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I constantly and obsessively question myself during many kinds of activities. When I play Tetris, I cannot stop thinking that world class Tetris players have way faster motor and cognitive abilities, when I read I think I’m too slow and when I program I think my ideas aren’t good enough and I google for better solutions. I think, in the end, these obsessive thoughts hinder my productivity by slowing me down, because it often makes it difficult for me to stay focussed.

Are there any general approaches to this sort of problem?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

That's a pretty wide and general questions, so I can give you a few general pointers that have helped me. Of course, if you can get more in to details then I'm sure I too can be more specific :)

First, I'm not a psychologist, just a generalist who like to constantly challenge myself to be more productive, enjoy life and be happy. Looking at myself a few years ago I had too high expectations on myself and my own capabilities at that moment. I don't mean that high expectations is a wrong thing, quite the opposite - high expectations is what you want to have about everything all the time! But too high just makes life more complicated, and for me not so enjoyable, because I never gave myself the chance of success, completion or celebrating an achievement - because the bar always was too high, always too high!

I truly believe anyone can achieve what ever they want if they at the same time truly believe that is the right thing for themselves. The problem of the average Joe, sadly, is to focus on everyone else, everything else and not just being where they are at the moment, just enjoy whatever they are doing and being with the people they have around. So my first question to you which was the first questions I asked myself - where am I right now? (--> what am I doing, what am I working with and for, and what people are in my life?)

After asking that question and really listen to what I answer to myself was, it was quite clear that there were a few things about myself I did just love and a few things I had to stop wasting energy on. I love the passion I have for other people and always seeing the good side of things, I love that I love my family and my children and I love my work where I can challenge myself everyday. I hate that I get myself into work things when I have promised to just be home with the kids and I have that I don't spend as much time with my friends as I want to. More things came to light, but with that in mind I just have to decide where I want to be in life, either:

1) Sit in the drivers seat in my life, or 2) Sit in the front seat beside the driver of my life, or worse 3) Sit in the back seat of my life (or as I have seen some people, hiding out in the trunk...)

Above I have only spoken about how to see yourself as a person, because after reading about your problem what cuts down your productivity, I believe it is your own point of view on what kind of person you are today and what person you want to be in the futures. And I guess, when you have asked yourself the question above where you are at the moment in life, your thoughts will wander along the path to the future - and the gap between today and lovely tomorrow will be clear. When you have sat that in motion then there is nothing stopping you from closing that gap starting right now! We can't do more than our best in every situation, if someone have a problem with that then they can be somewhere else - good luck in finding your way as I have found mine! :)

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Be your own judge

Ask yourself this question "Good enough for whom?"

Who is your unseen judge? Is this an arbitrary judgement based on whims or is it an objective measurement.

Make sure that your belief systems are on solid foundation of truth. Basing your worth on someone else's whims is not being fair to yourself.

Practice Makes Perfect, or Natural Born Talent

There are competing theories on what it takes to be considered an expert. In the book "Outliers", Malcolm Gladwell has stated that anyone who practices something over 10,000 hours will almost certainly make that person an expert in that field.

On the other hand David Epstein in "The Sports Gene" writes that genetic traits have a lot to do with success in a particular field.

It's your choice

The truth is somewhere in the middle. 10,000 hours is equivalent to practicing four hours a day for 10 years. You can't practice at everything, so choose from what you feel are your favorite solid capabilities. I lean toward the practice makes perfect side. Genetics only take you so far in terms of height, strength, the shape of your vocal chords etc. The best genetic trait just about everyone has is the ability to learn.

Put in the hours to develop your own capabilities> I think you'll see that this gives you the confidence you need to define "good enough" on your own terms.

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+1 The best genetic trait just about everyone has is the ability to learn. – Chethan S. Feb 8 '14 at 5:23

Start with 2 things:

  1. Keep one or two big milestone (that can be achieved in a few years) for yourself.
  2. Keep very short targets for yourself, daily.

Short targets along with a checklist where you mark its completion will give you faith that you are able to achieve. The secret is finding what you enjoy most + extreme persistence even after failures.

Except for a very selected few - if you see the total population you will observe that there are no short cuts for being something really good. And ultimately it's the state of your happiness in the end - that matters.

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Basically, you cannot get rid of that feeling since it does not belong to the present, but to early childhood. You probably weren't good enough for your parents, and could never have been - no matter what you did. That wasn't your fault. So this became a kind of background feeling for your life.

What does help is to recognize that this feeling has absolutely nothing to do with your present actions. No matter what you do or don't do - it will always be there as some kind of background noise. Even if you'd win gold in the Olympics, you'd still worry about the people with more medals.

If the feeling comes, you can just acknowledge it, realize it as a thing from the past that will soon fade again, and go on with whatever you were doing. After a while it will become irrelevant, and will not control your actions anymore. And only then, eventually, it will slowly fade away completely.

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NLP has a concept known as a 'Virtual Question' which might be helpful to explore. Basically a virtual question refers to a subconscious question we are always asking ourelves (e.g "Why am I not good enough?) and which is therefore framing our experience (maybe polluting it is a better word).

What you could work at is holding a conscious positive virtual question in your mind (to override the negative one). So you could ask yourself at the start of your day, "What can I do today to progress toward my goal". You get the idea. I know little about NLP, but hopefully searching about will throw more info for you.

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It is my opinion that this sort of mentality, for lack of a better word, has numerous primary causes. I think there are plenty of things people do to ameliorate such impulses, but nothing will help as much as identifying the root cause and working on that.

I personally resonate with your question as I feel that I long suffered having such a mentality. I think, for me, a lot of reasons came together to really bring about the situation. I'm naturally very anxious, my chosen career is sedentary, my parents expressed great expectations for all things that I did, and I'm a little neuroatypical in that I do not respond to most things in life the way more NT people do. I also probably have ADHD.

What helped me was also a combination of things that dealt with the root problems, and I'll list them so you might have some ideas about what your root problems are and how to deal with them.

  • I started to exercise. This releases endorphins which combat anxiety not just after the workout, but overall. This also lowered my blood pressure and had several positive effects on long term focus and health. If you are not active at all, almost no matter what the root cause is, becoming active will help with your mentality.
  • I take Vyvanse. This is almost a Faustian bargain for me, as it allows me to trade one anxiety for another. This medication greatly reduces my social anxiety and my need to compete, but it also slightly increases my general irritability. It also greatly increases my focus and my tolerance for tedium. Despite the downsides, this has been a life saver, and so far I think I am making the right choice in continuing to use this. If one of your root causes has low plasticity, meaning it is hard to change, medication is probably your best bet. While very powerful, I think of meds as a blunt tool, so you have to go through a lot of trial and error to find the right balance for you, if you go down this road. I believe, for instance, that I overproduce corticosteroids which induce anxiety and binge eating for me. Vyvanse just completely changed this hormonal balance in me for the better.
  • I changed my environment by moving from Texas to NYC. Texas' cultural blend was really hurting my mentality about many things. It is not that Texas is bad for everyone, but it was really bad for me. NYC, on the other hand, had many of the things I wanted to have in a city. Even after moving here, I changed my environment several times to find the right one. Changing your environment is often see as a "failure" to adapt and be willful enough to overcome obstacles, but the truth of the matter is that it is a powerful and legitimate way of making substantial change for yourself. It can be as simple as rearranging the furniture in your room and yet still do you a world of good.
  • I believe that our subconscious mind is far more powerful than we ever wish to give it credit, because we're so familiar with what we're thinking and we have the illusion that we're making all of these decisions. So, I try to treat my subconscious mind as another person that I must reason with and who has a tremendous amount of control over me. When I am not acting like I want to act, instead of punishing myself in the moment, I try to talk to my subconscious and explain to it how I think "we" should act in the future when encountering similar stimuli. This has been a very powerful tool for avoiding an unwanted mentality.
  • In a very similar vein, I believe forgiving mindfulness of your self is absolutely essential for life. As one of the delphic maxims famously says, "Know thyself." I was always very mindful and introspective, which in some ways exacerbated the mentality. The key was that I did not forgive myself for faux pas and errors. I saw a [TED talk on vulnerability][3] that changed me radically and by trying to be vulnerable with others, I was able to use their understanding to forgive myself more easily.
  • Another thing I do a lot of is read books. There is simply no other medium than the powerful words of a virtuoso author for transmitting notions about life that can change how we perceive the world we live in. This creates powerful analytic tools for me that empower me to make better decisions about everything, and over time has directly or indirectly ameliorated my anxiety.
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It sounds like a self-esteem problem to me.

When you play you compare yourself with others thinking that they play faster than you.

So what? What if they play better than you? That doesn't make them any better as the person than a Hillbilly on the road who's scratching himself. Because you're both doing whatever is possible for you to do. The Hillbilly doesn't really have a worth, nor does that guy who's beating everyone at Tetris. They're both people just living their lives doing what they can do. They all have skills at which they're better or worse than others.

What do you think makes a person better? How good one perform at something? It's not. Think about Hitler for a second. He was a great leader - he convinced several people to do something. So do you respect him? Probably not.

The worth of a person is in your eyes and not a constituent of a person himself. If you think the person in front is "worthy" then he is in your eyes. Another person might not think he's worthy then he isn't in his eyes. That person by himself doesn't really have any worth.

I would suggest you ponder over this for sometime. Try to prove/disprove it alternatively.

Lastly, if you feel you don't have any worth then the problem is not that you don't have any worth because you do have "worth", everyone around you does. The problem is that you're putting yourself down. You're criticizing yourself in various ways and praising other people. When you play Tetris say the following:

  • "oh I'm able to play for X minutes, I'm among the people who enjoys a game of spatial puzzles",
  • "oh I've managed to make enough time for myself to play",
  • "my skills might improve in Tetris the more I play",
  • "I may not be the best gamer in Tetris but I'm still able to play this game - not like I"m completely useless".

There's something called as CBT. Do take a look at it. It's what helped me overcome the same kind of thinking that you're talking about. I had it for my entire childhood.

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