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The Three Key Sources of Feeling 'Not Enough'

image by Pietro Tebaldi

In spite of our modern privileges and being surrounded by material things, it often feels

like we live in a world of ‘not enough’.

“Am I good enough?”

“Do I have enough?”

“Am I doing enough?”

I don’t know about you, but these are questions which are pretty regularly flying around my mind in various guises and, to be honest, the answer isn’t “Most definitely yes” as often as I’d like it to be.

When we find ourselves in this place of ‘not enough’ it can trigger a whole range of feelings and behaviours which we think will help us be/do/have more but which actually end up having totally the opposite effect.

The setting of high expectations and rigid rules (often heard as “shoulds”) designed to help us control the destiny of our ‘enoughness’. But which, in reality, leave us dissatisfied, feeling like a failure and rendering us utterly inflexible to any unpredicted change of plan.

The fear of ‘not enough’ often looks like perfectionism and is frequently accompanied by its frustrating companion procrastination which paralyses us into a state of overwhelm and inaction.

Protecting ourselves from any risk of ‘not enough’ can lead to a serious case of overthinking – a mind brimming so full of all the “but what if’s…” and “what’s nexts?” that it becomes impossible to focus on what’s really important and be present for what’s going on right here, right now.

One of the easiest ways to measure our ‘enoughness’ is by comparing ourselves to others but it’s never a fair exercise so we often come up short and feel the need to pretend or people please so that no-one will realise we aren’t keeping up.

Whatever your preferred flavour of ‘not enough’, too much time spent in this headspace is utterly exhausting, stressful and makes it really hard to be content with who we are and what we already have.

But, where is all this coming from?

Why are these challenges and feelings so common? Is there anything that ties them all together?

At the heart of it, we are all hard-wired for survival. The primary purpose of our brains is to protect us from danger and keep us alive.

I’m sure we’d all agree that this is pretty handy and that we wouldn’t really want it any other way. (I’m sure this is also not news to many of you and, just to be clear, is certainly not a concept that originated with me!)

Thousands of years ago, you didn’t survive if you weren’t always on the lookout for danger, if you weren’t always striving for more/better and if you weren’t part of tribe (and, on top of all that, you’d get booted out of the tribe if you showed any sign of weakness).

Today, we very rarely face life-threatening danger, most of us live in the western world of plenty (Waitrose isn’t likely to cut off our food supply for the winter) and, although it’s very nice to be connected to others, we don’t need to operate in tribes or depend on the collective for our survival.

The problem is that some of us have learnt to apply these primitive drivers to our modern lives in ways that aren’t actually that useful (i.e. to situations which are not life or death) and, sometimes, we’re doing that to the extreme.

Three key sources of ‘not enough’

1. We believe we need to fit in (so not to get booted out of the imaginary tribe) –we continually compare ourselves to others, hide our weaknesses, pretend we’re something we’re not and work harder to please others than we do to please ourselves.

2. We believe we need to solve all potential problems (eliminate all threat) – we’re constantly scanning our lives for the negative, wanting to pre-empt every future scenario that might cause a problem and analyse everything until we have all of the answers.

3. We believe we should always aim to be/do/have more (in case of famine) – we care a lot about everything so we set rigidly high expectations for ourselves (and, sometimes, those around us) and, even if they’re achieved, we always move quickly on to “what now?” and “what’s next?”.

In a nutshell

All this doesn’t mean that we can’t want to grow and improve.

- But it does means that we don’t need to be obsessed with things being perfect.

- And it does mean that we don’t have to be in complete control of everything.

- And it does mean that it doesn’t matter so much what other people are up to.

In a nutshell, I believe that life can be great without being perfect (and so can you).

A question for you……which of the three sources of not enough are having the biggest impact in your life right now?

If this has hit home and you’re ready to make a change then have a think about one specific area in which you know you’d benefit from being ok with relaxing your standards (just a little bit).

Design yourself a playful experiment (that means no judgement afterwards!) to see what it feels like and how things play out when you cut yourself a bit of slack.

Author's Bio


Hana Manthorpe is a Perfectly Imperfect Life Coach based in London. She helps women to become more calm, confident and content by feeling good about who they already are.

You can find out more about Hana via her website The Mental Movement

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