Humans 101

How To Stop Overcorrecting Your Life

Sometimes, good intentions go too far.

When you were young, you were taught to override your instincts.

You were born thinking you were okay, and then people started teaching you that you were not okay. Of course, this didn’t happen consciously. Over time, you picked up on the rules and expectations around you. You saw what people liked and didn’t, who was mocked and who was accepted.

As a kid, you were intrigued by what you saw when you looked in the mirror.

You picked something from the rack at the store and wore it because you loved it.

You felt hungry and you asked to eat.

You had an idea and then acted on it.

You were effortlessly creative, connected, and fundamentally yourself.

Then, when other people started correcting you, telling you how to dress and act and who to be, you began to realize that your essential instincts about yourself were wrong. You disconnected from your natural emotional navigation system. It became clear that you could not be trusted when it came to evaluating the quality of your own life.

As an adult, you probably look in the mirror and don’t like what you see.

You pick something from the store based on whether or not it will hide the parts of yourself you hate the most.

You feel a hunger cue and then you question it, and then you question what you want to eat, and then you question whether you should have eaten at all.

You know what you love but don’t think you’re good enough to do it full time.

You know what you want but wonder what other people would think, and then stop yourself from trying when you assume you’ll be humiliated for putting yourself out there.

These are all learned behaviors.

If you are like most people, your standard operating agreement with yourself is that your base instincts are not to be trusted. You believe other people’s ideas must be superimposed on top of them.

You think: If I trusted myself, I would ruin my life.

You assume that if you really let go — if you really followed your heart and truth — you’d start acting on your emotions and your life would fall apart.

Would it, though? Is that what your most essential, truest, most fulfilled self would do? Probably not. That’s the type of behavior we engage in when we’ve hit our breaking point after so much suppression and disconnection — and we can’t help but lash out.

You were taught that your natural instinct is wrong, and that if you started really listening to it, you’d completely let yourself go. This is how societal conditioning works. It relies on you believing that your fundamental self is filled with malice, and that only your self-hate is holding it all together.

In turn, you unlearn how to evaluate what’s around you and trust your own assessments and opinions. Then, you end up engaging in one of the sneakiest and most insidious forms of self-sabotage.

When we overcompensate, we try to make up for what we think we lack. When we overcorrect, we try to fix what’s broken, even though it isn’t.

Overcompensation is a little easier to see. We can kind of sense when someone is so grandiose about their lifestyle that they must, at some level, suffer from a low self-image.

Overcorrecting, however, is sneaky because it can mask itself as humility and self-improvement. In reality, overcorrecting slowly steals your life, keeping you stuck on a cycle of thinking you’re not yet good enough.

When we overcorrect, we begin by assuming that every piece of our lives is fundamentally flawed. We think our lives cannot begin until we’ve fixed everything we can.

Instead of trying to establish a healthy routine, we manipulate our schedule to the very edges of our tolerance and sanity in an effort to be as productive as humanly possible.

Instead of trying to update our appearance, we try to reinvent ourselves as a perfect ideal — and we abstain from life until we have reached that goal.

Instead of trying to develop our relationships, we obsess over who does or doesn’t love us, how many friends we have, or the outward appearance of being connected, as opposed to the connections themselves.

Overcorrecting occurs because we do not have a concept of what is “enough” for us.

If someone tells us we need to improve something about our lives, we believe them.

We are so easily sold on this that entire industries are constructed around creating a perceived problem or defect within ourselves, and then selling products to fix the problem they created.

We are easy to manipulate because we no longer have a natural instinct that tells us what would truly feel good in our lives, so we think we have to keep seeking, and keep fixing, until everything is perfect.

The problem isn’t that our lives aren’t good enough on the outside, the problem is that we were disconnected from our ability to perceive what’s enough on the inside. So, we waste money and time and energy and pain on ourselves, hoping that sense of “enough” will somehow come back to us.

The truth is that many people really do need to change their lives. But if you have a problem, taking action should eventually fix it. That’s how you can tell the difference: overcorrecting is a never-ending battle that has no end and never will. Real problem-solving has an endpoint.

This is how we know we are overcorrecting:

  • We are preoccupied with a problem that nobody else seems to think is that bad.
  • We are so ashamed of this problem we self-isolate and try to hide until it’s fixed.
  • We wait to “begin” our lives until the problem is different.
  • We are always trying to fix this problem, but it’s never really resolved.
  • No matter how much action we take, we remain close to where we are.

Overcorrecting can also lead to addictive behaviors, or other forms of self-abuse that either help avoid, distract, or potentially “fix” the issue (think: shopping, or constantly moving to “pursue a new opportunity” but never actually settling).

When we try to overcorrect, we set standards for ourselves that are impossible to achieve because they are fundamentally unhealthy for us to pursue.

This is because, in the past, we behaved in ways we were taught to be acceptable — and when that didn’t lead to a desired outcome, we learned that nothing is ever enough. In turn, we became convinced the only way to exist is to be constantly proving ourselves to ourselves.

We started overcorrecting because we were overcorrected.

It is a learned behavior.

When parents or guardians overcorrect, they do so in an effort to avoid connecting with an authentic version of you that makes them uncomfortable (most likely because their own parents reacted similarly to them). Instead, the problem is placed on you.

You are not trying to get better in order to actually be better.

You are trying to get better in order to prove to someone else that you’re worthy of their attention or love or time.

That is why overcorrecting becomes such a vicious cycle: Your worth is determined by an abstract idea of how you think other people see you, which is a metaperception. You can’t know what people really think, so you assume the worst and go from there.

Then you learn hypervigilance. Over time, you recondition yourself to focus so intensely on the negative, you stop seeing anything else.

You adopt the behavior that hurt you so it can no longer be used against you.

You think you’re getting ahead of the curve here. If you can identify, list, and try to attack every possible fault someone could find with you, then they cannot disappoint you, reject you, or hurt you. You’re pulling an 8 Mile, your flaws are on the table.

Except this is not how it works, not even a little bit.

You were taught that your imperfections were the reason you couldn’t receive connection. In adulthood, you interpreted this as your imperfections being the reason you can’t start your life.

You either don’t know how to connect, or don’t trust connection.

Your life goes on pause, and you scramble to fix a problem that was never a problem in the first place, which means that you’re never going to get the result you truly want. You will only ever be frustrated, and waiting.

How to stop overcorrecting

The root of overcorrecting is not feeling good enough. You don’t need to try to force yourself to stop the overcorrecting behavior — you just need to teach yourself that you are enough.

This sounds hard, but it’s actually simple. Here’s how to do it.

1. Reconnect with your honest opinions.

If it’s too hard to figure out how you really feel about yourself, start small.

Try new foods and see whether or not you like them. Listen to a new Spotify playlist and decide whether or not you like it. Watch a movie and assess it, honestly. Don’t think about whether or not someone else approves of it, just focus on how you feel in your body, heart, and mind.

When you start to reconnect with your honest opinions in small ways, you will repair your instincts.

2. Pay attention to your most basic instincts.

Notice when you are hungry, thirsty, or tired.

That’s it.

Just make a note of when you’re either one of those three things and when possible, give yourself water, food, and rest.

These survival instincts, unfortunately, get turned off in the overcorrecting process. How many people do you know who are dehydrated, hungry, and exhausted most of the time? Probably a lot.

Start honoring the instincts you know you can sense, and then respond to them accordingly.

3. Grant other people your approval.

This probably seems totally backward, but to feel as though you are enough, you must begin validating other people first.

When you judge other people (which everyone does) you essentially set up a rule for yourself. If you see a successful person, grow envious of them, and then say to yourself, well, they aren’t that great, you’ve set the standard that you must now achieve more than them to be good enough.

Over time, this bar goes so high that you cannot possibly reach it.

What you’re really trying to do is be better than those people, because you still think worthiness and connection is a competition, a game you can beat.

Instead, if you start supporting, appreciating, and validating people for who they are, how they look, and what they are doing, that grace will naturally extend back to your own life.

4. Stop taking everything personally.

This is what happened when you started overcorrecting in the first place.

People around you projected issues they had with themselves onto you, and then you adopted them as your own.

Someone said: “I’d never wear that,” and you took it as: “I shouldn’t, either.”

You personalized a situation that was not yours to personalize. You did this so so often that you ended up governing your life by a set of rules and expectations that aren’t yours and never were.

Remember that when other people judge, it’s a projection of an issue they have with themselves, in the same way that your worst judgments of other people are projections of issues you have with yourself.

In this way, you can start seeing the origins of your problems less as personal attacks against you and more as, just, you being collateral for someone else’s wounding.

You can’t stop overcorrecting your life because you can’t fix something that isn’t broken.

When something in your life really does need to change, you will know.

You will know if you have a real problem, and you will probably be able to sense if you’re overcorrecting. You’ll sense it because deep down, the little voice you shut out so many years ago is still there, still telling you this truth.

Also: You won’t find the energy to fight a battle you don’t think is worth fighting in the first place. Instead, you will remain in a state of stress and fear that other people will not agree with you on what’s acceptable.

And you’re right, some people won’t.

But many people will.

When we accept ourselves exactly as we are, something pretty magical happens: We transform into everything we possibly could be.

We cannot self-hate our way into lives we love.

Releasing the judgment and deciding what’s enough for us is the first and most important step to reclaiming our lives as our own.

And if you do want to fix something? Go ahead. But do it from a place of self-respect, not a place of wondering whether or not you will be able to convince the people around you that you are good enough for your own life.

For more of my writing, follow me on Instagram, or check out my books, 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think, and The Mountain Is You: Transforming Self-Sabotage Into Self-Mastery

Author of 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think and six other collections. Visit briannawiest.com to shop for books and more.

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