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Do Thoughts of “I’m not doing enough” Wake You At Night?

These times demand Next-Level Resilience.

“I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for months,” a client tells me. She is exhausted, but wakes in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. She works all day and makes progress. “But then I lose sleep because I’m not doing enough.”

I know those thoughts too well. Why am I not doing more to end racism or just get through my to-do list? My children confess that often the first thought they have when they lie down is, “I should have done more today.”

Where do the “never enough” thoughts come from?

Our culture tells us that it is about more, more, more. But where has that story gotten us?

We feel worthless unless we are doing more. We feel despair when we aren’t fixing more. We feel angry when we didn’t stop the hurting more. We feel anxious when we have not checked off more.

When we can’t do it all, Fear disguised as our own voice says harshly, “You’re letting everyone down.” My inner critic only points out what I haven’t done; it never notices the good progress I’ve made.

My inner critic also loves to “stare and compare.” One glance at Instagram and I hear, “Look at all these smart people doing great work and making real change. What have you done lately?”

It’s a trap. “I’m not doing enough” or “I should do more” are thinking traps. We feel bad at night because our worth is tied up with doing and fixing. The thought doesn’t cause us to do more. It causes us to lose sleep. Then we burn out. Burnout extinguishes good progress. The world needs us to make progress, not collapse.

These times demand Next-Level Resilience. You can’t let your inner critic bully you, because we need your brilliance. You are smart, brave, and funny. You are creative, nimble, and resourceful. You can even handle one more thing. I know this because you told me you couldn’t handle one more thing last week, and then more happened! Now you are handling more better than you think. And those dark circles you’ve gained? They only highlight your beautiful eyes.

Let’s get you back to sleep so you can wake up fresh, happy to be alive, and ready to respond creatively to whatever happens.

What to do about “Never-Enough” thoughts?

Spot the trap. There’s no place called “Enough” where you put your feet up and say, “I’ve done it. I am totally doing enough. Racism is over. Climate change is in check. I haven’t made a mistake at work or in my relationships in years.” To recognize the trap, ask yourself: What would be enough? Does it seem possible to reach enough? Am I causing myself extra suffering by shouldering all the responsibility? How can I focus on contributions, not accomplishments?

Track Your Time. There are 168 hours in a week. How are you really spending them? Once I started tracking my time, I realized I was spending most of it on things that didn’t matter much. For a week, I wrote down in my planner, hour by hour, what I did, not just what I hoped to do. It helped me to find time for the things I really cared about doing. It also helped me to notice that I was doing enough. Maybe I was even doing too much. Christine Carter has this free amazing ebook to help you find more time! Laura Vanderkam has a time-tracking log to help you pay attention to where your time is going.

Choose Compassion over Criticism. If your friend or your favorite pet was struggling, you wouldn’t yell at them, “Do more!” You would act with compassion. So. Practice self-compassion. Notice how far you’ve come. Notice what is working. Thank your mind for managing so much. Thank your immune system for working so hard. Thank your opposable thumbs for picking up tiny objects. Then say “I am enough” as you exhale slowly.

When I mention this last piece to my client, she says, “I don’t know about your hippie stuff.” I laugh. OK. Say “I am enough” not because my hippie soul wants you to, but because it tells your autonomic nervous system, Enough. It’s time to sleep. Say it because tomorrow you want to move through your day with “I am enough” energy. And you want to spread this good energy. You want to say to your loved ones, You are enough. You can do hard things. Don’t give up. Keep going. 

This is an ultramarathon, not a sprint. We need strength, sleep, and longevity to achieve the kind of profound change these times are calling on us to make. In 2021, let’s shift from endless productivity to meaningful progress. Next time, I’ll share my favorite visualizations to get to sleep, and the real reason I keep a notebook on my nightstand. But right now, I’m going to brush my teeth and go to bed. May you be well. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering.