Some days my To Do List seems to be endless – and at the end of these days I have easily achieved a lot and feel good. And then there are those days when I seem to stand in my way. Actually, I don’t have a lot to do, and yet I feel kind of stressed. Which brings up the question: how much of my stress do I actually make myself? What are the origins of my expectations? Are these expectations my colleagues or my boss have explicitly communicated or is it me putting pressure on myself?
In my case the answers to these questions are pretty clear: in most situations I put myself under pressure. With my expectations on my commitment and the quality of my work. I feel driven, from the inside out. My “inner discipliner”, as I love to call him, has taken over completely.
Psychology calls this phenomenon the inner driver. Inner drivers are beliefs we have established in the course of our development – most of them already in childhood. However, we did not learn these beliefs to be drivers, but discovered them as positive qualities that – when shown – made us be loved and recognized. These qualities are characteristics like
If we weight these qualities adequately, they are helpful motivators. However, problems arise when we link them to our self-esteem and thus i.e. feel bad when we are not able to show them. Then these qualities turn to be the so-called inner drivers:
- Be perfect! = I must not make any mistakes
- Please others! = I am only valuable if everyone likes me.
- Try hard! = Only a maximum effort will secure success!
- Be strong! = Grit your teeth!
- Hurry up! = I must be fast, otherwise I will not finish
If stressed like this, our beliefs work against us and put us under pressure. Funny paradox: when under stress, our ability to fulfill them decreases dramatically. Sometimes it is even the other way round: especially when under stress, we run the risk that a well-intentioned approach (e.g. to do something as quickly as possible) becomes an inner driver.
Imagine, for example, that accuracy is important to you. You have just started in a new job and you are working on a project your boss delegated to you. You can now do everything to the best of your knowledge and belief, ask questions if necessary – and then deliver the best result possible under the given circumstances. Or you are not able to be satisfied. The belief that you have to avoid mistakes is your driver, which is why you ask again and again, improve, consider, think it over. New aspects that have to be taken into consideration continue to pop up in your mind – you want to make a good impression – and finally you don’t get into action at all or only very late.
How can you tell whether a well-intentioned quality becomes an inner driver?
When feeling pressure in a specific situation, check where the pressure comes from. Do you feel driven by an inner voice to fulfill expectations you consider important? Or do you have full control over whether you act upon the quality or not? Are you for example able to say no without feeling bad? Or to not smile friendly – because you don’t feel like it? Or to let go and consider 80% to be perfect enough?
If you feel repeatedly put under pressure by your inner driver, it is time to start an inner dialogue. Remember: you yourself have created this pressure, so only you can dissolve it – e.g. by formulating relief phrases for yourself. These are the opposite perspectives to the inner driver. For “I must be perfect” this can be e.g. “mistakes are chances to learn” or “80% are perfectly fine”. (and my experience has shown that the remaining 20% usually do not make any recognizable difference. Often your 80% are regarded as 100% by others – try it out – and feel the relief.)
So whenever your inner driver stresses you out, stop and start an inner dialogue. This can sound like this:
“Dear Inner Driver, I know that you have good intentions. Many thanks for that! With you at my side I have come a long way. But at the moment you are exaggerating and that stresses me. That is why I would like to tell you that you can lean back now, because … (relief sentence)”.
You can have this dialogue just in your mind. However it turned out to be very effective to write down the relief phrases.
What would you like to allow yourself more in the future to feel relief?