Slaying the Perfection Dragon

Today while thinking about the New Year and preparing for bringing our intentions into reality, I was reminded of how important it is to clear out what no longer serves us. This may mean paper and computer files (have you noticed what clutter you are harboring?) or clothing that you haven’t worn in years. It may also be unhealthy habits, be they of thinking or behavior.

Then I came across a post that was originally posted in 2011, and I thought it was worthy of a re-run.  And so here it is.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the greatest enemy of good self esteem is perfectionism.  And it’s also the greatest enemy of your peace of mind.

It doesn’t take much rational thought to see why this is true.  What on earth can you see in your daily life that is perfect?  Certainly human beings, as much as we may love them, are never perfect.  And so neither are our relationships.  And any undertaking we make may be excellent, but never perfect.

Elaine told me that her mother admired tall, thin, blonde girls.  She was frequently pointing out one or another girl in Elaine’s class or on the streets of their town, telling Elaine how pretty that girl looked.  It wasn’t lost on Elaine that she was athletic, short and stocky with dark brown hair and brown eyes.  Quite different than the “perfect picture” that her mother lifted up as the ideal.  Clearly, Elaine was never going to make that team!

We get these ideal images from our parents, and also are inundated with them every time we open a magazine, turn on the television or watch a movie.  Our bodies, our clothing, our relationships, our jobs, cars and homes are all held up in comparison with perfection.  Even our children “should” be in the right sports, schools and activities in order to reach some mythical perfect standards.

For quite a few years I was an ardent fan of a famous Domestic Diva, and bought her magazines, cook books, and watched her television program when I could catch it.  I was smitten with the perfect pictures of food, crafts and rooms with their soothing, trademark colors.  As her queendom grew, so did the number of her homes (how many homes can one person live in?), the elegant meals and complicated deserts.  It occurred to me that these pictures of perfection were only made possible by the work of a gigantic cadre of minions who designed and executed the perfect gardens, recipes and craft projects.

A capable cook (if I do say so myself) I could slave over holiday meals or special deserts captured in the perfect pictures.  But what about setting the perfect table with handmade decorations?  Well, maybe if I started the month before (which I almost never did).  And then what about the perfect room that my guests would eat that meal in?  When it came down to it, I was pressed to have everything picked up and cleaned in time.  Alas, I am a woman without even one minion to do my bidding.

As I was falling out of love with the Diva, I started to cringe when I heard her use the word, “Perfect!” on the episode I was watching.  This was occurring at the same time I was becoming aware that I lived with the dragon Perfectionism myself.  And what a misery it is!

You may notice that whatever picture you have in your mind about the perfect body, clothes, job, spouse, meal, etc., that it makes a moving target.  There is nothing that escapes the beady eyes of your inner critic!  Listen to your inner voice if you don’t believe me.  Or listen to how you accept a compliment.  You may sweat over finding the perfect dress for that dinner party; spend hours getting yourself put together.  And when the first person compliments you, you say something like,

“Thanks but… (insert) I need to lose a few pounds, I was worried that it was too short or too long, I’m not sure it’s my color, or I’m afraid it makes my butt look too big.”

Picking out what doesn’t measure up to that picture of perfection is a great way to undermine self esteem.  Struggling to reach some impossible standard is guaranteed to lower your self confidence!

Instead of being the Perfect Mom, could you be a Good Enough Mom?  Meaning you can rear a child that is healthy, happy and grows up to be a contributing member of society.  Yes, s/he will be another imperfect human.  Instead of struggling to be the Perfect Cook/ Home Maker/ Professional What-ever/ Spouse, could you be Good Enough?

Knowing that you are a growing, developing, learning human who enjoys success and learns from failure (and yes, endures it because no one thinks it is fun!) you might loosen up enough to have fun, live in the moment, experiment (more fun), be curious and actually enjoy your life.  The pictures may inspire us, but leave it at that.  Use them for ideas, admire their beauty, and remember that that is all they do.

Most of all look for the beauty in your own rooms, or your own table in the meal that you serve.  Enjoy the charm, warmth and uniqueness of the relationships that are a part of your life.  And most of all, feel gratitude and appreciation for you…the lovable human being that you are.

Living in Abundance

 

“Today expect something good to happen to you no matter what occurred yesterday.
Realize the past no longer holds you captive.
It can only continue to hurt you if you hold on to it.
Let the past go. A simply abundant world awaits.”
~Sarah Breathnach~


Do you agree with this statement:  Just because you were born a Human Being, your natural birthright is to live an abundant life? 

This would mean that physical, emotional, financial, social and spiritual well-being is your natural state.  We are designed to be happy and healthy and to experience joy in life.

You might be reading this and thinking, “Sure this sounds great, but the realities of my life are pretty far removed from it!”

·          You might be struggling to succeed in something that is important to you and feeling like you are getting nowhere.

·          Maybe you are feeling discouraged in a relationship that isn’t measuring up to the potential you once saw in it.  Or maybe you are feeling lonely and in great need of improving your social life in general.

·         It could be that your financial life is a constant struggle or your working life isn’t panning out the way you would like.

·         You might be in physical pain or feeling tired and blah, or stuck in any attempts to do something about the shape you are in.

·         Or perhaps your spiritual life may be in a state of disconnect, and you feel cut off from that important part of yourself and a connection to your Higher Power, All-That-Is or God.

If any of these conditions describe your present life, it could be that the “container” of your concept of yourself needs to be expanded.  The beliefs and frequent thought patterns that you repeat have formed this container; for some it is a tight, constricting and limiting container.

You may recognize yourself somewhere in the description, but take heart!  Even deeply ingrained patterns that we have “inherited” or more accurately learned from the people who shaped our early life, can be changed.  In other words, we do not have to live in the same kind of containers that our parents or grandparents or the culture we were exposed to prescribed for us.

For the most part, we came by negative or limiting thought patterns quite unintentionally.  And it is common to remain unconscious of them. However, we are designed in the Creator’s image, which means that we are also capable of being intentional creators ourselves! We can pay attention to the “wake up calls” that accompanies life in the too tight container, and start asking the important questions and seeking help in finding our answers.

Living a life of abundance requires us to expand the container that we live in!  In order to attract the elements of our desires and intentions, we must “live larger.” Changing old limiting patterns of thought-feelings-behavior-consequences allow for new possibilities that lead to liveliness and joy and well-being. Coaching is a real brain changer!

Hiring coaches and having mentors to work with has made a huge difference in my life.  So I completely agreed with Bill Gates when recently watching him in a TED talk about education and heard him say that everyone needs a coach.  He hired a coach to help him improve his bridge game.  He also talked about providing coaches to help teachers improve their work in the classroom, an exciting venture that his foundation supports.  

Luckily for all of us, we are seeing a rapid expansion in the applications of coaching.  What this means for you is that you can change those limiting beliefs that are keeping you from attaining your dream job, getting what you want out of your relationship, or succeeding in a business venture. Whatever it is that you want to change in your life, coaching can help you achieve that.

 If life coaching is something that you would like to explore, or if you are interested in learning more about living the Law of Attraction, I am opening a new program for working with individuals and small groups. Check out my contact information and email me or give me a call.  I would love to hear from you!

 

 

Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained

“Confidence is the feeling you sometimes have before
you fully understand the situation.”
~Unknown~


It seems that this is a time for new ventures. A lot of people that I know are starting big projects, some inspired by the arrival of spring such as extensive landscape and gardening redoes. Some are those things that might have been “thought about” for months but not accomplished. And then some are addressing bad habits or behavioral patterns that have been tripping them up for years.

Recently I took the plunge with a big commitment of my own, by signing up for a coaching certification course.  It’s a year-long course of study that involves a big chunk of time in my schedule, money from my budget and a lot of work learning and practicing new skills. Personal development or life coaching is a service that I already offer on a limited basis. Since I enjoy it, I would really like to expand that part of my practice. While being certified is not required, taking this course will help me accomplish my goals.

Like many people, I have been “thinking” and doing a little exploring of this on and off for years, but haven’t taken action. When the opportunity presented itself, I felt some curiosity and excitement as I read about it. Could I manage the time? Was I up to the challenge? It has been a long time since I was in school and training and having my skills evaluated. Some fear came up with that thought.

Then questions came up about the budget and whether I could find the time. What would I have to give up? Certainly something would have to give!  And a year seems like a long time to commit to anything!

After giving myself time to do some writing about the pros and cons, and tapping (EFT) about my fears, and a good night’s sleep, I got up the next morning and decided to sign up.  I still felt some “heebie jeebies” but I had increased clarity about needing structure, help and some accountability. Besides, what kind of coach would I be if I didn’t seek out coaching and teaching myself?!  And so I signed all the application and agreement forms and sent them in.

Since I was still feeling apprehensive and unsettled, I decided that I was in need of support. I also needed to make it known to my friends and family and colleagues that I had made this commitment.  And telling them would build in some accountability. I know that some will be checking in periodically to find out how my new venture is going.

So I composed a message that I sent out by email. And what came back to me has been way past my expectations!  The first reply came from a friend who is an executive coach, working with leadership training for businesses. He has offered to introduce me to coaches that he knows and to be of help in any way he can. Then came a flood of responses that were supportive, loving and truly warmed my heart. I have also received stories about their experiences in “taking a leap” into new ventures, and what that felt like. I feel encouraged by their messages.

Big undertakings always involve baby steps which also bring up fears that we either have to face or walk away from. Confidence only comes about by “talking back” to our fear by moving forward; by feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Writing this blog post is another way of making my decision “real,” and to hold myself accountable for completing the course. I will keep you posted periodically about my progress. And I would love to hear about your challenges and how you have committed to facing them and moving forward!

 

Lessons from Nursery School

“We are free to choose our actions, but we are not free to choose the consequences of these actions.”
― Stephen R. Covey

 

There is a game category on a popular NPR show called, “Things I would have learned in school if I had been paying attention.” It is sometimes disconcerting to hear answers to those questions which would seem to indicate that maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention.

My grand-daughter, Anna Grace, has begun her school career by attending a nursery school class for three-year-olds. It seems to me that the main purpose at that early age is to begin to tame the savage impulses and get the children to cooperate in a group. Not being the most compliant soul you ever met, she has had some lessons to learn, some more difficult than others.

The first was that her teacher frowned on her merrily racing away to the far corner of the playground when the class lined up to go inside from recess, and then dashing away as the teacher came after her in hot pursuit. (And since it was fall in the South, I’m sure it literally was hot pursuit). Another lesson was that it is not permissible to give a girl a shove, even if she did push you first. And it also isn’t okay to jump in line ahead of someone even when you say “excuse me” before you elbow them out of your way.

Her teachers use a method that I admire, which is to encourage the children to think about their actions and slow down the automatic impulses. They ask, “Do you think that was a good decision?” And the child has time to consider that they DID make a choice and what the outcome of that choice was. Tying together behavior and consequences…something that continues to be a life-long challenge for some.

The other day Anna Grace and her mom were going to take the dog out for his morning walk, and she wanted to bring Scout, a stuffed dog along. As they went through the neighborhood, Anna Grace asked to hold Mudslide, the greyhound’s leash. Her mom said that would be okay until they got to the end of the sidewalk and then she would take the leash back, because the street was nearby.

They proceeded to the end of the sidewalk, her mother took the leash back, and Anna Grace began to protest. She was clearly not ready to give up the leash. When her mother insisted, she started to cry and yell, and threw Scout down on the ground and stomped a few steps away.

Her mother (calmly), “Pick up Scout and come on.”

A.G. (yelling), “No, Mommy! I am so mad at you! YOU pick him up!”

Her mother scoops up Scout, Anna Grace and marches them and Mudslide back to the house and informs Anna Grace that she will have a time out. They get inside, Anna Grace still yelling, and she is deposited on the stairs in her time-out place to get herself collected.

Her mother asks, “Do you think that what you did out there was a good decision?”

Anna Grace (with renewed fury), “I am still so MAD at you Mommy!  I don’t WANT to make decisions!”

When I heard this story I chuckled but could understand her sentiments.  I don’t always like making decisions either. Or more to the point, I don’t like having to be accountable and deal with all the consequences of those decisions!

But one thing that I learned in school (and in the “School of Life”) is that we indeed are responsible for the consequences that we set in motion with our decisions, whether we thought about them in advance, or even intended them, or not.

And, like any three or four year old, most of those decisions are decided on the basis of our emotions. In many cases, our rational thinking is brought in later to justify or explain why we made that choice, after the fact. You can be sure that the red convertible being shown by the model in the mini skirt is not being purchased primarily for its fuel economy!

Or watch a home shopping channel for 15 minutes if you want to see the hypnotic emotional spell being cast over viewers who have their credit cards out to purchase items that suddenly they “need” but would never have thought of before sitting down to watch.

Everyone has likely had the experience of saying something in an argument that they later regret or felt embarrassed by. Who hasn’t regretted making a callous remark about someone or to someone who didn’t deserve the unkindness?

When we are stressed we are especially prone to make poor decisions. We are less likely to think things through, and more likely to strike out or act out on angry or desperate impulses. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are responsible and as such, need to make amends or clean up the mess.  And being human, we can have the grace to forgive someone else as well as ourselves.

Perhaps it is from the perspective of age that it occurred to me the other day that our lives are a sum total of the decisions that we have made. True, sometimes events happen to us that we cannot control. I’m not suggesting that we are to blame (ugly word, I think) for everything that happens. But even in those difficult or impossible to control circumstances and events, we go on making decisions about what to do and eventually, what those events mean to us.

Some people are amazingly resilient; they recover and live rich and full lives. Others become embittered or apathetic and give up or live reduced lives. Whichever path we choose, we ultimately are responsible for what we have made of the talents and resources we are given.

If you are not happy with yours, I recommend that you work on forgiveness and free yourself to change your life in ways that are meaningful and pleasing to you. After all, the choices really are in your hands.

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”
~Stephen Covey~

Another New Beginning

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” 
H. Jackson Brown Jr.~

 Every year the last days of December prompt at least a superficial evaluation of what happened during the previous year.  We can find magazine issues devoted to the most influential people of the year or history shaping events such as a national election.  And certainly our minds drift to the major news events, as well as the more personal events that mark both positive and negative milestones of our lives.

It might be the birth of a new family member, or a marriage or a divorce or death of someone important to you.  Or a graduation, promotion or retirement that has occurred and that will be life changing on some level.  And then, of course, we may revisit the resolutions that we considered or even committed to at the end of last year.  Did you forget about what you desired after a few weeks or months?  Or are you feeling proud of progress that you made?

I just read an amusing tweet from someone who said she was debating about whether to form her new year’s resolutions or take a nap. Someone replied that she should make a resolution to take more naps.  Which might not be a bad idea when you think about it.  For those who find themselves living on a treadmill of responsibilities at home and more of the same at work, taking breaks can be a big boon to mental and physical health.

It seems that whether the resolution is for changing a bad habit or working harder on something, or improving some element of personal development, most people give up pretty quickly on making changes.  Probably the biggest reasons for this are two-fold:  a lack of clarity for what is motivating this change, (in other words, WHY they are willing to make the change); and making a realistic plan for HOW to achieve the change.

If you don’t stay connected with what is motivating you, and your reasons are not compelling enough to overcome your human, natural resistance to change, then your efforts will likely fizzle out.  Who hasn’t found the weather too cold, your energy level too low, or another “great reason” to put off until tomorrow whatever you have resolved to begin today?  Probably everyone.

There are tips and tools that can shore up your resolve as well as help pave the way to change.  One of the best that I use and recommend is one that you can access at The Tapping Solution, which is a program of EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique.  If you check out the site, you will see an icon that you can click to download a free e-book that nicely explains EFT and how you can apply it in your life.  You will also see a reasonably priced DVD that you can order which is an interesting film of a retreat in which participants from various life situations meet and learn to use the techniques.  My personal favorite is the membership site which has a wealth of products and lessons you can follow, made available by some of the foremost EFT coaches in the world.

It’s easy to be cynical about making substantial changes in your life, and maybe you have felt discouraged by your lack of progress in the past.  However, I would urge you not to give up on living a satisfying and meaningful life.  Support and help is all around you if you open yourself to seeing the possibilities.  Don’t stay stuck in the safety zone of what is comfortable and familiar to you.  You really do deserve to have, be and do better.  Get some support and determine to be in a place you really desire at the end of the coming year!

 

Seeking Help

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment
that something is more important than fear.”
~Ambrose Redmoon, writer~

This morning I arranged for a computer technician to come to my home office to resolve some problems that I was having with my elderly desktop and my laptop which for some unknown reason, was not communicating with my wireless printer.  The usually reliable desktop had taken a sudden notion to freeze up and turn off without warning.  Not at all like itself.

I hoped that it was happening because of a program that I installed and then uninstalled and would be readily fixed.  But my fear was that it had something more dire wrong and was going to have to be replaced.  Never a convenient thing.

The young man, who arrived toting an impressively heavy looking briefcase/toolkit, set quietly to work.  By the time I had filled my coffee cup and returned to the office, he already had the laptop on speaking terms with the printer.  Something about an ISP address?  He showed me where to find the place and how to input the information in case I get a new printer some day.

It was kind of him, but trust me, when that day comes, I’ll be calling him to come back and fix it again.  Despite being a computer user for over 10 years, I am still largely lost and bewildered in Techno Land.  I’ll bet he wasn’t an English major.

The desktop presented more of a challenge and for awhile it looked as if the mother board was shot and I would have to buy a new computer.  (I love that they named that part the “mother board” because it is so essential to the life of the computer.  Uncharacteristically poetic, don’t you think?  Yes, I was an English major!).  But after 45 minutes of doing one mysterious thing after the other, he brought it back from the brink and after several reboots; it seemed to be running well.

He couldn’t really say why.  He did say, “Well that’s interesting, isn’t it?”  He was looking entirely too cheerful to have meant that in terms of the curse, “May you live in interesting times!”  He did tell me about the 30 day guarantee on labor, and said that I should call them back if the computer returned to its evil ways.  So I thanked and paid him and he was on his way.

I got to thinking about how cheerful I was to have paid the $67 for his work.  My problems were easily and quickly resolved without any undue time and frustration spent on my part.  This represents a change over the years.  Having been reared in a family that was big on self reliance and had more ingenuity than money, the message that I internalized was “Do it yourself!”  Sometimes this approach may be beneficial, and sometimes leads to stress and strain.

When making a suggestion to clients about getting help with a problem, I often encounter their resistance.  Seems that a lot of people believe that they should be able to do it all alone.  Whether it’s hiring someone to help them de-clutter and organize living space that is driving them crazy, or getting help with an alcohol abuse problem, often the answer is “no,” or “not yet.”  They wouldn’t think less of anyone else seeking help, but it’s not for them.

It makes sense to me.  When we offer help to someone else, or solve our own problems, we feel powerful or at least competent.  But when we admit that we need help and that we can’t do it alone, we are immediately in touch with our all-too-human vulnerability.

Living with vulnerability is a tall order.  I call it the “raw egg feeling.”  Being aware of our frailty and the ambiguity that comes with it presents a big temptation to run to whatever distraction we can find.  We don’t know for certain what will happen.  Just admitting that we are out of control of some aspect of life is tough to do.

And yet, we must pass through this threshold if we are to recover from what is plaguing us.  We must be willing to stay in “Not Knowing” until we can see the light.  And more frequently than not, it is someone else who turns the light on for us.  Despite our doubts most people are willing and in fact happy to help us.  Whether they are paid professionals or a friend or neighbor or acquaintance, when we are willing to receive their help or wisdom, we usually discover that they are fellow travelers who have faced their own vulnerabilities in order to learn something that we need to know.

After investing in your own growth or change with time, effort or money, you will once again find yourself on firmer ground.  Living creatively or building your health is an ongoing process that seems to take us from times of strength and confidence and then onto a new phase requiring us to face vulnerability again.  The gains that you make along the way equip you to pass on your wisdom and help to those who come across your path and need you.

It is no doubt true that it is more blessed to give than to receive, but I would add that being willing to receive is also essential to the process of living.

 

Living with Ambiguity

“Who sees the other half of self, sees Truth.”
~Anne Cameron, Dreamweaver

 

My morning journal time brought me to a chapter on fear and trust in Christina Baldwin’s Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Practice.  This is a book that I have recommended before.  She points out the unavoidable and uncomfortable experiences we have when confronting two opposing or paradoxical things at the same time. 

Fear and trust are one such paradox.  And you may have noticed by now that life and indeed, WE are filled with paradoxes!  We prefer to see the one aspect which is easier to accept.  For example, we make heroes of people and in doing so deny that they are also human beings who are capable of doing cruel and stupid things.

Or we focus on one preferable quality within ourselves, refusing to face what lies in the shadow that is opposing the one we are comfortable with.  We may be kind and caring, but we are also at times selfish and uncaring.  All those qualities that we ascribe to our heroines and villains reside within each and every one of us.  And so our relationships are admittedly complex, which at times can be quite bewildering.

After getting into a conversation about this with my daughter this morning, I remembered writing a blog post about it back in 2009.  Carl Jung has pointed out that there are riches to be gained by facing our shadow qualities, by enduring the discomforts that come up with looking at the “other half of self.”  When we are willing to peer into our shadow, we become more tolerant of ourselves and others for one thing.  We are able to listen better, and to come to mutually beneficial outcomes for everyone.

Here is the post from March of 2009.

Yesterday I was reminded of something in a session with a client we will call Sue. She was talking about her relationship with her mother and feeling angry about her mother’s behavior.  Sue has been working hard in therapy and making changes in her life and relationships.  As is the case for most young adults, she is sorting out how she is similar to and different from her parents, her mother in particular.

Sue has had many successes in being assertive with her mother.  And less success in trying to have some conversations about her psychological discoveries.  When it comes to Sue’s attempts to discuss problems in their communications, her mother avoids answering and in fact changes the subject most of the time.  Very frustrating to Sue!

I was thinking about how most of us have a hidden desire for a parent who is different than the parent that we got.  Sue wants a mother who is open and willing to have deep and personal discussions with her.  Yet she can see that her mother doesn’t have very intimate relationships with anyone, nor do members of that whole side of the family. 

When I was in elementary school, my best friend Linda had a mother who was the president of the PTA, a room mother and was frequently in school, very involved in what was going on.  My mother, in contrast, was shy, lacking in self confidence and very busy taking care of her children and a farm.  Not the least bit interested in the PTA or the school fair.  How I wanted her to be!

Years later I came to recognize my mother’s gifts as well as her shortcomings.  Education was important to her and she passed that on to her children.  She insisted on good manners and good grammar.  Getting your work done and meeting your responsibilities was something we learned from her.  She had keen intuition, and I got my spiritual connection and strength from her. 

In our dualistic way of thinking, we tend to be more comfortable with qualities in “either/or” or “black/white.”  In our perfectionism we strive to be “good” as we see it and struggle to eradicate “bad” qualities.  In others we tend to get hung up focusing on the qualities that annoy us.  Most often those qualities are the ones in ourselves that we can’t stand!  This leads to a lot of conflict and dissatisfaction in relationships of every kind.

What if we could purposely focus on what we appreciate in others as well as ourselves?  Do this by expressing thanks or gratitude to others, and paying close attention to gratitude for ourselves.  And then by truly intending to fully accept those annoying quirks in others (maybe with humor) and letting go of our need to change them, we can extend that same acceptance and kindness to ourselves. 

As human beings, we are each one of us filled with paradox.  We can live in much better relationship to others and have much more peace and satisfaction when we accept the ambiguity within.