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.

Baby Steps Revisited

 “While it is true that without a vision the people perish,
it is doubly true that without action the people
and their vision perish, as well.”
~Johnetta Betsch Cole~

Recently I wrote a post, about my adventures in making my work space more functional and pleasant.  About a month has elapsed since then and I’m happy to report some satisfying progress.

The home office itself is cleared out except for one box that needs to go to the donation center. The desk is a marvel of order, especially considering that one of the tasks I undertook was a revamping of the book keeping system that I use, complete with a meeting with David, my very patient CPA. At least for the time being the outbox is clear and the inbox has a small stack of opened mail. I’m still leery of putting anything important in that “Pending” file in the front of the file drawer. I am all too familiar with the truth in the saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

The closet in that room is full of stored items, and I must admit, needs a good turning out. Out of sight, out of mind kind of works for me there, at least for the short term, and with a good pair of closet doors.  It will be a good winter project.  I have noticed that as drawers, closets and other storage places get put in order according to the way that I use them, taking a couple of minutes to put things away is quick and easy. And the feng shui experts are correct in saying that it’s good for the general energy flow and sense of well being. I can focus much better when working in an orderly space.

After getting the financial data in order, I received some great advice.  And that is to set aside time every week…the same day of the week, to enter expenses, pay bills and check the balances.  Sounds like great  advice that I would do well to follow.  What could be the problem?

I am guessing that if someone were to advise me that eating half a pint of Ben and Jerry’s every day is the magic bullet to becoming a millionaire, I still would find myself “forgetting” to do it within a week’s time.  Doing a new task consistently is the bane of my existence!  And yet writing it in my schedule and taking on the challenge is something I am willing to do.

I have learned from experience that instead of just dreaming or just complaining about my dreams that have not come true, that there is no substitute for taking action. There’s nothing like baby steps. Unhappy about your life? Then do one thing different!  It may seem too small and simple to work, especially in the face of what seems like an overwhelming mess or long-standing beliefs and behaviors.

The secret that is not really a secret is that taking one small and consistent step in the right direction, will embolden and inspire you.  The challenge for me and maybe for you is being consistent.  No matter how smart an idea I have or what great instruction I have received, continuing to do it until it is a new habit.  Life happens, and I get pulled off course to take care of something that seems urgent (not always important though, I must say).  Before long I have fallen way behind and then awaken with a jolt as I realize that my mess has recurred.

But instead of complaining or whining about being a victim of circumstance, we need to climb right back up on the horse, so to speak, and proceed according to our dreams, goals and plans.  After some days and weeks of doing so, the new order will feel more comfortable and easy to live with.

Clean Up Clean Out

There is something about seasonal changes in general, and the approach of fall in particular, that inspires me to launch a general clean up.  Maybe it is an effect of formative years which were lived according to the academic calendar, which always feels like the true beginning of the year.  Or maybe it’s a more primal urge to clean out the den before I’m sequestered in it for the duration of winter. Whatever the cause, the urge seems irresistible.

The process began in the kitchen and has proceeded through most of the other rooms and closets until I arrived at the place which has the biggest mess:  my home office.  This is the room which seems to attract the extraneous I’ll-decide-what-to-do-with-this-later odds and ends.  Paper especially seems to just drift in there somehow, independent of any conscious decision making on my part.

Yes I know that there really isn’t some magical magnetic force at work, and that I am solely responsible for it.  The cat doesn’t read and has never received a scrap of mail that I know of. He has contributed a modicum of fur to the mix, but not to the growing and occasionally shrinking supply of books that have been on every horizontal surface in the room.  I say shrinking supply because, like a secret drinker hauling out the empty bottles, I had a serious talk with myself and donated several boxes of books to the local library.  It didn’t hurt too much and there was no blood loss.
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Dealing with the Nitty-Gritty

“We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence then,
is not an act, but a habit.”  ~Aristotle~

The other day a woman was telling me about her husband, who surprised her by announcing that he was going to clean the house.  Not something that he typically does…or ever does, according to her.  She had errands to run, and when she returned to the “cleaned” house, she saw that he had pushed everything to the perimeter of the living room and vacuumed the middle of the floor.  And he called the job done.

We chuckled about this novel approach to house cleaning, but it occurred to me that it serves as a metaphor for life.  And that probably if we care to take a peek into our own dark corners, we will likely find something akin to the husband’s method.

This morning I was looking around the office that I occupy, and when hunting for a file I need, was amazed to find all sorts of things that I jammed into folders thinking I would use it someday.  Needless to say, I haven’t.  There is a pile of paper in my “in basket” as well as in my “out basket.”  (Would someone please remind me of how this organizational tool is supposed to work?)  And I have to admit that I am behind in posting financial information that I will need for tax time.

But the middle of the floor is clean!

We do this in the figurative sense as well as the literal.  “The devil is in the details,” as the saying goes.  Those things you are procrastinating about have a way of piling up.  How long have you thought about increasing the vegetables in your diet?  Or making an appointment with the dentist?  Or taking courage in hand and joining a meeting or group that you think would be interesting?  Or meeting with a financial planner?  Or having a conversation with someone that you are afraid might be touchy?

You can go on about the daily round of your life (the middle of the floor, so to speak) and not think too much about what you are pushing to the perimeters of your life.  But those nitty-gritty details seem to speak to us.  Sometimes in dream time, and sometimes in vague mounting anxiety or dread.  Or sometimes someone else will bring it up, or a deadline is looming and you know it’s time to pay the piper.

Know this:  some sort of resistance is at work here.  And we all have to contend with our resistance.  Perhaps it is an outdated negative belief that you hold.  Perhaps it may be some shame or embarrassment that you haven’t tended to it before this.  Or maybe the energy required to overcome inertia seems too much.

When you face it squarely and ask yourself what is up with this? (and take the time to listen to the answers) you will discover the root of your resistance.  And when you do that, you are on the way to rooting it out and overcoming it.  Use your journal to clarify your insight.  Use Meridian Tapping or EFT to resolve and release the emotion and limiting belief that is stopping you.

You really don’t have to limit your success or happiness by hanging onto the burdens of negative belief.  Affirm the kind of human being you want to be; clarify your intentions and then with courage take the baby steps every day to love your life fully.


Sorting Lead From Gold

 “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:  It is only
with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential
is invisible to the eye.”
~Antoine de Sainte-Exupery~

Fall is around the corner and wherever you live, you are probably aware of the changes that are underway.  Most of us in the developed world, ever more engaged in technology, may live in ways that seem disconnected from nature.  But of course we are not.

After all we are animals, and our lives are just as dependent and intertwined with the natural world as the migrating birds, butterflies and squirrels. The trees outside my window are beginning to drop their leaves, even though just a few of the outer branches have begun to change color.  They have served their purpose for the growing season, and are no longer needed.

There’s a clue in that for us I think.  Our lives have seasons of development and growth, as well as periods of rest and renewal.  What is valuable, necessary and useful in one season is not in another.  There are parallels in human life to those leaves which once were green, verdant and vital but then turn color and are dropped to the ground.

We may be tempted to hang onto them out of sentiment or not notice that they are no longer useful to us.  Sometimes we are oblivious to what is going on right under our very noses!  Or inside our minds and hearts, for that matter.  Practicing mindfulness will tune you in to the immediacy of your state of mind and how your body feels as well as what is going on around you.

When you do, you can ask yourself what is valuable to you right now and what is not.  It is important to ask yourself questions about what you want in your life and what kind of human being you intend to be.  After all we are always in the process of Becoming, as Carl Rogers, humanistic psychologist, put it.  And what was gold in your life 10 or 20 years ago might have turned to lead today.

Be discerning.  That is what the energy of fall is all about.  Assessing and clearing out is essential to the seasons of growth ahead.  And what we are shedding and discarding may take on new usefulness and form, just as it does in nature.  The dropped leaves become fertilizer for the plants and the tree’s growth in seasons to come.  The dropped acorns feed animals and become the seed of new generations of trees.

If the lead in your life is in the form of an old negative pattern of thought and behavior, it is possible to release and replace it.  You may quit making excuses for it and enjoy the gold of new patterns that will move you ahead in the life you desire.  If it takes the form of old clothing, papers, books or other possessions, you can donate or recycle them and others will benefit too.

As you proceed in your sorting, discarding and organizing, you will notice a renewed energy within you.  You will open up some space for being, thinking and creating.  New inspiration will come as well as new insight.  It’s okay to miss what is missing, although I doubt that you will grieve long.  You may feel the need for rest and renewal (just as nature does) while you appreciate the beauty and tune into the messages of what new gold your life requires.

Clearing Out For Life Success

Do you consider yourself to be a student of life success?  Whether you have thought of yourself in exactly those terms, I suspect you are or you likely wouldn’t be reading this.  And if you are not yet training for success, I suggest you get started right away.

In clearing out files and shelves in my office, I came across some coaching material that I used several years ago.  As I read through it along with my notes, I felt some enthusiasm for an early step in developing life success strategies.  And that is to clear out the obstacles that are in your path, as well as remnants of the past and those things that clutter both your living space and your mind.

Let’s suppose that you have done some preliminary work of determining for yourself exactly what success would look like, feel like, be like in your own life.  That such a definition should fit you perfectly is vitally important.  How you define success will not be the same for your father or mother, your best friend, People Magazine or Donald Trump.  You need to come up with your own very clear picture or list.

Let’s further suppose that you have made an assessment of what you need in order to proceed.  You need to pack your own parachute, to borrow a phrase from the 1970’s. Do you need to take a course in order to be prepared?  Are you in need of some research? You need to know at least what your starting point will be and what you are going to need.  You may even be able to see what the first few steps will be.

Very soon you will encounter some resistance within yourself that may come up in the form of excuses, or fear that you will fail (or succeed!) Or you may be puzzled or frustrated by your procrastination.  Or you may discover that some old unfinished business really has to be completed before you can proceed.

This clearing out can take many forms.  So consider how to declutter the following:

  • Unfinished projects, both large and small.  If there is something laying around (or stuffed into a closet) that is your last great idea, either finish it now, delegate it to someone else who will enjoy doing it and be good at it, or pitch it out.  Even if it was a great idea, it has no value and will hamper your progress laying there as a reminder of what you didn’t get done.
  • Items that you have not used during the past 6 months.  If these things have value to someone else you can sell them or donate them or give them to someone you know will appreciate them.  If not, pitch them out.
  • Is there some physical checkup that you have not had done?  Is there a follow-up that you didn’t tend to?  Have you been to the dentist lately?  Were you intending to make some dietary change that you have avoided?  Do you need to make an appointment with a trainer in order to meet an old fitness goal?  Or is it time to finally call the acupuncturist for help with your back pain? Now is the time to put those routines or checks in place.
  • Do you have some untended relationship to care for?  How about that person you have said “Let’s get together for dinner sometime?”  Now is the time.  What about the thank you note you haven’t written?  Don’t worry…there is no statute of limitation on gratitude.  Is there some conflict that you walked away from that really needs to be addressed?  Do you need to make amends for something you said or did or neglected?
  • Is there someone that you need to forgive?  Perhaps even yourself?  Have you wasted time and energy looking into the rear view mirror feeling resentful and victimized?  Unresolved grief, anger and resentment form the heaviest rocks that you carry in your backpack.  For your own health, you must unload them!  Forgiveness is something that we do for our own sake, and if you don’t do this work, you really won’t get very far with your new life intentions.  Get help if you need it.
  • A financial inventory will tell you if there is anything that needs to be cleared up here.  Those who practice abundance principles say, “Money is energy.”  Really in quantum terms, everything is energy in some form or other.  Is your money/energy in short supply?  Do you owe anyone money?  Have you accumulated debt?  Do you know where your money is going every month (aka budget)?  Do you have a plan for your money (aka budget)?  Do you contribute money to causes you care about?  Are you saving money?  Are you investing it?
  • Does your self image match up with your picture of a successful life?  A quick inventory of beliefs that you learned from your “tribe,” especially as it pertains to your goals, may reveal some conflicts.  The person, whose life success strategies include starting his own business in mid-life, will have some contrary beliefs if he grew up in a family that valued “security” by working for the same company for 30 years.

As you can see, there are many types of unused or unfinished things that clutter our lives.  From the physical objects that are collecting dust in your rooms, to unfinished or outdated emotional business that distracts and preoccupies you, we must tend to clearing them away as we proceed.  You would be correct in thinking that this work is not once and done.  You will come back to it repeatedly just as surely as your kitchen or bathroom needs to be cleaned periodically.  The important thing is to assess what needs to be tended to, and to begin at once.  Don’t delay.  Your successful life depends on it!


maine coastline



Chaos to Order

Lord knows I am no mathematician.  But there is something called chaos theory that has always seemed attractive to me. If you look it up, you will see that chaos theory is about finding the underlying order in apparently random data.  And although I can’t begin to understand the math involved, my fantasy is that it really explains how my sometimes neatly organized desk can seem to become a quagmire in no time flat.

Have you ever noticed how your closets (or living room or check book or projects or life) can be in order one day and the next seem to be an impossible mess?  It’s chaos theory at work. Have you noticed that this usually matches your state of mind?

That’s why getting your work and the other facets of your life in order is essential to being productive.

A client was telling me yesterday that after hiring an organizer to help her de-clutter and organize her house, that she was feeling terrified that she was going to turn it into a shambles again.  Yep, that would be chaos lurking around the corner waiting for her to let her guard down.

And when the order starts to inevitably unravel, what can you do about it?” I asked her.  After all, you do have to live in your house (or use your desk, write in your check book, start new projects, etc.) and the day will come when you are in too big of a hurry, or feel too tired or preoccupied with something else to attend to cleaning it all up again right away.

Whether you catch the chaos early in the game or whether you allow it to fully “blossom,” here are my suggestions for coping and taming it again:

  • Designate a specific time to complete small organizational chores.  A simple illustration is making your bed every morning after you get out of it.  A client I am working with has a few hours at the end of the week which she uses for paying bills and entering the data on a spreadsheet that she uses to track her budget and spending.
  • Look for tools that will help you keep order.  Get a filing cabinet and get in the habit of immediately filing papers that you need to keep.  Every year go through it a purge papers that have outlived their usefulness.  Learn to use computer files by using tutorials if you need them.  Back up those files, and also purge them from time to time if they become obsolete.
  • Recently I found a great system called ARC at Staples for about $5, which I am using to keep track of my numerous business projects.  This is not a calendar or scheduler, although you can enter pertinent dates in it.  I can add and pull out papers for each project from the folder.  It will replace all those notes to myself that are all over the place and frustrate the daylights out of me when I can’t find them when I need them.
  • And as I have mentioned in previous posts, performing a big purge of closets, drawers, etc may be the greatest boon to creating order.  For some reason we often do a big clean-out in spring or fall, but anytime the ragged edges of chaos are closing in on you is a good time.  Hauling things to recycle, dump or donate will give you space to breathe and to think clearly.
  • Give yourself time to reflect and to plan.  Try beginning your day with 15 or 30 minutes with silence and journal writing.  Tune into your mind, heart and spirit and see what state you are in and what you might need.  At the end of the day take another 15 minutes to plan for the next day.  Write down your objectives, carrying over any that you didn’t get finished from the day that is ending.  Try not to be rigid and perfectionistic with this process.  You can experiment with the amount of detail you use.
  • Every month or so, check out the bigger picture and ask if what you are doing are small steps to bigger goals that you have set.  Hopefully they are.  Revisit this question periodically and make adjustments.

You will notice that there are big gains to be made in putting your life in order.  As you practice these steps, you will be less stressed, more clear in your thinking and much more productive.