The Pattern of Asking, “Am I Doing Enough?”

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In my last post I shared an example of how the NOREN model was helpful to my family in changing some of our patterns around the holidays. In that example, each of us had different assumptions about what we were doing together when we gathered to cook. Each of us also had observations and reflections that could shift how we engaged. Now I want to shift the focus to another pattern. It’s that voice in many of our heads that says, “I’m not doing enough,” or “I’m not enough.”

As we start a new year, it is a great time to slow down, take a moment for reflection and look inward.  And, it is at this time that the line between healthy self-reflection and harsh self-critique can be difficult to see.

Recently, I noticed that I was asking myself some of these questions. A colleague whom I had only recently met invited me to do some work with him in an area known for heavy violence. In the moment it was easy to say no because of logistics. I would have had to rearrange other commitments and I truly felt like I did not have the capacity to make it.

Once I had moved through the episode, something drew me back to notice it again. I was surprised that he had even noticed me and my work. First I looked at my surprise. What was I assuming about him, that made me surprised to be asked?  I observed my story of him as someone who is very caught up in his own role and status and therefore would be unlikely to seek out my help. This moment of cognitive dissonance made me pause and reconsider that assumption. What evidence did I have to support my story?

“In this reflective time, what are the patterns of the stories you are telling yourself?”

I dug a bit deeper. In looking back at my decision making, it was true that I had a lot on my plate, but I realized I was also afraid. I had a lot of respect for his work in conflict zones. I had a story that his work was more impactful and had more merit and value than the work I did. I then questioned whether I was doing enough. As I looked at the pattern of my storytelling, I saw how my devaluing my work in relationship with his, in turn had me assume he did as well. When he engaged in a way that showed his value for my work, I took a moment to pause.

I realized that I could not pinpoint anything he said or did that conveyed any disregard. This noticing and reflecting helped me engage differently with him the next time. It also shined a light on my own pattern. I was lining my work up next to that of others, telling myself a story that I was not doing enough, and, therefore, was not enough. Reflecting on that story illuminated a pattern of pattern of judging or of minimizing my work when speaking to others.

I then explored this pattern for what might be a competing commitment. In other words, why was I invested in minimizing my work and impact in a way that, ironically minimized my impact?  I then gave voice to my competing commitment to modesty and humility. The concern associated with the tension between owning my work more fully and being modest and humble was my place of competing commitments.

All of these patterns tend to get accentuated for me at this time of year, when I am suddenly lining up my work up next to that of so many others, and when I am naturally a bit more reflective about what I want to be doing in the world. As I approach the new year, I do want to reflect on my work and where I am putting my energy. Rituals that mark time are designed to help us do that.

At the same time, I want to notice and reflect on the patterns in my thinking and interaction. I have noticed that telling myself an, “I am not doing enough” story or even asking myself an “am I doing enough” question shuts me down rather than motivating me to do more. It is not helpful. Telling myself a story of where I see the most impact and satisfaction in my work, on the other hand, does tend to energize me to do more, and specifically to do more of what is working. Asking myself, “where does it make sense to dedicate more energy?” “Where do my efforts pay off?” and even, “where could I challenge myself more?” are more helpful. They lead to more energizing stories and patterns.  

In this reflective time, what are the patterns of the stories you are telling yourself? Are they helpful stories that build you up, motivate you, and help you be the version of yourself you want to be? Are they patterns of guilt and comparison that knock you down? Is there some of both? Try to choose one pattern that you are ready to shift. When you notice yourself in that pattern or story, pause to see what you can shift in your narrative. We’d love to hear what changes for you!

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