Sunday, 17 March 2013

Is Perfectionism Stifling Your Life?

So is perfectionism stifling your life?  That might sound like a strange question because we have all been brought up to do our best and be the best person we can, right?  But there is actually a world of difference between doing the best you can and trying to be perfect. Doing the best you can means that you accept yourself for who you are; that you know that you have flaws, that you can make mistakes and get it wrong.  It means that you start projects, have life experiences and enjoy relationships that are ‘good enough’. Trying to be perfect generally means that you are trying to control every little detail of your life and will not start living it until you have achieved whatever level of faultless transcendence that you are currently shooting for.

Relax as the sun goes down
Relax as the sun goes down

The trouble is that real life is messy.  To enter into it completely and enjoy all aspects of it, we need to give up any need to control it and shape it into our idea of perfection. As soon as we start seeking perfection we suck the life and joy out of whatever it is we are trying to do and achieve. If only I can turn in a report at work that is flawless in every way, then I can be happy and start appreciating myself we think.  Or if only I can work on my body and face until it is thin enough, pretty enough, toned enough or whatever enough, then I can start being happy and appreciating myself.  If only I could meet that one romantic partner who is perfect for me in every single way, then I can start being happy and appreciating myself. We tend to bring this kind of perfectionist thinking into every area of our lives, whether it is our home, our kids, our career, our love lives, our hobbies or the way we look and then wonder why we are so exhausted and dispirited all the time.

Trying to be perfect is so tiring because we are continually setting ourselves up for disappointment.  It is a goal that can never be achieved, so will always be that thing that is just over the horizon, just out of view and it is too easy to burn yourself out chasing this elusive chimera.  For the truth is that there is no such thing as perfection and that we all have different ideas on what perfection is any way. In a way we are all putting the cart before the horse.  We say that we will be happy and content when things are perfect, when we get it all done to our own impossibly high standards or when the miracle happens.  But the truth is that we need to learn to be happy now.  To be happy and content with what we are and what we have, knowing that we can make the most of each and every precious day because we are optimistic, vibrant, relaxed and confident.  It means having trust in yourself; trusting that you have the skills, knowledge, experience and wisdom to navigate your way successfully through your world.

For some reason, we tend to look at what happens in our lives and fixate on the mistakes, the things that have gone badly or weren’t the way we wanted them to be.  Many more things went well and we succeeded, but we tune this fact out as irrelevant.  So why are we so keen to be responsible for the bad things that happen in our lives and take no responsibility at all for creating all the wonderful things we have and enjoy? We shrug off the good things that happen as luck, happenstance or just take them for granted and go back to beating ourselves up for all the small mistakes, perceived flaws and petty misdemeanours that we have accused, tried and convicted ourselves of.

The fact is there is a trade off for everything in life and the trade off with being a perfectionist is that you don’t ever have to start anything, the time is never right, conditions are not good enough or other people are not keeping their end of the bargain. It’s a procrastinator’s charter, because as nothing will ever be perfect then you will always have an excuse not to do something or finish a project that you have started.  How many half written books do you think there are stuffed in drawers all over the world, because the author doesn’t think they are good enough?  How many pictures don’t get painted, songs written, relationships started, homes moved into, businesses launched or holidays taken because they are not deemed perfect enough? If you look at your life it actually the disasters, mistakes and chaotic situations that we tend to look back on and remember fondly.  The holiday where the tent was swept away in a rain storm, the date you had where you broke the heel on your shoe or the party you all turned up at in fancy dress only to find that everyone else was in normal clothes.

The area of our lives that our perfectionism can have the most negative impact on is our relationships with other people.  As we rush around trying to be perfect, we get mighty annoyed with our friends and loved ones that are not getting with our programme.  We might think that our herculean effort to attain a flawless existence is for their benefit and that they should be thankful that we are exhausting ourselves on their behalf, but they just aren’t buying it.  The bottom line is we cannot have any expectations of other people.  If we want to play the perfection game that is our choice, but we cannot expect other people to join in just to make us feel better.  How much happier would we all be if we just chilled and relaxed a little?  Is it really such a major disaster if your son does not put his dirty sports kit in the washing hamper or that your wife forgot that you only like white bread for your sandwiches?  You are also more likely to get a better response from them if you tell them all the things that you appreciate them for.  Try praising people for the things they did right rather than chastising them for what you perceive to be their mistakes, and they are far more likely to carry on with the positive behaviour you want.  Just think of the times that you have slammed a door extra hard or deliberately gotten home late after a parent or a partner had a go at you and you will recognise what I am talking about.

All this trying to be perfect shows that at some unconscious level you do not believe that you are already good enough.  But you are already more than good enough; you are worthy, you are important, you are needed and you are perfect just the way you are. Give up worrying what other people think of you.  It is not important.  The truly authentic, happy in their own skins people set their own standards, are only concerned with what they think of themselves and always continue valuing themselves even when they fail, make mistakes or forget to do something. It does not mean that they do not do things to learn and develop, but they take courses, go on workshops or start new jobs or businesses knowing that they will do their best and not beat themselves up if they get it wrong.

So give yourself a break.  Relax, chill out and do something purely because you want to do it. Set yourself realistic goals and don’t fall into despair if you don’t meet them all.  The world has a habit of getting in the way of the best laid plans anyway and sometimes the disruption works out much better than anything we could ever have prepared for. The world won’t end because you didn’t get around to doing that third load of washing, but you might just burn yourself out.  You deserve to be happy and you do not have to prove anything to anyone.  So go on, I dare you?  Just be happy today for no other reason than that you can.

If you feel you need some help in learning to relax and letting go, contact cmhypnotherapy for a hypnotherapy appointment today in Watford and Bushey.