The Big Happiness Interview: Mandy Lehto on how to feel 'good enough'

‘I’ve spent most of my life battling the feeling that I was not good enough, so I would say I’m expert having lived in that space for multiple decades,’ laughs Dr Mandy Lehto, an ex-director of an international investment bank with a PhD from Cambridge University, and now a certified coach, writer and an award-winning corporate image advisor.

Today, we’re here to talk about Mandy’s podcast, Enough, ‘a mash up of deeply human conversations and expert advice on swapping perfectionism, people-pleasing and overachieving for a juicier, more easeful life.’

Mandy’s mission is to support women who are ready to redefine success. ‘Joy and satisfaction expand when you settle fully into who you are, and actively create your life.’

Here we talk to Mandy about how to beat imposter syndrome and feel happier.

Many women talk about the plague of feeling “not good enough” – where does that come from?

For most people, they can trace it back to some kind of a childhood story. Some people have a specific moment that they can remember, some have a series of moments. It might not necessarily be a trauma, but it can look like having our emotional experience denied or it can look like being validated for achievement. It’s coming home from school, and getting a nine out of 10 on a test at school and a parent asking: ‘Well, what happened to the other mark?’ I had a client yesterday talking about how, she cleaned her entire kitchen, and then left one cup that wasn’t put away and her parent focused on that one cup

So, it comes from parents being critical of us?

Not always. It can also come from a place where you are praised only for achievement. You might also win approval for being ‘mature’. The message is: don’t be messy, don’t be needy, don’t impose on me, don’t be an inconvenience, or embarrass me or make a scene in any way. In other words, you learn to please the parent by behaving well.

Over time, you learn to self-police and often you take over the chastising, and start to do it to yourself. Finding fault with yourself becomes internalised and that’s the lens through which you look at your life, your contribution and your impact.

What is the impact of not feeling good enough?

It leaves us living smaller lives, it leaves us more emotionally brittle, it leaves us doing things that we’re already good at, as opposed to taking the risk of doing something where we could mess up. It leaves us in a place where we’re constantly seeking external validation and our life becomes a performance, as opposed to really valuing the wholeness of who we really are.

Finding fault with yourself becomes internalised and that’s the lens through which you look at your life.

How do we reprogramme ourselves to stop looking at others to approve of us and approving of ourselves?

One of my favourite quotes is by writer Elizabeth Gilbert, who says to make a change, “we have to get tired of our own bullshit.” You have to become self-aware and start to notice your own nonsense.

You can spend your whole life trying to outrun the feeling of ‘not enoughness’, trying to look impressive. But rather than try and run away or react to that feeling, it helps to have a sense of humour about it, while simultaneously applying radical doses of self-compassion.

What are some good tools we can use to start to feel better?

Try commentating as if you were a football commentating on the constant and intense firehose of critical thoughts. Imagine you are Gary Lineker. ‘Wow, that was a nasty comment you made there,’ or, ‘Here she comes striking with criticism from the left field, and she scores….’

It can help you separate yourself from your thoughts. It also helps to personify your inner critic.

Again, this technique allows you to separate from the thoughts, and so the thoughts dissipate quicker. It’s not about getting those thoughts to disappear but it’s about finding a new way to relate to them. And we’ve heard this advice a thousand times, but it’s the actual application of it that makes the difference. Talk to yourself as if you were your best friend – your best friend would probably talk to you with humour and kindness. Try that.

But even if I’m kind to myself, I still struggle with not feeling good enough.

When a challenging situation triggers your ‘not enough’ button, it’s useful to tune in to other voices that may be playing on your inner radio. It’s empowering to realise you can change the channel. You might want to tune in to another voice that encourages you to be brave. ‘I understand you’re not feeling good enough but what if you were brave and gave it a try?’

There are other voices are available to you. For example, perfectionists tend to do what they’re already good at, because their identity is so entangled in not failing. But if we’re only doing things we’re already good at, we’re living life in a matchbox.

So it’s actually turning up the other voices inside of us: ‘What’s the worst that can happen? Have I bounced back from failure before?’ Try listening to those voices instead.

To make a change… you have to become self aware and start to notice your own nonsense.

My ‘not enough’ dialogue can be loudest when I am about to start a new big project – any advice?

Chunk the big scary project down into small, baby steps. So let’s say you’ve decided to write a book, chunk it down into smallest steps you can – commit to write a paragraph a day, a sentence even? If you put ‘write a book on your to do list’, it feels overwhelming and then the inner critic steps in so if you commit to writing one sentence, chances are another one or two will follow. Don’t focus on the big thing and get yourself all frothed up and produce nothing. Focus on the baby steps.

The other thing to do is surround yourself with other people who will encourage and support you because you can’t always trust yourself. When the ‘not good enough’ voice surfaces, it helps for other people to circle their wagons around you and to remind you of your potential and capability and track record. They don’t see you with the distorted lenses that you have. Surround yourself with other people who won’t buy your BS story, who will remind you of who you actually are.

How do you choose your support group?

Find the people who have your back, and who deeply care about you, but who will also challenge you.  They are willing to call you out on your stories, they’re willing to call you out on your blind spots, they’re willing to call you out on your BS.

I have a group of women like this in my life, who I call my power posse. It’s women who have slightly different perspective and I know have got my back. You can also pay for professional support and bring in a coach or mentor if you’re struggling.

Surround yourself with people who will encourage and support you – you can’t always trust yourself.

How do we figure out what is enough?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting more and striving, but it’s realising that any achievement or shiny thing or accolade or bonus or promotion is not going to make you feel enough. You don’t need anything external to feel whole.

The problem we can face is that we get addicted to the dopamine hit when we achieve something, and it feels good. So, we find ourselves constantly scanning the horizon for more or better. But what happens is that you can’t enjoy the present because you’re always looking to the future and asking, ‘What next?’ You get the bonus, or the relationship or lose the weight, or buy the shiny thing and think surely, you should now feel ‘enough’.

But it’s a hall of  mirrors because there’s always the next thing. It’s about creating a practice of being in the present. Life happens in the present. When we are constantly future focused, there’s never any happiness or satisfaction. Happiness can only be felt in this moment, right here, right now. It’s helpful to learn to hack your own dopamine receptors by seeking out ordinary delights. Slow down, enjoy this cup of coffee, enjoy this conversation.

So, is this the secret to happiness?

It’s constantly reminding yourself to come back to the present. But that means accepting the present moment in all its messiness and imperfection, our mood swings and our ridiculousness but also owning our goodness and our kindness and our occasional magnificence. It’s not walking around being super happy all the time but it’s being present and seeking out those ordinary delights.

I had dinner with some friends recently, and we were in this noisy Italian restaurant and I watched the flickering candles, people’s heads together having and conversations, and their chins oily from the pizza. I just had this perfect moment of happiness.

I think when we’re dopamine driven, we think that happiness is something really elevated and spectacular – you think you have to be standing on a mountain top or winning this or driving a brand-new shiny car. But what if happiness is noticing those ordinary moments instead of looking for the next big, shiny, impressive thing?

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