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.

A New Approach to A New Year

As December comes to a close, and another year looms ahead, my thoughts inevitably drift toward the goals that I met and didn’t meet. While I can claim progress to some areas that I vowed to improve last January, there are others that I have to say show few signs of my attentiveness or investment of time or energy.

And even though I go through the ritual of examining this at the end of every December, I have to confess that I am not fond of the sort of “Score Card” approach to living that this implies.

Certainly I think that goals are an important part of intentional living, or living on purpose…whatever you choose to call it.  We need to have an idea of what matters most to us, in other words, what we value. We need to be attending to our own growth and development, and in my view, the growth and health of our communities and the planet.

But the paradox to this also seems important: being present to the moment.  Learning to be mindful of what is going on within us and around us. Calm and accepting and aware.  How on earth can we do both?

Perhaps one key to it is to recognize ourselves as being creators in our own lives. You know, basically knowing that you can essentially have, be and do what you desire most. Of course the down side is accepting responsibility for what has manifested so far.  I’m not implying that we are not affected by who and what has come before us, nor am I saying that we can be at our best without the help and support of others and of Spirit.

Almost everyone I know has some thinking which I will call “default thinking;” a set of familiar if shop-worn and negative beliefs that we learned early on, and have not examined or outgrown. As we repeat this default thinking, our expectations, emotions, behaviors and consequences follow.  The cumulative effect of a lifetime of these patterns result in whatever our circumstances are.

So now that it’s the traditional time to “turn over a new leaf,” aka make New Year’s resolutions, it will be made as a wish that runs counter to the chatter of the Inner Critic who resides within most of us. You may resolve with all the fervor you can muster, however if that chatter doesn’t change, you are doomed to short-term results.

For instance you may resolve to stop smoking, but if you think of yourself as a smoker, visualize and imagine yourself smoking in your familiar haunts, while telling yourself not to do that, you are likely going to have short-term success at best. You are cruising for a relapse.

Or you may resolve to save more money or get out of debt, but if your focus is on the financial mistakes of your life, with all the attendant worry, guilt and fear that go with that, you are going to find making progress a hard road. If you think of yourself as a financial goof, then at the end of another year, you will likely be making the same resolution.

This is why some people think that there is no point in making resolutions. They see it as an exercise in futility. Discouraging to say the least. So what is the answer to this pattern of frustration and failure? How can you make lasting change? How can you create a life full of abundance of what you truly desire?

The keys to changing your life are in changing your habits: both habits of thinking and habits of behaving.

After all, negative thinking is nothing more than a habit. We repeat to ourselves those things we may have been told, or are afraid are true. And the mental images or pictures go with these “bad” words flash in our minds, reinforcing the “truth” of the beliefs. The emotions that match the images are aroused, making us feel certain that this really is true.

What if you were to choose what you really desire to believe about yourself?  What if you knew that you could tone down or stop the negative mind chatter, and instead talk to yourself in a positive and encouraging way?  What if your self-image was one of being powerful or loving or competent and not ugly or a failure or weak? Believe it or not, it is possible to make that shift.

There are a number of effective ways to change your self-image. For today let’s start with clarifying what you desire to believe about yourself. You can get out a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of it. Fold it in half. On the left side, write a list of the qualities that you do NOT want to describe you.

For example, you might write: A financial failure; lonely and isolated; a smoker, someone who is undependable. Keep writing the list until you can’t think of anything else.

Open up the paper, and on the opposite side of the list you wrote, make a new list. Draw a line through the quality that you do NOT want, and in the new list, write its opposite, or the quality or image of what you DO want.

For instance, you may write:  A successful manager of my finances; a great friend with a happy social life; a healthy non-smoker; a dependable person who keeps my word to myself and others.

Use this second list as the beginning of affirmations you use every day. Write a desire statement using them and read them, focusing on the feelings that you will experience when you take full ownership of those qualities. It is important to feel the emotion or the words will seem hollow. What will it feel like when you are being dependable? Financially successful? Living smoke free? A friend with a great social life?

The success of this is not about the magic of the words, but rather about the consistent practice of affirming, imagining and feeling the emotions that you are evoking. The power of this is within you, and you must practice it until it becomes your new habit of thinking

The best analogy for this practice that I have ever read was from Pam Grout’s book E Squared, 9 Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments that Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality.  She writes that the processes of changing your bad thought habits are like training a puppy. When you find that you are repeating negative, hurtful or self-defeating thinking, you simply pick up the “puppy,” take him to his proper spot to pee, and praise him when he does.  Then when the puppy is beginning to go again in the wrong place (the bedroom slipper in your closet) you pick him up and take him to the correct place again. No hitting, no scolding. Just kind, patient and persistent correction.  Eventually the puppy gets it, and so will your mind.

For this and other methods, you may want to hire a coach. My services are available, and if you would like a complimentary session to determine whether coaching might be helpful to you, email me through the Contact Page button at the top of this page. At any rate, I hope you will be encouraged to pursue genuine life change if that is what you desire. You deserve to be happy, not only in the New Year, but throughout your life!

 

Celebrating Independence Day

Of course it’s July 4th everywhere, but if you are living in the United States, you know that today is Independence Day.  For most, it’s the first holiday of the summer, marked by picnics, outdoor festivals, ball games and fireworks.  And there are some more solemn ceremonies observing the greater importance of the day and the establishment of a young country which would function independent of the English crown.

All of that came about with a great deal of struggle, idealistic differences of vision, and loss of life.  Certainly our visions and ideals continue to differ, and no shortage of argument and conflict goes on as we continue to shape our governing laws and the environment we live in.

What we can appreciate is that we have the freedom to express our differences, persuade others if we care to, and ultimately decide at the voting booth.  And although I get as aggravated with the endless debates as anyone else, I deeply appreciate that we can argue and vote and change the politicians in play if we choose to, without fear of recrimination or blood in the streets.

There are some other kinds of independence that I celebrate today.  You may notice that while we have these freedoms, we don’t always claim them. What kind of differences would it make in your life if you did?  Maybe you can add some of your own to this list.  I would love to hear them.

  • Independence of thought:  much of our thinking is still intact from our early life; you know the attitudes and beliefs that you absorbed even before your birth from your family.  And we are constantly exposed to beliefs and habits of thought by the media. Some of this may serve your life; but much of it doesn’t.
  • Become independent of the good opinion of others.  This is an empowering one! How much do you wonder what people think of you? How much do you tailor your behavior or speech to being pleasing to others?  Are you wearing camouflage in order not to be noticed?  Do you spend a lot of energy to avoid rocking the boat?
  • Free yourself from your own Inner Critic!  The chronic, perfectionistic, harping voice in the head that most of us carry around with us is responsible for most fear, pessimism, doubt and depression.  And stress, for that matter.  Formed in early life, this voice becomes such a constant companion that we aren’t even aware of it…unless we make an effort to tune in.  Your fourth grade teacher, or your dad might have said some mean things to you, but you have internalized those voices and act it out as if it were true.  It’s not!  Time to declare your independence and live the life you intend and desire.
  • Be courageous and examine your lifestyle; your job, your relationships, your state of physical health and well being; your intellectual life; your spiritual life.  Is it all that you want it to be?  Are you going along out of habit or real choice?  Are you settling for something because it’s easier than shaking your life loose a bit?  Are you having new experiences that stretch your awareness and your sense of being alive?  When was the last time you were filled with joy?  Is it possible that your own fear is holding you captive?
  • Are your habitual patterns limiting your quality of life?  The part of our brains that we have in common with the rest of the animal world likes routine and finds it comforting. Many of us have a routine that takes us from morning to night in a pretty predictable way.  Does that include zoning out in front of the TV every day?  Do you walk in the door from work, go to the fridge, open a beer or pour a glass of wine?  Do you comfort yourself with a big bowl of Ben and Jerry’s even though you aren’t in the least hungry? Do you go shopping even when you don’t really need anything, or it’s not in the budget? If you think that none of your routine is a problem, try changing it by doing without, and simply observe your reactions, thoughts and feelings.  You might want to go talk with someone about what you observe.

The beauty of independence is that when we claim it, we are open to fresh insights and new possibilities and the infusion of new energy that emerges.  Claiming our independence brings with it responsibility and if we can handle that, great empowerment.

Happy Independence Day!

 

 

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!

 

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.

 

Tip for Building Self Esteem: Appreciate Yourself

 

“There is that part of ourselves that feels ugly, deformed, unacceptable.
That part, above all, we must learn to cherish, embrace, and call by name.”
~Macrina Wieder Rehr~

 

In other blog posts I have written about the power of gratitude and how practicing gratitude by writing a daily list of those things that have occurred or that you noticed that evoke appreciation, will help build optimism.  There is a solid body of research that indicates that when we practice gratitude, our health improves.  People suffering chronic disease feel less pain and show improvement in their symptoms when they are able to see what they have to be grateful for instead of staying focused on pain and fear.

Many of those who are experiencing depression or anxiety will find that as simple as it may sound, developing a habit of recognizing what is going right is a great antidote to their unhappiness. 

Recently I had occasion to reflect on how much low self esteem and a lack of confidence seems as prevalent as the common cold when it comes to human emotional ailments.  Sometimes we are clearly aware of this condition that is underlying another problem.  Getting over the loss of a relationship, for example, is made more difficult because our self esteem usually takes a hit, no matter what the circumstances of the breakup might be.

In fact our failures or our fear of failure may keep us paralyzed because what is hurting is our self esteem.   Really it isn’t failure that is the problem.  Failure can be a great teacher, and if we care to ask ourselves the hard questions, we learn much more from failure than we do from success.  But no one enjoys failing.  And children often hear negative messages at home and school when they fail a test or task.  This is unfortunate, especially when self esteem suffers for the long term.

So many of us may be in recovery from an injured or hurting self esteem.  The good news is that we can change this and become more effective and confident human beings. The key to building your self esteem is to take note of every good thing that occurs, and most importantly, those positive things that you make happen during the day.  It is perverse that we tend to remember the negative, frustrating or difficult things that happen, more than the good ones.

I often remind clients to write a daily gratitude list and to be sure to put their action steps or positive qualities on it.  For instance when someone gives you a compliment, be gracious in accepting it (a simple thank you will suffice!) and make note of it.  Take time to relish and appreciate it. 

Any action step, no matter how small, needs to be acknowledged by you.  Often we want recognition of our hard work or accomplishments by someone else, whether it is a spouse, boss or parents. We are often disappointed because no one seems to be paying attention, or the acknowledgement doesn’t come in the way we would like it.  Rather than putting your self esteem eggs in someone else’s basket, so to speak, take care of them yourself.  Write it in your gratitude list and share it with someone you care about. 

Take some time to develop a healthy sense of pride in you and your accomplishment.  This is an effective antidote to theshame of not feeling good enough or acceptable.  Remind yourself daily of your goals and express confidence in your ability to reach them.  Acknowledging those small steps will build your self esteem faster than you might imagine. 

 

Discovering New Lands

“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight
of the shore for a very long time.”
~Andre Gide~


The recent anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic brought with it many interesting and heart-wrenching stories of that fateful night 100 years ago.  As I listened to some of them, I was trying to imagine the experiences of the passengers and crew.  Although the ship was commonly called “unsinkable,” that proved to be tragically untrue.  And even though it was widely believed to be, taking a sea voyage from the UK to New York took a fair amount of faith and courage.

Most of us do not make literal sea voyages.  However we sometimes do make vast life changes that have some things in common with leaving familiar surroundings and heading off into the unknown.  We usually have researched our options, asked and answered lots of questions, figured out the finances and packed our bags.  But actually making the move still comes down to a leap of faith.

There’s nothing comfortable about it.  Although there are some folks who seem to love the adrenaline rush of taking big risks, most would prefer the comfort of our routines and familiar landscapes.  Even if we are bored or unhappy, staying put is certainly safer, and the future seems more predictable.

Do you settle for less than what your heart desires?  If your family motto was Play It Safe or Don’t Expect Much or Color Inside the Lines, you may be inclined to do just that.  But think again.  It is our experiences, especially those associated with strong emotion, which develop our brains, instruct our lives and ultimately determine our development.

Yes it’s true that there are risks involved.  You may feel scared at times, and there will probably be some bumps, bruises and failures along the way.  At the very least you will at some point wonder what on earth possessed you to leave your safe little nest.  And you will most likely have to endure being thought stupid or told that you are by some well-meaning person.  If the change you are making is truly adventurous, you are going to get some disapproval by your family or friends who would rather die than follow the path you are taking.

On the other hand, we often admire risk takers and those bold adventurers who conquer new worlds.  The travels of Lewis and Clark come to mind, for instance.  Can you imagine embarking on an expedition where you have no idea what you are going to find?  “Hubble,” the movie that documented the repairs made to the space telescope, was beautiful, gripping and inspiring.  It showed the efforts of the astronauts who risked everything.

If you are not one to push such limits, how can you in your own way move forward to new life experiences that will expand your mind and spirit and or strengthen your body?  Is there a way to increase your willingness to “lose sight of the shore” of what is familiar and well-worn?  Yes there are risks, but the benefits are far greater.

In Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind by Joe Dispenza, D.C., he points out that new experiences are the way to a better brain and a better life.  Interestingly, this will benefit not only you, but your descendents and the human race as a whole.  So if something is calling to you, perhaps a new relationship, or a new adventure that you have been seeing only in your dreams, take heed.  Maybe it’s time to pack your bag.