it may be demotivating to know that the ship has sailed.
Repeat after me: “Playing sports and pursuing hobbies are worthwhile even if I never go pro.”
“This one choice will make or break me”
It’s tempting to assume that the course of your life is going to change irrevocably on the basis of making one ideal choice of career, college, new job, or relationship (especially if you watch a lot of movies!), but the truth is that life changes based on a variety of choices and almost anything can be changed.
Better say: “I’ll research this and make the best choice I can. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll try something else.”
“Everyone is doing better than me”
Call it the social media effect or simply human nature, but it’s very normal to look at people your age and assume they’re way ahead of you in the game of life, says Jo Eckler, Psy. D, a clinical psychologist and author of I Can’t Fix You Because You’re Not Broken. This can make you feel anxious and frustrated, leaving you wondering how far behind you are. But to achieve true happiness, you have to fight the temptation to compare yourself to others, she says.
“I’m just a hot mess”
At some point it has become “cool” for young adults, particularly women, to behave as if they don’t know what they’re doing and are frequently living in a state of crisis. As you get older, however, you could be looking around at others and wondering how they got it all together while you still figure out Adulting 101, Dr. Eckler says. It’s time to stop blaming yourself for the mistakes you’ve made in the past and embrace your smarts!
“I have to find my purpose in life”
It’s a misconception that you need to have one concrete reason to be here in order to live a happy and fulfilling life, says Helena Lass, PhD, psychologist and founder of Wellness Orbit. In fact, spending all your time trying to find the “one thing” that will answer all your hopes and dreams will cause you to miss all the little-but-great stuff you’ve been doing. As you get older, give yourself permission to continue looking for the big answers, but also to be content with what you discover along the way.
“If I’m not in a relationship right now, it means I’m doomed to be alone forever”
Everyone has a timeline that they’d like to make big life achievements like graduating from college or getting married. Sadly, life never sticks to our plan, and unless you learn to roll with it, you’ll end up very disappointed, says Forrest Talley, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of Invictus Psychological Services.
“I work hard, I deserve to have that Lexus”
Feeling entitled to have certain stuff will set you up for disappointment and financial disaster, says Dr. Talley. Life is hardly ever “fair” and the sooner you understand that no one owes you anything, the happier you will be. Better say “I’m working hard, I’m going to save up for that Lexus.”
“If I buy this Instagram workout or this powder off Facebook, I’ll get the body of my dreams”
If there’s one thing that social media does very well, it’s selling dreams — and things to “help” you make those dreams come true. But not always will you find what you need by poring through other people’s feeds and timelines, says Dr. Talley. So if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s likely that it will be your wallet that ends up lighter.
“My advice for someone who struggles with this is to do a ‘cleansing fast’ of Instagram, Facebook, and the like then use that extra time to build deep, genuine relationships with a small number of people in real life,” he adds.
“I can’t say no, that would be rude”
Not saying “no” doesn’t just stress you, but it can hurt those you’re trying to help if you can’t deliver what they’ve asked or resent them for asking instead. Part of being an adult is learning how to give a gentle but firm “no” without lying or making excuses, says Weiss.
“I’m a hideous, fat slob”
“The unrealistic and unattainable beauty ideals in our culture have led to 91 percent of women being unhappy with their appearance at one point in their lives,” says Susan Edelman, MD, psychiatrist, and author of Be Your Own Brand of Sexy. And it’s not just women who feel that way —many men feel insecure about their appearance as well. This type of behavior can lead to dangerous dieting, depression, and anxiety.
Better say: “I want to be healthy and happy, not be a certain number on the scale.”
“I have to look like a model or I’ll never get a boy/girlfriend”
Let’s be honest, most of us don’t look like models! But that doesn’t make us unworthy of love or of a healthy relationship. “How you treat people is much more important than your appearance,” Dr. Edelman says. “Being kind, generous, or a good listener is much more likely to help you to attract and keep a nice partner.”
Better say: “We’re all going to look different, that’s part of what makes us who we are.”
“I’ll be happy once I’ve reached this next goal”
Having goals is nice, but making your self-worth based on checking off all the boxes will leave you never feeling good enough and still wanting more, Lockamy says.
Better say: “I can be happy now, here’s a list of things I’m grateful for.”
“I’m such a worthless loser”
Thoughts like this are a feeling, not a reality, says Cecelia Mylett, Psy. D, LCSW, Clinical Director at CAST Centers. Recognizing the feeling behind it— insecurity, depression, frustration— may help you understand what your brain is really saying, and not get dragged down in self-doubt.
Better say: “At times I feel I am not good enough, but I know I am a great friend (or whatever it is that you feel good about or accomplished in your life).”
“I’ll do it tomorrow”
“Many of my younger clients struggle with procrastination; they know what they need to do to have the life they want, but they just can’t seem to get it done,” says Kenny Weiss, a licensed counselor.
Try this instead: “I’m going to work at this for 15 minutes and then I can take a break if I need one.”
“This is the worst thing that ever happened to me”
Believing that any mistake or loss is the worst it could be without a turnaround option is a depression indicator, says Eliza Belle, PhD, a licensed psychologist. While anything may sound like “the worst” at the moment, it’s actually not possible, and reminding yourself of that will help you take action, she adds.
Try this instead: “Everyone has setbacks, I’ll get through this.”
“I want to have a life like Kim Kardashian”
Growing up, many of us idolized singers, actors, athletes, or other celebrities, but part of being an adult is realizing how often these ideals are unrealistic and finding more appropriate role models, says Dr. Belle. “Look to your real-life support systems and work on your own goals and expectations, instead of someone you see on TV or social media,” she says.
“My life is too overwhelming, I’m going back to bed”
It’s one thing to look at a long list of stuff to do and want to go back to bed, and it’s another thing to do so. “Start small,” he says. “Break your day down into smaller, more manageable tasks. This will help you feel better about all that you have to accomplish.”
Repeat after me: “I can’t do everything, but I can do this one thing.”
“I’m an imposter”
Imposter Syndrome is where you feel like if people knew what you are like, they would realize that you’re a total fraud. This syndrome is very common in people who start their careers, but this anxiety typically doesn’t coincide with reality, says Anne Rice, a licensed professional counselor at Firefly Wellness Counseling.
“I can’t make a phone call or answer voicemail”
Most young adults who have grown up with smartphones, text, Twitter, Facebook, and email and have come to prefer such forms of communication over face-to-face contact, but relying only on electronic interactions will harm you both professionally and personally, says Tim Lynch, PhD, President of Psychsoftpc.
Better say: “It’s worth the extra few minutes to make a real human connection.”
“I’m not as good of a parent as them”
It’s hard not to compare yourself to other parents on a regular basis. You may think about what you’re doing wrong and what other parents are doing better, but that’s not going to benefit your children at all. You may think about what you’re doing wrong and what other parents are doing better, but that’s not going to benefit your children. Prepare to give your children everything you can along the way and believe in yourself, you are a good parent!
Better say: “I’m doing everything I can for my kids and loving every minute of it. No one is perfect and it’s okay to make mistakes.”
“I need everyone to like me”
Here’s the cold, hard truth: no matter how good you are, some people just won’t like you. And that’s all right, says Steven M. Sultanoff, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, and professor at Pepperdine University. Believing this will make you do irrational things in order to be liked, and if you build your self-worth on being liked, it can cause depression, he explains.
This should be your motto: “I’ll do my best to treat everyone with kindness and respect, but I can’t make them like me.”