We’ve all been there: trying too hard to fit in. Even before the time of social influencers telling us what we should and should not do, being pressured to blend in has long been the narrative.
In a world filled with seven billion unique souls, why do we feel the pressure to dress, talk, or be a certain way? And what happens when we do try to conform? Does it lead to happiness?
These are the things Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani, co-founder of Mindvalley, felt, too, having been born and grown up in the Soviet Union. And it’s a major topic she really gets into in her book, Becoming Flawesome: The Key to Living an Imperfectly Authentic Life.
“Humans want to be good,” she highlights. “To be factually more accurate—we strive to be more of what we think is the perfect version of ourselves. The Perfect Me.”
The thing many of us forget is that perfection isn’t the goal; becoming flawesome (celebrating the awesomeness of your flaws) is.
What Does “Trying Too Hard” Mean?
When it comes down to it, a person who’s “trying too hard” is someone who goes out of their way (to the extent of being annoying at times) to impress people or put others’ needs before their own—all in the pursuit of being liked. One example is a people-pleaser.
It’s what Kristina calls “The Hermione Syndrome.” Inspired by Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger, this medically-sounding (but completely made up) term is the incessant need to be the best.
Pop culture has plenty of other great examples:
- Michael Scott from The Office constantly tries to be the center of attention and impress his staff.
- Amy Farrah Fowler from The Big Bang Theory goes all out to be best friends with Penny.
- Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother is portrayed as trying too hard to find “the one” and settle down.
While being liked is an important factor for social connections (one study found that it helps with both physical and mental health), going to extremes can actually be detrimental.
5 Signs That You’re Trying Too Hard
It’s only natural to want to be liked, for sure. But there can be times when we stop to think, “Am I trying too hard?”
That, in and of itself, could be a sign that you are. Here are a few others to take notice of:
1. You constantly seek validation from others
One of the five love languages is words of affirmation—“You’re awesome,” “You’re enough,” etc., etc., etc. However, when you always need others to validate you, that’s when you’re trying too hard.
An example is if you keep asking your partner, “Do you love me?” even though you know they do. Or you keep requesting feedback on a work project even if you’re confident enough in your work.
Studies show that the constant need for approval can be quite unhealthy. A 2017 study looking into how social media bolsters this behavior found that those who sought validation online were likely to be more anxious.
2. Your behavior changes depending on who you’re with
Remember Cady Heron from Mean Girls? She’s a prime example of ditching who she really is in order to be a part of The Plastics.
But that doesn’t only happen in the movies; it happens in real life, too. If you look at any high school, kids dress, talk, and act a certain way to fit in with a certain group.
According to a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review, people who want to be accepted socially often feel they need to change themselves in order to fit in. But the pressure of changing yourself just to be a part of a group can make you feel like an imposter.
3. You worry about what others think of you
“Will they like what I’m wearing?”
“What if they think I’m stupid?”
“What if they don’t like me?”
Overthinking, obsessing, and overly worrying—these come when you’re trying too hard to fit in. So you do and act in ways that avoid any negative judgments.
And while there is a link between self-esteem and being part of a social circle, it’s not good for your well-being to care so much about what people think of you.
4. You “yes-man” to everything
It’s called “yes-man” because you agree to everything being said. That includes going out with friends, doing other people’s work, lending people money, or agreeing to do something sexually when you, yourself, don’t want to.
Studies show that this can cause you to feel resentment, burnout, and exhaustion. One, in particular, found that people who have social anxiety usually “yes-man” to things so that they can avoid conflict or maintain the status quo in a relationship.
And so when you struggle to say “no” to anything, you’ll end up saying “yes” to everything.
5. You compare yourself to others
A major sign of “How do I know I’m trying too hard?” is comparing yourself to others. It can lead you down a dark path of…
- Feeling like you’re not good enough,
- Focusing on your flaws,
- Feeling jealous of others, and
- Putting yourself down.
And there are plenty of studies that show social comparison can take a hit on your self-esteem. In fact, one study on the topic found that it can make you feel inferior and decrease your motivation, which can be a source of stress and develop into anxiety and depression.
Social media doesn’t help much either. So many people curate the things they post online. Sure, those heart-shaped glasses filters are fun and cute, but the beauty ones can be really misleading.
Why Trying Too Hard Doesn’t Work
Imagine this: You’re at a party and meet a group of people that you find cool and that you’d love to hang out with. You agree with everything they say, laugh at their jokes, and even pretend to have similar interests (of course you like the word “moist”—who doesn’t?).
However, despite your efforts, they’re not really connecting with you. Uh oh, shut down.
It’s what journalist Oliver Burkeman calls the “ironic effect”—getting the opposite result of what you intended because you’ve put in too much effort.
That’s what trying too hard can do. It can backfire. And here’s why:
- It can come across as inauthentic or insincere. Intuition usually lets people know who’s been real and who’s not. And when you’re not being your true self, it can create a sense of distrust.
- It can lead to burnout or exhaustion. And that can really impact your mental and physical states.
- It can cause you to lose sight of your values and priorities. If you’re more focused on others, you tend to forget yourself.
As Kristina says, “Perfectionism is a terrible burden… It is the one thing that often stands between us and real, lasting, deep happiness and the feeling of peace and fulfillment.”
This poses the question, “Why do I try so hard to be liked?” It takes looking inside to be able to answer that.
How to Stop Trying Too Hard: 5 Tips From Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani
It’s only natural to want to be liked, but too hard is too much.
“So how do I stop trying too hard?” you ask. It takes a lot of self-acceptance to truly let go of the need to impress others.
And here are five ways you can do so, with wise tips from Kristina.
1. Don’t lie to yourself
The honest truth: have you lied to yourself? You may say you’re happy in the job you actually hate. Or that the partner who clearly abuses you is actually a good person.
Even a little white lie counts. Like, “I’ll start my diet tomorrow” or “I don’t know how that jelly-filled donut ended up in my mouth.”
The reality is, these lies you tell yourself can hold you back from fully living life. So be honest with yourself; you’ll find there are far greater things out there when you’re not restricting yourself to dishonesty.
Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani’s tip: “Honesty starts with being honest about lying. If you can admit that sometimes you lie to yourself (and sometimes, to others), then you are ready to ask yourself this uncomfortable question: ‘Is this the truth or is this the story I’d like to believe in?’”
2. Stop faking it
The mentality of “fake it ‘til you make it” does more harm than good. You can end up with imposter syndrome—feeling like a fraud and like you don’t belong.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re at a new job, and you feel like you’re in over your head. Instead of pretending like you know everything (and we all know this kind of person), ask for help from your coworkers.
When you stop faking it and actually embrace all that you are, self-respect and love will follow.
Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani’s tip: “Real change happens when you have the courage to dive deep, to see the essence of things, to be honest, even brutally honest with yourself, and accept reality as it is.”
3. Don’t confuse self-love with self-care
Self-love and self-care are two totally different concepts. They’re connected, of course, but it’s like comparing apples and oranges (both are fruit, but both are two different kinds of fruit).
Here’s a comparison between the two:
|Embracing and accepting yourself for who you are
|Addressing your basic needs and improving your well-being
|Doing activities that promote personal growth
|Taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional health
|Practicing self-compassion, setting boundaries, and pursuing your goals
|Eating healthy, exercising, and reading (for example, these perfectly imperfect quotes)
|Boosts your self-esteem and self-worth, fosters happiness and joy
|Reduces stress and burnout, improves overall health and mood
By understanding the difference, you’ll know how to best prioritize each so you can use them both in tandem.
Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani’s tip: “Love and care are rather different. Both are needed and important. But care is easy to see and measure, and love is somewhat intangible.”
4. Be kind to yourself
“Be kind” is not only Ellen’s catchphrase, but it’s scientifically proven to bolster your well-being. It gives you the courage to be honest with yourself and the wisdom to accept yourself as you are.
For example, let’s say you made a mistake at work. You may beat yourself up about it, telling yourself unkind words in an attempt to rectify the guilt you feel.
A better way? Just be kind to yourself.
Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani’s tip: “Transformation starts with kindness to yourself. Kindness gives you [the] courage to be honest with yourself and [the] wisdom to accept yourself as you are. It will also give you the certainty that you have what it takes to go out and be brave and become better.”
5. Let go and trust
Control is part of the fight or flight response. It allows you to manage your stress by taking charge of the situation at hand.
Take the need to be liked, for instance. You can do things that’ll get you to organically be socially accepted. However, when you’re trying too hard, that’s when the desire for control can get out of control.
Sure, letting go can be scary and difficult. And so can acknowledging and embracing your flaws. But when you’re able to trust in yourself to do so, it can open you up to a whole side of you that you never knew was there before.
Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani’s tip: “Let go and trust—this is what makes the difference. Both professionals and masters have to learn and practice their art, polish their skills and technique, but to become a true master, you need to learn to let go and trust yourself enough to create in the flow.”
Embrace Your Flawesomeness
Here’s the reality of it all: The pursuit of perfection does not lead down the path of the pursuit of happiness. Rather, it’s a Groundhog Day-like cycle of stress, anxiety, and self-doubt.
But just like how there was a way to snap out of Groundhog Day, there’s also a way out of trying too hard.
As Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani suggests in her book, Becoming Flawesome: The Key to Living an Imperfectly Authentic Life, you can start with self-honesty, stopping the fakeness, being gentle with yourself, doing self-love routines, and trusting yourself. And in doing so, you give your flaws as much appreciation as you do your strengths.
“Life is full of opposites and contradictions which beautifully coexist,” says Kristina. And just like there’s no day without night, there are no strengths without flaws.
It’s in this congruence that you can thrive in absolute flawesomeness.
Featured image generated on Midjourney.