Have you ever had the experience of not keeping the resolutions or promises that you made for yourself and feeling inadequate when you didn't follow through?
There was a time when this would happen to me routinely. I would say to myself "That's it! From here on I'm going to start eating healthy and lose 25 pounds and I'm going to write four hours every morning, play the mandolin an hour, read for an hour, and then go for a five-mile hike. Oh yea ... and I'm going to stop watching so much television every evening."
Of course, a month later I would get down on myself when I failed to accomplish any of the goals I had set for myself.
I came to realize that I had great goals, the problem was I wasn't changing any of my behaviors or making choices that would move me toward my goals, and I was setting the bar far too high. I wasn't shooting for realistic positive change; my goal was A+ perfection.
I was ignoring the reality that perfection is an illusion; that there is no such thing as perfection. Because my goal was 100%, I felt that anything less than perfection was failure. At some level I knew I would never make the goal, so I shut down and quit trying.
I was emotionally quitting before I even got started! I was settling for mediocre ... for ho-hum. It's no wonder I felt unhappy and discouraged.
In time I came to realize that the primitive ego of my inner-child was unconsciously pushing me to achieve perfection so everyone would admire me, and love me.
To feel good about my self I learned early in life that I had to work hard. If I came home with two A's and one C on my report card everyone would focus on the C. Their well-meaning response would be "You're smart, if you try a little harder you could get all A's.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard I worked to accomplish my goals to please those around me, I knew in my heart I could have tried harder! It's no wonder I felt inadequate and needed to be perfect.
Today, to keep the primitive ego of my inner-child from attempting to run my adult life, I have two basic rules I attach to all of my goals.
Rule number one
I never set a goal for myself without writing down the changes I will need to make in my day-to-day life to accomplish the goal. Doing the same thing today that I did yesterday will not move me toward my goal. I not only write down my goal, I make a commitment in writing to change the routines and behaviors required to achieve the goal.
Rule number two
Because I know my inner-child psyche will always set goals that feel too much like perfection, I never set a goal for myself without defining in writing what 80% of that goal would look like.
If my goal is to be successful and happy in life, I have learned that these two rules need to be an essential part of my plan.
Rule number one is intuitive and speaks for itself. But let me explain why I believe rule number two is so important.
Striving for perfection is a childhood habit that contaminates virtually every goal we try to accomplish. So if we are reaching for perfection in one area of our life, it's almost certain we will be unconsciously reaching for perfection in virtually every other area of our life!
Perfectionism is endemic in our culture and is one of the most dangerous unconscious beliefs we can have because it triggers our fear of failure and shuts down virtually all of our dreams and desires faster than we can dream them.
Until we ask ourselves the right questions, perfectionism is virtually invisible.
- Do I tend to get overwhelmed or stressed more than I like to admit to myself?
- Where do I carry my stress? In my stomach? Headaches? A stiff neck? Over eating? Depression? Joint pain? Back pain? Irritability? Insomnia? Too much alcohol? And are these symptoms impacting my life??
- Am I comfortable just doing as good a job as I can right now, knowing that I am still growing and learning, and that in time, my "best" will get better as I grow and get more experience and knowledge, or do I worry that my "best" won't be good enough?
- Am I comfortable kicking back from time to time celebrating who I am and enjoying my life, or am I always pushing myself to do better, be better, try harder?
Fortunately, the cure for perfectionism is simple.
First, get realistic
Put away the Superman or Wonder Woman cape and affirm to yourself that you are a regular human being; that it's really OK to be "normal". If we take into account all of our skills, abilities, strengths, and limitations we all excel in some areas and we all have limitations in other areas. In other words, like it or not, we are all "statistically" average.
Second ... employ the 80% concept in rule number two above
Achieving 80% of our goal is more realistic and far less intimidating to our self-image and our self-esteem than shooting for "perfection". When we hit 80% of a goal, we always have the option of establishing a new goal to improve on the 80% we have already achieved.
Of course we need to remind ourselves to only shoot for 80% of the new goal. In other words ... you will never reach perfection.
And Third ... self-awareness is not an option
Breaking the unconscious habit of reaching for perfection is easy when we learn to pay attention to the levels of stress we are experiencing. If we want to achieve our goals, maintain a healthy self-esteem, and achieve happiness in life, awakening and becoming self-aware of our feelings needs to be an intentional part of our day-to-day life.
The spirit of the Divine Impulse to grow and "become" that is part of all creation will keep you growing and evolving ... even when your "best" is well short of perfection. You will never achieve the illusion of perfection, but over time, if your commitment to change is authentic, your skills and abilities will continue to grow and improve.
And The Last Thought I Want To Share With You
Most of us dream way too small and set goals for ourselves that are far too "perfect". We need to reverse those two desires ... learn to dream much bigger and then work to achieve 80% of those dreams. Perfectionism is nothing more than a habit ... so just replace it with a new habit called 80%. You'll be far more successful and happy if you do.
Dick Rauscher, M. Div., licensed mental health counselor and life coach writes Stonyhill Nuggets on paths to growth and healing and awakening our primitive ego to achieve true happiness and success in life. His articles focus on taking full responsibility for the lives we are creating for ourselves, developing the skills required to achieve happiness and become more successful in life, and incorporating the day-to-day psychological and spiritual practices needed to achieve a deeper and more authentic spirituality. http://www.stonyhill-nuggets.com
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Copyright 2010 Dick Rauscher
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