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.

Taming the Mind

“You can’t solve a problem with the same mind that created it.”
~Albert Einstein~

That quote of Einstein’s has always rung a bell with me. It just makes sense that whatever my mindset was that led me to make certain choices would need to be changed if I wanted to make a different choice. Or, which is more to the point, to clean up a problem that the choice had created.

The problem is that HOW to change your mind to see your way clearly to a better solution isn’t often easy.  The real difficulty becomes apparent when the unconscious mind with its old (sometimes self-defeating or limiting beliefs) teams up with the emotions and creates a real uproar. Imagine a toddler screaming at the top of his lungs while you are trying to make a decision. He may be saying:

Don’t try to get that job! You don’t know enough!
You’d better not ask her/him out!  They won’t like you!
Don’t even try to quit smoking! You’ll never be able to stick it out!
People in our family have never been able to make much money!

Especially when it comes to making life changes, our emotions, particularly FEAR, gets into high gear. And when you consider that different parts of the brain are responsible for different functions, and in a way, “speak different languages,” it seems like a miracle when we pull off meeting our goals.

No matter how stuck in a rut we are, there is comfort in repeating the familiar patterns. In some ways part of our brain functions like any other animal brain. Your dog knows what it means when you reach for the tennis ball on the closet shelf.  He knows just where his food dish is, and where he sleeps and what time of day you come home.

Although you may hate your job, you know how to handle it. Or you may be unhappy in a relationship, but it’s familiar and you know how to negotiate it. And although you are afraid of the consequences of smoking, the thought of going through the discomfort of quitting keeps you lighting up.

The more engrained the limiting belief and the more potent your fear or anger, etc. the more difficult it is to use that part of your brain which is great at imagining a new outcome or solving the problem. Fortunately we all have that rational pre-frontal cortex…the creative, conscious mind. But we have to calm the amygdale, center of emotions, in order to change the limiting beliefs and get to new solutions.

Fortunately there is a method you can use to calm your emotions, change your limiting beliefs and access creative solutions that will serve you. I have been using EFT or tapping for a number of years, and teach it to my coaching and psychotherapy clients. EFT is a scientifically proven acupressure technique that is self administered. It’s simple to do and calms the emotions and reduces stress. In other words, it’s a great way to tame the mind!

Here are some times you may want to consider using tapping:

When feeling very angry or disappointed in someone’s behavior.
When feeling overwhelmed with a big job or something new.
When procrastinating with any task.
When preparing to make a speech or presentation or public performance.
When you are having trouble forgiving yourself or someone else.

You may access information about EFT by clicking on the “Tapping Solutions” widget in the right column on this blog. You may also want to download the free eBook on the website, or order the movie that is featured there. If coaching for EFT interests you, you may contact me through the page at the top of the blog.  I also recommend a  Tapping Into Ultimate Success by Jack Canfield and Pamela Brunner.

I hope you will be empowered in finding solutions to tame your mind and to reach whatever goals you have in your life.

 

 

 

 

The Bitter Bank

“You can’t have a better tomorrow if you’re thinking about yesterday all the time.”
~Charles F. Kettering~

Joan was described by her family members as someone who never forgot a thing that was ever done to her.  If harsh words were spoken during an argument, Joan could recite what offended her years later.  Her brother argued with her during the last election, and Joan still wasn’t speaking to him. Joan was certain that her mother had disliked her and treated her siblings much better, and she admitted that she experienced frequent bouts of depression as she replayed scenes that had been particularly painful to her.  Her husband had forgotten her birthday one year and she would berate him for it when they argued, which was getting to be more frequent. He had sincerely apologized to Joan, but even though she said she accepted it, she still brought the incident up.

Joan has a Bitter Bank, and her account is quite full.

Do you? Many people have a large catalogue of past hurts and painful experiences that they drag around with them. Some are more than willing to tell you about them. Some wear them like a badge of identity. And then some are very quiet about their “Bitter Bank balance,” even though they are preoccupied by it. You may recognize these folks for their chronically unhappy or angry demeanor.

Some other signs of a full Bitter Bank may be a frequent use of sarcasm, hiding behind humor while delivering a verbal knife through the ribs to someone else; frequent sighing; passive aggressive behavior such as “forgetting” appointments  or agreements with others; frequent and inappropriate references to the painful past; arguments about the same themes that never get resolved; self destructive habits or relationships that repeat the same patterns over and over again; repeated “hobby horse” rants that go on and on about the same theme. As you may guess, it is common for Bitter Bank account holders to suffer from depression, or anxiety as well as strained and broken relationships.

If you recognize yourself as a Bitter Bank owner, please read on.  This is not just unpleasant for you and for the relationships in your life. Holding onto bitterness is hazardous to your health!

Have you noticed how much time and attention you are giving to these resentful thoughts and scenarios?  If you’re waking up in the night and recounting your grudges and grievances, then it’s too much. If you hear yourself complaining frequently about being treated badly or of past abuses, it is taking up a lot of space in your head!  If you have emotional replays in your mind of “what I SHOULD have said or done, then it’s too much.

Once I was approached by a salesperson that was representing a rehab facility and introduced himself as a childhood sex abuse survivor.  I was shocked that such a personal and painful disclosure was the first thing he told me about himself.

And recently on a social media site I was contacted by a woman whose entire online identity is build around the experience of her husband cheating on her. Nothing like making your wounds into a name tag.

The danger of all this negative focus is that it keeps reinforcing to yourself and to others that you are a helpless victim.  Victims have no power, no responsibility and no real impetus to change anything. What happened to them is someone else’s fault, and the more we hammer the point and relive the painful occurrences and repeat our beliefs that this SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED, the more solidly we believe ourselves to be victims. This practice will fill your Bitter Bank, and harm your life.

What to do? Denying your pain is not the answer. You do need to acknowledge what happened and to allow yourself to feel the emotion connected with it.  In other words you need to let the feelings be as big as they are. Notice in the front of your body (not your head and extremities) where the emotion registers.  Is your throat tight? Is there a lump? Is your chest heavy or tight? Does your stomach have a knot? Or does your abdomen feel tight?

Focus on that spot, and breathe in through your mouth.  As you exhale allow your body to relax if you can. Continue breathing and give yourself permission to feel it fully by asking “Can I feel this fully?”  You may find yourself thinking, “Hell no!” which is okay.  Don’t resist it or “try to get rid of it.” Acknowledge the feeling and continue to breathe. Ask “Could I release it?” If your answer to that is NO, that’s okay. Just continue to breathe and let it be.

As you repeat the exercise, the answer to “Can I release it?” will be followed by “If not now, then when?”  Sooner or later, you will give yourself permission to release it. That does not mean that you are denying what happened.  It just means that you are willing to release your tension and stress about what happened. This is a variation on a well-known program called The Sedona Method.

Another approach, which I frequently reference, is The Tapping Solution.  It is very effective in releasing negative emotions and clearing the way for positive change in your life.

You are ready to shift your focus from what has wounded you to something else.  I suggest a second practice that will aid you in improving your health and happiness. And that is to focus on gratitude by writing a gratitude list, at least one time a day.  It sounds simple, and it is.  Nevertheless, naming the things that you appreciate and are grateful for has been shown to have great benefits. Don’t forget to include yourself on that list!

Emptying your Bitter Bank is the first step in the process of forgiveness, about which we will be writing future blog posts. Often forgiveness is considered a spiritual matter, and it is. But in a holistic sense, it also concerns us psychologically and physically. When we learn to practice it, our health and happiness take a big turn for the better!

 

Creating: Seeing what Already Exists

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” 
~Philip K. Dick~


At the beginning of every new year I hear a running argument about whether making resolutions for change is a waste of time or not. Cynics will maintain that their “good intentions” to lose weight, stick to a budget, etc. is useless because they usually last less than a week.  The more optimistic types will at least plod along, sticking to the practice of resolving or intending to make changes in what is important to them.

Research has found that there is power in clarifying intentions and resolving to make change, regardless of the time of year. In other words, if you intend to make a change in your life and are clear about what that will be like, you are much more likely to succeed at it than if you don’t.

Let’s consider this is a broader way.  As I have pointed out in previous posts, you are creating the life you have whether you are intentional about it, or not. This thought can be a little disturbing if you are unhappy about how things are. It is far easier to point the finger of blame at someone or something else. No need to run through the usual list of excuses; I’m certain that you have heard them all and likely at some point have used them yourself.

Instead I’d like to learn to be a more effective creator, and hopefully you do too.

An essential skill to learn and master in creating the life you desire, is to assess reality, or to see clearly what already exists. This sounds deceptively simple. Just open your eyes and look!

Several years ago I took a course in the fundamentals of drawing at the local art association. Having a life-long interest in art, I have always admired artists and had a hankering to create art myself. And so I arrived at the first class with sketchbook and tools in hand, eager to learn. What I soon discovered was that it is difficult to draw with my hand what my eyes are seeing!

Just as musicians are trained to hear music accurately and to identify it, artists are taught to draw what they see and to do it clearly. In a similar way, we need to develop the skill of viewing reality objectively. You may find this surprisingly tough to do and it may make you squirm. For many, seeing reality is uncomfortable.

We often are taught to view reality in certain ways that our parents, religious and ethnic groups and society in general, prefer. We get messages such as, “Our family always….,” or “Americans are….,” or “Methodists are…” You can insert whatever group name applies. As individuals, we may have gotten messages that we are the smart one, or the pretty one, or the athletic one, or the one who is difficult to get along with. Until we become conscious of it, these hidden beliefs form a kind of lens through which we see reality. Facing this bias and seeing through it can be uncomfortable at first.

If you are in a problem solving mode you may lie to yourself or rationalize the situation in order to feel better. Well meaning friends and family may help you with this, supplying justification or excuses for why things are the way they are. Of course this is not helpful.

What really does help is to ask for some expert assistance in objectively measuring the present situation. If you want to feel more energetic and healthy, then make an appointment with your doctor for a check-up. You may justify your level of blood sugar by saying that you celebrated too much, and that it isn’t that bad. But the numbers from a blood sample will give you a realistic picture. Or rationalizing about your bank account numbers will give way to a realistic picture if you work with a CPA or planner.

Yes, you will have to endure some discomfort.  Deal with those emotions of fear, anger or sadness by writing about them, talking to someone you trust or using EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique). Then take the realistic information you have gathered, touch base with the end goal that you established, and get ready to take action!

You must see clearly what your present situation is and then compare it to where you desire and intend to be. Doing so will be a big boon to energetically moving forward with effective action!  This will move you toward your goals in creating the life you desire. Don’t waste more time. Do it now!

 

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!

 

Facing the Lion

“Life shrinks or expands according to one’s courage.”
~Anais Nin~

The events of the past week have provided an opportunity for me, as well as several million other people, to face fear and to observe how we deal with it. Hurricane Sandy, combined with a low flowing jet stream, created what some dubbed a “Frankenstorm” of gigantic and devastating proportions.

I must confess to being somewhat of a cynic about weather reports that are full of drama. It seems that even something as usually mundane as the weather has to bring in advertising dollars.  And on the local level, nothing very exciting has happened for months.

So when news of this threatening weather system began to build, I was not giving it much credence. It wasn’t until a friend suggested that I look at NOAA, the website for the National Weather Service, that I took notice.

After seeing that something certainly was brewing, and heading directly toward the mid-Atlantic, I turned on network news.  As I watched, I noticed that I was becoming increasingly anxious and alarmed.  Predictions of flooding and high winds brought back memories of hurricanes past, and some that really were devastating in terms of lives lost and property and environmental damage.

Talking with friends and family convinced me that I wasn’t the only one listening to the predictions, declarations of states of emergency, instructions for storm preparation, and making plans for coping with the worst. As I ran errands to buy supplies “just in case,” I found that many other people were on similar missions. Before the first drop of rain fell, shelves holding bread, water, batteries and flashlights looked like they had been raided by a proverbial horde of locusts.

When the wind and rain arrived, I was as prepared as I could be.  And I was also feeling pretty anxious. As it turned out, the worst thing that happened here was that I was without power throughout the evening until mid-morning the next day. The house was very quiet. Talk about being unplugged! I read my library book by flashlight (batteries had been on my list) and the place looked much warmer than it felt by candlelight.

Although some parts of the coast were hard hit and have sustained serious damage, my neighbors and I dodged the bullet. There will be some cleaning up to do, and some areas are still without power. Our lives will soon return to normal.

In thinking about fear and the power that it sometimes has in our lives, it’s easier to identify it when forces outside of us are threatening.  What I realized is that really it’s the thoughts that we have about those forces or circumstances that either build up the intensity of emotion, or dispel it.  Thinking of all the “what-ifs” sounds the alarm!  Imagining the worst causes stress hormones to course through your veins, even when the sun is shining and the birds are singing.

In facing fear, whether it is being evoked by weather reports or our own frequently visiting “inner demons” (usually habitual thoughts from the past), we need to face them squarely.  Ask yourself if there are concrete steps to take in order to ensure the best care possible for you and those you love. If so, make a list and do them immediately.  If not, then chances are you have a bad habit of negative thinking that has stirred up fear.

Give yourself what I call “Emotional First Aid” by taking 5 deep breaths and relaxing your muscles as you exhale.  Repeat throughout the day, as many times as you can think of it. Do a reality check with someone you trust and try to reframe your thoughts, or see them in a different light. You can also use EFT, a proven, effective method for releasing stressful emotions.

What really matters most in facing the Lion of Fear is that you are not avoiding it. Taking action will build your strength and resolve as you move forward through the challenges of life.

Photo: “Hurricane” by Victor Habbick

A Day of Stinkin’ Thinkin’

Several folks have told me this week that they woke up feeling awful or anxious or something else negative.  And that it was downhill from there for the rest of the day.  Not that unusual a conversation starter in my line of work.  And then I had a day like that myself…first time in a long time.

By 10AM I was well mired in doom and gloom, and then by 10:15 asked myself what was up with this?  Several things occurred to me.  Asking that question pushed me into Observer Mode rather than Reactor Mode.  One thing was for sure:  I was in the midst of doing some stinkin’ thinkin’ which was responsible for my glum mood and low energy.

This is how it works; it’s a big chain reaction in which one event gives rise to the next, and on and on, over and over again throughout the day.  Or a few minutes if we are paying attention and intercede.  Or a week, month, year or lifetime if we don’t.

  • The Trigger Event is something that occurs outside of us; something that we generally have no control over.
  • The Trigger Event in turn brings up a Thought.  There are times when an emotion is instantly triggered, but it’s usually a thought.
  • Emotion is then shaped by the thought.  And these two factors, thought and emotion can go back and forth either strengthening the emotion or bringing up different emotions.
  • Behavior comes next.  We choose a behavior and this is the point where we have all the choice in the world, as well as the responsibility for whatever we do.
  • Consequence is the last link in the chain.  There is always some kind of consequence to the behavior that we do, and while we may predict it, the full consequence is out of our hands or control.

Here is an example of how this chain works.  Robert is getting ready for work and half watching and listening to a morning television show while he dresses.  He hears some bad news about the national economy (Trigger Event).  His immediate thought is something like, “Things are just getting worse everywhere!  What’s the use?” (Thought).  This in turn evokes feelings of fear and helplessness (Emotion).  He goes on for awhile thinking more along these lines until his emotions are amplified.  By now he is taking this personally and wondering when his own job might be terminated, probably without notice.  When his wife comes into the room to ask about when she should ask for time off the vacation they have planned, he curtly replies that she should forgot about a vacation this year; they can’t afford it!  (Behavior).  His bewildered wife asks why on earth he is saying this since they have saved for the vacation, and all their expenses are already covered.  An argument ensues and as they both drive off to work, they both feel angry and frustrated. (Consequence).

If you were to ask Robert what was wrong, he would likely tell you about the news event, how it “made him feel”  and go on a rant about how bad things are and how he wouldn’t be at all surprised if his employer would lay him off at any time.  As he sees it the bad news is responsible for his bad mood and it doesn’t help that his wife “just doesn’t get it.”  Her head is obviously stuck in the sand or she would be ready to cancel their vacation too because it is a frivolous waste of money, in light of how bad things are.

If Robert were aware of his own thought-emotion chain, he could see that he is reacting to the news story and that he has other options.  There are no doubt many other people who saw the same news story and had very different reactions to it.  It isn’t the trigger event itself that causes Robert’s misery; it is his thoughts about it that are responsible.  If he becomes aware and challenges his thoughts, beliefs and assumptions, it is possible to have a perfectly fine day, be in a good mood and continue planning the vacation with his wife.

When you hear yourself make comments such as, “You make me really mad!” or “You make me really happy!” or “So-and-so is driving me crazy!” or “Such and such made me worry all day,” pay attention because you have just zipped down the Trigger Event-Thought-Emotion-Behavior-Consequence chain of events.

The truth is that no one and nothing can “make” you feel anything.  Each of us is responsible for the emotions we feel and what we do with them.  If the responsibility seems daunting, when you challenge yourself to pay attention and change them, you will feel much more empowered.  And isn’t that what we are going for?