Mental Health
Jul 16, 2024

Why am I so exhausted…? When setting standards and goals become a problem

Living by standards and setting goals is a normal human behaviour. If you surveyed 100 people about setting standards for themselves, almost everyone would say that they do. On the one hand, setting standards that are important to us can help encourage us to do things that are important to us. On the other hand, setting standards and goals can be problematic. If you strive to meet standards that are extremely demanding and difficult to achieve (think ‘perfectionistic standards’), it can lead to considerable problems, including anxiety, depression, OCD, and eating disorders.

When might setting standards be a problem:

Setting demanding standards can be like living with a strict boss who is constantly peering over your shoulder making sure you follow the rules. Often, these rules sound like ‘should’, ‘must’, or ‘ought’ statements related to performance. For example, “I must be at the top of my game”, “I should never make mistakes”, or “I ought to make a good impression” can be all signals that our internal dialogue is coming from an unrealistic perfectionistic place.

Another indication that our standards may be a problem is when those around us reflect back, “I don’t know how you do it, you take on so much” signaling our demanding standards are difficult (or impossible) to achieve and sustain. Overtime, as demanding standards become more extreme, they can have a negative impact on ourselves (e.g., burnout, fatigue) and those around us.

Some of the key differences between helpful and unhelpful standards are below:

HELPFUL STANDARDS                                                                    

Realistic                                                                                                                

Flexible                                                                                                                

Achievable                                                                        

Motivating                                                                                              

Enjoyable to pursue                                                                      

Life-enhancing                                                                                              

 

UNHELPFUL STANDARDS

Extreme

Inflexible

Difficult or impossible to achieve

Anxiety-provoking

Unpleasant to pursue

Life-interfering

Indicators that maintain problematic standards:

·       High standards are difficult to achieve and hard to maintain, but when they are met, it can feel good, which can lead to the pursuit of more demanding standards which inevitably lead to perpetual striving, failures, and self-criticism

·       Focusing on what is imperfect or discounting achievements

·       Excessive monitoring and evaluating to improve performance

·       Basing self-worth on success and achievement

 

There are effective psychological treatments which can address demanding standards, and the most well-researched of them is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT addresses demanding standards by:

1. Identifying demanding standards.

2.Monitoring demanding standards.

3. Exploring demanding standards, and where they come from.

4. Thinking through demanding standards, and whether they are reasonable.

5. Experimenting with standards, to find a new healthy standard.

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