Tag Archives: perfectionist

If You Are Aiming For Perfect, You Are Doing It Wrong

I’ve lost count of how many things I’ve put off because I knew, I just knew, that they would not be done right.  My attitude was, “If I can’t do it right, then I won’t do it at all.” Or “I’ll wait until I can get it perfect, then I’ll do it.”  There is value in those words, don’t get me wrong.  Those words imply dedication and determination which are the fuel that propels us to achieve the seemingly impossible. But there is also an implied expectation; the expectation that it must be perfect in every sense before it can be acceptable, even to me. Especially to me.

Perfectionism is a form of control. The wounded, critical part of us believes that if we are perfect (whatever that means to each of us) then people will like us, love us, admire us, approve of us, pay attention to us, or validate us.  We dislike rejection or indifference, so we attempt to control how people feel about us by being perfect.

This need to control how people feel about us comes from making others responsible for defining our worth. It is based on the false premise that if someone likes us, then we are worthy, and then we can be happy. But it doesn’t end there. We tend to do this even to ourselves.  We try to control our own view of ourselves by being perfect, because – we think – “Only when I’m perfect will I feel worthy of accepting myself.” We hold ourselves to impossible standards, often higher than the standards we use for other people, and when we fail to meet those standards, we belittle ourselves, telling ourselves how unworthy we are.

But let us say that we managed to be perfect for that moment; how much mental and emotional work went into that? Tons of it, isn’t it? We used up so much of our precious energy in our quest for reaching perfection, that when we finally got there we ended up exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally, and the good feelings (if any) are but short lived.  Often, our self-criticism propels us to achieve some amazing things, but at the end of it all we can’t even appreciate them because we’re completely drained.

And that’s not all.  In addition to causing low self-esteem and exhaustion, the quest for perfection in order to gain approval often leads to procrastination. The fear of failure and disapproval – whether from others or from ourselves – if we are not perfect can be so great that it stops us from taking the action that we need to take. Self-criticism or self-judgement as a way to pushing ourselves to do things “perfectly” often backfires, leading to paralysis-by-analysis instead of creativity and productivity. Often we don’t even try things because we know that if they are not done perfectly we won’t value them anyway.

How do we change?

We must begin by acknowledging our own self-worth.  We must stop handing over the authority to define us to every person we come in contact with.  We must begin by accepting that there is nothing that we need to do, be or have in order to be worthy; we are worthy just as we are.  When we decide to define our own worth instead of handing that responsibility to others, we will stop worrying about what others think and feel about us.

We must also shift from defining our worth based on external qualities such as performance, to defining it based on our internal, intrinsic soul qualities. Why?  Because as long as our worth is based on performance, we will worry about results and we will feel insecure losing our self-worth. But when our worth is based on our intrinsic qualities of caring, compassion, goodness, empathy, and joyfulness, then it is separated from our performance and never at risk of being stomped by it.

This will free us to create and produce with freedom and joy, knowing that we can make all the mistakes in the world and still be worthy. Then we will know that we are already “perfect” in our essence, and that there is nothing to prove.  Perfection never comes into the picture when our performance is a joyful expression of your intrinsic worth, rather than a form of controlling what others think and feel about us.

When our worth is no longer based on our performance, life becomes so much easier and joyful and less tiring. Instead of feeling immobilized by our addiction to perfection, we are free to express ourselves and let our gifts and talents shine.  Expressing ourselves creatively becomes a fun endeavor, and even though fear may still creep up from time to time, it will no longer paralyze us.

Do you have any questions or comments that you would like to share?  Please drop me a line in the comment box below, or email me directly at jc@effect180.com.  I’d love to hear from you!

To your success!

JC

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If You Truly Want to Be Exceptional, Go For Being Average

As far back as I can remember I used to be a perfectionist overachiever, and this was greatly due to the meaning I had derived from my life experiences growing up.  I was surrounded by people who, with the best of intentions, expected the best from me.  They had high hopes for me, and they wanted me to rise above average, to be exceptional.

It wasn’t long before I learned what I deem to be one of my most important life lessons.  I found out that when I set off for being exceptional, always striving to be the best, always reaching for first place, always pushing myself to do more, more, more, I found it more and more difficult to feel happy or even content about my current and past accomplishments; in fact, I could not even bring myself to acknowledge them, let alone enjoy them.

Whether they vocalized it or not, the expectations of those around me always rose above the results I produced.  Whenever I showed them I could do more, they expected more. The more I showed them I could do, the more they expected of me.  And if I ever I fell short of performing at my newly set standard for whatever reason (maybe I was just having a “bad” day?) the spectators around me cut me no slack.   They frowned and showed signs of disappointment, which in turn caused me to feel disappointed in myself.

As a result of this, my own expectations on myself rose high above my accomplishments; even the times when I excelled at something, I always told myself, “You could have done better. You must do better next time.”  This caused me a tremendous amount of pressure and anxiety, not to mention feelings of never being “good enough” or “special enough.” Needless to say, I was unable to find satisfaction in my accomplishments; they felt like empty victories to me. I was literally unable to be pleased with myself. How sad it was to go through life feeling like no matter what I did, I was not good enough even in my own eyes.

In his book “Supercoach” Michael Neill shares with us the concept of going for “having an average day” as a way for being exceptional.  When I first read this I was skeptical because I thought, “This goes against the conventional belief of making every day exceptional!”  And indeed it does.  At first glance it may seem like we’re being encourage for settling for an average life and being conformists or having a mediocre attitude.  But as Michael explains,

The paradoxical promise of the “average day” philosophy [is that] the cumulative effect of a series of average days spent doing an average amount of what loves and wants to do is actually quite extraordinary

It took me a bit to digest this concept but the more I thought about it the more sense it made to me.  I realized then that whenever I wanted to accomplish something or do something I wanted to do, my perfectionist overachieving attitude kicked in and suddenly the task seemed too daunting or complicated. I could anticipate my own expectations about it and felt anxious rather than motivated.  As a result, I tended to put it off!  “If I’m going to do it, it has to be perfect” – I thought – “otherwise I am not going to do it.” And then I felt burnt out before I even started.

Well you can imagine how many things got put off or postponed as a result, from making sure I spent quality time with my kids, to working on the next chapter in a book I was writing. I knew I wanted to spend quality time with my kids every day, but I always believed that it had to be this whole ordeal that would take at least a couple of hours each day in order for it to be done right.  In the case of my book, I often focused on the fact that I needed to do additional research and get all the words and all the paragraphs perfect, which again would take a long time to do.

But after reading Michael’s tip I saw how my perfectionist-going-for-exceptional attitude was actually working against me and holding me back.  So I decided to implement his suggestion and shoot for having average days instead.  This simply meant that there was no more pressure to get it perfect. The goal was just to get it done.  So I made it a point to spend at least some quality time with my kids on a daily basis. That time was sometimes spent playing a few rounds of go-fish, or talking to them while I was cooking dinner (yes, I’m a dad who loves cooking for his kids), or sitting with them on the couch with my arms around their shoulders asking them about their day.

Was it ideal? Far from it. But I realized that if I waited for the “ideal” I would rarely (if ever) get to spend any time with my kids!  At least now, I got to spend some real quality time with them, talking to them about their needs and their dreams, and really giving them my attention.   If during the time we spent together I was able to make even the tiniest bit of difference, the impact this would have over the course of their lives would be far from average!

So now, whenever I find myself putting off something I want to do or postponing it until the stars and planets align and everything is perfect, I apply Michael’s tip and get right to it.  I’m finding that as a result of that I am able to accomplish more, and get more satisfaction out of my accomplishments.  My wife and I have also made it a point to convey this attitude to our kids.  They know that we are effort-oriented rather than results-oriented, and that we don’t expect straight A’s in their report cards.  We’re making it a point to take the pressure of perfection off of their shoulders and encourage them to just give things their best shot.   We’re reminding them constantly that if they’re not pleased with the results, they can always try again. But at this point it becomes a choice rather than an expectation, and this allows our creativity and our energy to flow freely and shine.

Remember the fable of the (average) tortoise and the (overachieving) hare, and the moral of the story?   “Slow and steady wins the race!” It really is true!

What do you think of this “going for an average day” tip?  Drop me a line in the comment box below,

I’d love to hear from you!

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