Over the summer, I was interviewed for a couple of newspaper articles, one by Olive Keogh in the Irish Times on Anxiety, and the second by Sharon Ní Chonchuir in the Irish Examiner on Perfectionism. Both journalists were asking the question: good or bad? so we had some stimulating conversations.

Both the discussions around the toxic effects of too much anxiety and relentless high standards on mental health, brought to mind some of the central concepts I promote in my courses and in my one-to-one coaching. I am summarising them here for your benefit, but I am also aware, at this time of return to school and college, our young people are becoming more and more anxious, so you might pass on these guidelines, in your own way, to those in your care.  

In addition, two recent public policy reports in the U.S have identified “excessive pressure to succeed” as one of the top four environmental conditions negatively impacting adolescent wellness (the other three are poverty, trauma and discrimination).This excessive pressure may not come from parents – in fact, many parents tell me they wish their child would not be so hard on themselves – it may come from the adolescent’s own perception of how they “should” be, particularly when comparing themselves to others.  

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Buddha
You are UNIQUE. No one else has your combination of character strengths, talents, drawbacks, appearance, and way of looking at the world. Even with “limited edition” handbags or other luxury goods, they are still produced on an assembly line with hundreds of others. There is only one blueprint for YOU. Even if you can today only see flaws, these may one day turn out to be to your advantage. Remember that just as you are, you are worthy of love. Focus on what you are, rather than what you are not, and more will unfold. Just let yourself Be.  

Acceptance and Self compassion are the foundations of Mindfulness.

Be KIND to yourself. For most of us, if a friend made a mistake, or didn’t play well in a particular match, we would console them, help them put it into perspective, tell them it won’t matter in the long run. 

However, if it’s ourselves, that harsh, self-critical voice gets in on the act and accuses us of being useless. These responses are related to our brain chemistry: the friend’s failing is perceived by the more analytic part of the brain, where our own failure sets off panic reactions, rational thinking goes out the window, we lose all sense of perspective.

In the words of Damien Dempsey, who attended my meditation classes years ago, decide to “Love Yourself Today”. It’s a great anthem, sung with such great gusto and belief, by the audience at his concerts.

In the morning, smile at yourself in the mirror, and wish yourself a good day. If you are into yoga, you could even say Namaste, which means I salute the divine (the spirit, the life, whatever you find best) in you.

If you already do Loving Kindness Meditation, include yourself, direct thoughts of love and kindness to yourself.


Most of us believe the thoughts we have in our heads are facts. But the truth is, they are only one way of looking at a situation, any thought is simply a hypothesis, a theory. Our thoughts may, quite simply, be “fake news”. There are probably a hundred other ways of looking at the situation.

 For example, most of us view a mistake as failure, so therefore we feel bad. Albert Einstein, recognised as one of the greatest geniuses of all time, had a different theory. He believed  “the only person who never makes a mistake is someone who does nothing”. For him, making a mess, not getting it right, was proof you were alive and kicking, out there doing stuff, on the trail of making new discoveries and making things happen. This is a far more empowering hypothesis!

So don’t believe the first thought in your head, just as, if you went to buy shoes, you would rarely buy the first pair you saw in a shop. You would probably want to try a few pairs on, see which is the best fit. So, see if there is any other way of looking at the situation that would be a better fit, and more empowering.

The first major problem with comparative thinking, is that we are not comparing like with like. We live with ourselves 24/7, we see ourselves in all types of situations, and we know how we feel inside.

On the other hand, we only see the public side of other people, and what they choose to show us. It is like comparing real life to an influencer’s Instagram posts, or a photograph of ourselves to a touched up shot of a celebrity on their fan page. As someone who has talked intimately to hundreds of young people, many who seem confident on the outside, are probably feeling like jelly inside, just as much as you do, at times.

The second major problem with comparative thinking, is that we tend to under-estimate our own capacities, often simply because they seem so “natural” to us! We may be admiring something about someone else, but that very same person may wish they had our capacity to make the whole team feel better about something, to bounce back from a defeat, or our sense of humour, or even our quirky dress sense!
So, we are back to appreciate YOU and your own UNIQUENESS.

Links to Articles

Irish Times Article: Anxiety In The Workplace by Olive Keogh 
Workplace Wellbeing: The pressure of being a perfectionist
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