One Reason You Feel Like a Failure and Three Ways to Stop

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One sure-fire way to make yourself feel like a failure is to put too many things on your to-do list.

I am a list-maker. For me, physically writing things down on a piece of paper brings it to life. I love the feeling of crossing things off of the list that I have made. I mean, L-O-V-E!!

The feeling of utter accomplishment drapes over me like a fluffy blanket. Sometimes I even do a happy dance as a celebratory gesture to all of the things I have gotten done. I am the master of time management, the winner of the to-do list.

Except when I’m not.

Then I’m a loser.

When I am not able to cross things off my list, I immediately go into a cycle of despair. My messaging to myself becomes one of which I am an absolute failure.

So naturally, I begin to think of all the other ways I have failed at life:

  • That time when I hurt the feelings of my elementary school best friend
  • That time I forgot to feed the dog
  • That time when I was short with my son because I was in a hurry
  • That time in high school when I didn’t change the oil in my car, causing it to stall

I am reminded of all the evidence of my inadequacies. What was I thinking when I thought that I could accomplish ten things today? I can’t even accomplish two!

See where I’m going here?

As those of us do with anxiety, low self-esteem, or some other skewed ideas of who we are, we create circumstances that will provide evidence that will support our claim of being not good enough.

What does “not good enough” even mean? Where is the “Enough” bar? What do I have to do to reach it? How can I surpass it?

The bar is set in our heads. Being “good enough” is arbitrary and subjective. We tell ourselves that we are only enough if we are able to cross off 300 items on our list (okay, I exaggerate….kind of). We do this subconsciously because we know we will not be successful.

And not being successful aligns with our narrative.

So now what?

Three Ways to Make Lists that Won’t Hurt Your Self-Esteem

1. Stop it with the mega lists

It is okay to make lists. I encourage it. I can’t live without my lists. Well, I can, but it would feel weird. But here’s the thing: stop requiring yourself to do a million things in a 24-hour time span. This leads me to my next point.

2. Be Realistic

You have 24-hours in a day. In that time span, you need to eat, sleep, work, and maybe you need to parent. If you’re married you also need to find time to spouse (yes, I used that as a verb).

Even when the list consists of what appears to be easy like making a doctor’s appointment, if there are too many “easy” tasks on your to-do, you might not get it all done. I mean, have you factored in the time you will spend on hold? Probably not.

3. Do the Easier Things First

Look at your list and do what will take the least amount of time and effort first. That way, at least you will feel the exhilaration of crossing ONE thing off your list by the end of the day.

Failure is a funny thing. It is both subjective and objective. For example, no one can argue that getting 14% on an exam means you failed the exam. On the other hand, getting 14% on the exam does not mean that you are a failure.

Do you see the difference? Let’s look at the example of making lists.

If you are like me, you lean toward the I am a failure message when you don’t accomplish everything you set out to do. This messaging means that I am defining my entire being by my ability to cross off tasks.

Say that out loud:

I am defining my entire being by my ability to cross off tasks

Does this pass the out loud test? No. It does not.

Can we maybe just acknowledge that we didn’t get through the list and leave it at that?

Instead of Saying

Try Saying

I am a failure because I didn’t accomplish my goal

I failed at getting through my list, but that does not make me a failure

Be Gray

Messaging is important. It helps us separate one from all. Changing your messaging requires you to change your narrative. Stop living in black and white.

Life in the gray is much more forgiving.


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Mind and Love - f 7, 2019: 10 am

Great post! Very interesting! The idea of self fulfilling prophecies or self sabotage is compelling. I have become interested recently in why it’s so difficult to break habits. Thanks for sharing!

    Mind Gal - f 7, 2019: 1 pm

    Thank you! There are certainly numerous reasons why it is hard to break habits, but I have found through my years of work that self-narratives are a predominant factor in creating mindsets and habits.

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