While there is a certain time and place for pushing hard on goals, being as productive as you can be and ‘raising your game’ in any given area, there is also a time for reflection and possibly uncovering that your demands for yourself are far too high. This is one of the darker sides of personal development where the pressure on yourself far exceeds the pressure that you put on anyone else in your life. In other words, you can sometimes be the world’s worst boss.

If someone were to say to you “You need to be at your best with me all the time, I can’t ever accept you at anything other than your best,” you would be very quick to cut that person out of your life. However, when you tell yourself “You need to be at your best with this person all the time, anything less than your best won’t be good enough,” you actually listen to it and put an enormous amount of unnecessary pressure on yourself. If someone else were to say it you would know exactly what to do but because it’s you, you take the time to listen to the nonsense.

In his book Awareness, Anthony de Mello mentions a similarly strange story when it comes to happiness. For whatever reason, we tend to place our own happiness in the hands of other people and things that we have no control over. Yet if the other person or thing demanded that we placed our happiness in them, we would never agree to such a thing!

Think of someone you love very much, someone you’re close to, someone who is precious to you, and say to that person in your mind, “I’d rather have happiness than have you.” See what happens. “I’d rather be happy than have you. If I had a choice, no question about it, I’d choose happiness.”

How many of you felt selfish when you said this? Many, it seems. See how we’ve been brainwashed? See how we’ve been brainwashed into thinking, “How could I be so selfish?” But look at who’s being selfish. Imagine somebody saying to you, “How could you be so selfish that you’d choose happiness over me?” Would you not feel like responding, “Pardon me, but how could you be so selfish that you would demand I choose you above my own happiness?!”

It certainly is a foreign concept to say that we would prefer happiness itself to someone that we love. De Mello isn’t suggesting that we don’t need anyone else in our lives and should pursue happiness alone in the mountains, he is just flipping the conventional logic around to make us realise that we wouldn’t tolerate such behaviour and demands from other people when it comes to happiness, so why would we tolerate it from ourselves?

This idea doesn’t just apply to being your best with people and your happiness, it also applies across the whole spectrum of life. It happens when we become dependent on other things in order to invoke certain emotions within ourselves, without realising that we can (and probably should) seek to produce it from the source – within ourselves. Most of the time, whatever pressures, worries, fears and even happiness and joy that are arising within you aren’t coming from anywhere else other than yourself. They’re all fabricated by your mind and for as long as you entertain them, you will be at their mercy. Your reactions, perceptions and internal narrative all dictate what you feel about certain things.

The key takeaway from all of this is that it is often you that is putting an immense amount of pressure on yourself and that you are creating your own worry and stresses – no-one else. And even if someone else were applying those things to you, it is also up to you whether or not to react to them or not. You would never choose to freely live under a tyrant, so make sure that you aren’t, in fact, the tyrant yourself.

Be careful with your own internal dialogue, it is usually what is ruling your life – for better or for worse.