by Naveen Kassamali, LMFT
Being successful is important to all of us, but how do we define success? Is it by fitting in socially, looking good, getting straight A’s, or going to an Ivy League college? When defining success, we need to think about whose standard we are following and why it is important to us.
The pressure to succeed has grown in recent years. According to a survey by PEW , 61% of teens feel pressure to get good grades, 29% feel pressure to look good, and 28% feel pressure to fit in socially.
What is all this pressure doing to adolescent health? The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 32% of adolescents suffer from anxiety and that this number has been on the rise.
Has social media played a role in this rising pressure? The answer is yes, mainly due to the growth and pervasiveness of influencer culture. There is more focus on seeking validation through social media outlets, which includes measuring how many likes are received and how many followers one has. The issue with seeking external validation is that it leaves you feeling unfulfilled. Spending large amounts of time on social media also deters teens from focusing on healthier activities such as spending time with family and friends or being physically active.
There is a two-part solution to this issue.
First is to change our definition of success by focusing on intrinsic values as opposed to extrinsic values. Intrinsic values fulfill our core psychological needs, such as connection with other people, accomplishment, and freedom to choose your path. Extrinsic values on the other hand are dependent upon approval of others, which can lead to low self worth. For example, becoming a doctor for societal approval is extrinsically motivated while becoming a doctor due to an innate desire to help people is intrinsically motivated.
The way to understand our intrinsic values is through asking ourselves deeper questions around what brings us fulfillment. For example:
Which extracurricular activities provide me with feelings of fun/joy? (Rather than what looks good on college applications.)
What major or work allows me to be fully engaged and in the flow?
Which social engagements fulfill my need for connection?
Second is to use self care practices during times where we feel stress and anxiety. In particular, self-compassion exercises can help manage feelings of low self worth, self doubt and worry through the use of positive self talk.
Some phrases that you can use when you are feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to succeed are: “It’s ok I made a mistake, I know how to do better next time,” “I know I am not alone,” “I care about you,” “I know you are hurting right now,” “I am proud of you,” “I love you.” Self-compassion helps increase confidence and reduces feelings of overwhelm.
Practices such as these can be found on Neolth, a mental health app for students. The Neolth app provides relaxation practices such as meditation, journaling, breathing exercises, and creative art to help combat stress. Neolth also has a Community section, which can help with decreasing stigma, combating perfectionism, and connecting with others. The Community section includes pre-recorded conversations with clinicians about mental health, student vlogs about their lived experiences, and livestream events.
Through understanding our intrinsic values and incorporating self-care practices we can find our own definition of success, allowing us to live a more meaningful and happier life.
At Neolth, we’re on a mission to help students stress less, build resilience and become part of our compassionate community. Our app helps students when they're feeling overwhelmed with self-guided content personalized for their mental health journey. Neolth has a growing community of Student Ambassadors from 170 schools and works with schools to improve access to mental health support for their students. The company has won multiple awards for their app, including the 2020 Startup of the Year EdTech Award and the 2021 Tech for Good Timmy Award, San Francisco finalist. You can learn more at neolth.com