Is it just our society today, or have we always had a problem with liking and accepting ourselves. From the megadollars spent on hiding facial spots to the fear that we might not make the team, our attention is focused on the need to have what we don't possess, and be what we aren't. It seems that only if we could "have it all," that we might feel significant and sense our own self-worth.
Have you ever noticed how few people around you are really content and fulfilled. There seems to be a deep longing or craving inside most people for something more.
Do you know someone who pretends to be like somebody else because he doesn't like himself? Have you ever known a person who has used drugs or alcohol to please friends? Do you know anyone who's intimately involved with someone only because he is looking for love and affection? Do you think there are students on your campus who work extra hard to achieve success through sports, popularity or grades, hoping that their success will make them feel better about themselves. Do you recognise yourself in these questions?
- A person who sees himself as worthy or significant will be able to say :
- I am worthy because God and His Holy Sadhu love me and accept me unconditionally. I don't have to perform for Them to gain Their love and acceptance.
- Because I have significance I can feel good about myself even when others don't approve.
- Because I have a healthy self-esteem, I don't need to have a boy friend or girl friend to feel O.K.
- Significance gives me tremendous self worth so I feel good about myself even when I fail..
Unfortunately, gaining a healthy sense of worth of our own is in itself a difficult battle for most people. In addition to this, nearly all of us have the wrong idea about where our self-worth comes from. So from our earliest childhood we begin to do certain things and try to please certain people all to make us feel good about ourselves.
False beliefs, taught to us by peers, television, music and so forth, deceive us on all fronts. These false beliefs can be summarised as follows:
- I must meet certain standards to feel good about myself.
- I must be accepted by certain people.
- Those who fail are unworthy and deserve to be blamed and condemned.
- I am what I am. I cannot change. I am hopeless. I am unworthy.
The Performance Trap
This results from the first belief:
I must meet certain standards to feel good about myself.
Are you caught in this trap?
Here are some examples of how we set standards of performance in order to feel good about ourselves.
- If I make the football team, I will feel good about myself.
- If I make good grades, I will feel good about myself.
- If I lose weight, I will feel good about myself.
- If I make a lot of money, I will feel good about myself.
- If I have a special friend, I will feel good about myself.
The problem with needing to meet certain standards in order to feel good about ourselves is that no one can meet all the standards all the time. So when we fail, we feel miserable and worthless. Failure can be devastating even if we only fail occasionally. A person caught in the Performance Trap is a prisoner of the fear of failure.
Symptons of Being Caught in The Performance Trap
Those who are caught in the Performance Trap are led into behaviour that can be painful and even dangerous.
The following list contain nine types of behaviour that often takes place when there is a fear of failure. Remember, it is possible that some of these behaviours are symptoms of other problems. If you can admit to yourself that you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, then you've already taken the first step to overcoming the destructive fear of failure caused by the Performance Trap.
- Perfectionism: One of the most common symptoms is perfectionism. A perfectionist cannot accept any kind of mistake or failure. Such a person will almost always focus on what went wrong rather than on all the things that went right.
- Avoidance of Risks: Risk avoiders are unwilling to be involved in anything at which they might not succeed. They may bypass new sporting activities, friendships and so on.
- Anger and Resentment: These symptoms usually occur when we feel our performance is being criticized. We may assume that criticism means that we have failed and that failure brings about a loss of self esteem.
- Pride: When a person achieves success, he may also become puffed up with pride. However, the good feelings we experience as a result of pride seldom last long. They usually disappear at the first sign of failure. Pride looks like self-confidence but is really a mask that hides our fear of failure.
- Anxiety and Fear : We often experience these when we are forced into a situation that we believe has a high risk of failure. The greater the chance of failure, the greater our anxiety and fear.
- Depression : This is one of the most crippling symptoms. If we fail more often than we think we should, we become convinced that we are worthless. A person who is depressed usually behaves in one of two ways. He may become passive, believing there is no hope for change, or he or she may become intensely angry at having failed so often.
- Dishonesty : This is an attempt to hide failure. Most often we exaggerate the truth in order to take credit for things that will make us appear more successful. We also exaggerate to make circumstances or others seem responsible for our mistakes in order to avoid blame.
- Low Motivation : Some people seem unwilling to become involved in any kind of activity. We may tend to believe that we lack the skills to succeed. Thus, rather than face the hurt of failure, we simply refuse to try.
- Addiction : Many people turn to alcohol and drugs to help them forget failure and its associated anguish. A chemical high does provide a moment of pleasure, and it seems to remove the pressure to perform. Sadly however, once the high has passed, the user can fall into despair, becoming further convinced that he cannot cope with real life.
If you experience any of these nine symptoms then you are probably caught in the Performance Trap. Most likely your fear of failure is preventing you from enjoying a healthy sense of self-worth.
Firstly, if you become the most successful person in history, you could not increase your worth before God and His Sadhu. And if you fail miserably for the rest of your life you cannot decrease your worth before them. In fact, when God and His Sadhu look at you, They see a soul struggling to achieve spiritual perfection. Yes, they also see ignorance, pride, material desire and disbelief, but this wins over their compassion, unconditional love and help.
Examine your belief system closely. Who are you trying to please? Whose pleasure are you trying to gain? Gunatitanand Swami guides us, "You can please only God." Yes, this is a foundational truth. You cannot gain the approval of everyone. There comes a time when you are forced to draw a line. Logically, the next question arises is : Where do I draw the line?
The Purpose of Life
Human birth has not come to us by chance or luck. It is gifted to us by God to enable us to continue our spiritual journey. The destination is God realisation and a place in God's divine abode, Akshardham. Achieving this will grant us supreme joy (Vachanamritam Sarangpur 1). But this is not all. Even on the spiritual journey we are promised peace and joy, but this is only possible if we obey the Lord's commands. (Shikshapatri 8-9, Vach. Gadh. II/51 ).
Examine your life-style. You will see that all your activities are focussed on making yourself happier than you are at present. This may entail using a new shampoo, partying, studying hard, buying a racy car, or delving deeper into the religion of your choice. Yes, you want to be more comfortable, freer, healthier, in all ways happier. But are your present goals and activities taking you to true happiness, a tranquillity and joy that are everlasting, unbroken and far surpassing whatever the human mind can imagine?
Maybe this is the time to refocus and centre your strengths on the things that count in the long term.
Whilst spiritual goals and activities are the most important, God has also given us certain responsibilities: the home, family, society, environment, and so on. These responsibilities are not to be ignored. Indeed, if you do then you would be gravely doing wrong. To enable you to fulfill your responsibilities activities such as job, studies and social services have to be ably performed.
So what you really have to master is to be able to do your best in whatever you do, and yet avoid the Performance Trap. As you will have realised by now, this can only be done if you perform for God and His Holy Sadhu. If They are the focus of your life's goals, whether it be getting to a good college, playing for the school band or becoming a top athlete, you will never feel worthless. Once your focus is on God and His Holy Sadhu whatever activity you do will be solely for the purpose of earning their pleasure, and no matter if you fall short, they will look to your efforts only. Never will they anger with you, for they fully understand us humans and our weaknesses. "God does not look to our faults. If a soul earnestly prays to God and confesses, 'I am a sinner,' God forgives him."
You may now be wondering that if we are always forgiven why you shouldn't do what you want, even if it is destructive and wrong. Here are some good reasons.
First, going against God's and His Sadhu's commands pushes us backward on the spiritual journey. Can we afford this?
Second, doing wrong always has consequences that bring awful pain and heartache into our lives. Do we want to escape this?
Third, though we are not punished eternally, because God and His Sadhu are loving He will discipline us in the present. Do you want to experience this?
And finally, their intentions are crystal pure and totally devoid of selfish gain. They sincerely care for our welfare and guide us correctly and compassionately. Do you want to miss out?
As we have seen, almost all of us to a certain degree are caught in the Performance Trap. We have a false belief that we must meet certain standards in order to feel good about ourselves. However, Lord Swaminarayan and today, Pramukh Swami Maharaj have made it possible for us to escape this trap, by teaching us to refocus our goals and thus our beliefs. We are assured that we are never displeasing to them, inspite of failures and weaknesses. Understanding this tremendous truth can help us finally to overcome the fear of failure and possess a healthy self esteem and glow of worthiness.