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!

 

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, http://www.coach4lifechange.com/2012/08/clean-up-clean-out/ 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.

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.

 

Don’t Forget to Live

 

“Health, south wind, books, old trees, a boat, a friend.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

 Lately I’ve been thinking about what makes for a good life.  I like those tee shirts and bumper stickers that say “Life is good.”  Sometimes when I see them I am brought up short, sort of startled out of some preoccupation or other with what I need to get done or haven’t gotten done yet.  If you are like me, sometimes life seems like a never ending to do list.

Our time is consumed with little mundane tasks or small steps to big goals, and once in awhile a pedal-to-the-metal burst of hard work to meet a deadline.  Since I am in the business of helping people who generally need and want to change something essential, or to come to terms with some change in life that has changed them, goals and meeting them is ever present for me.  Or nearly so.

I guess what has brought this into focus is my mom.  At 93, she has dementia as well as a physical disability that has left her dependent on her children and a live-in caregiver for every day functions. Seeing her, caring for her and making decisions on her behalf has been touching, sad, funny and difficult and challenging by turns.

Some evenings as I leave her I feel distressed and upset at my helplessness to change the conditions of her life.  Other times I am more settled and philosophical about the mysteries of how we live our lives and come to the end as we do.  And inevitably, it has brought up an awareness of my own life choices, where I am at this point and the unknowns of my own future.

Most days I can accept that we humans have very little direct control of life.  We can plan, we can be active in doing what we think will prepare us for certain eventualities.  We can make a game plan after sorting out new directions at various junctures in life.  All of that is important.  And it makes a huge difference in the quality of life to be a conscious creator rather than a piece of driftwood being tossed along where ever the current takes us.

But what I became aware of is the importance of being mindful as we go along.  Deciding what it is that we value the most.  And then making sure that our schedule reflects what we say is most important.  You know that old adage about the man lying on his death bed is never wishing he had spent more time at the office?  If you would say that your relationships are the most important thing in your life, and then were to add up the hours in a week or month that you spend feeding those relationships, would your declaration be believable?  What you say is important should be congruent with your behavior, or you have a big disconnect going on.

And it’s important to be paying attention to life as you are living it.  What does that mean?  I think it means taking time every day and every week to stop, reflect, and really observe what is going on.  To be in nature and smell the flowers, feel your body as you walk along.  Do something with a friend that is outside your routine.  Go see something that is off your beaten path and open yourself to the wonder of life.  I never fail to be amazed at people’s creativity, and even more so, nature’s creations.  To be filled with awe is to be filled with spirit.  You know that you are alive.  This is living!

Take time for silence.  Invite inspiration to come and make it welcome by allowing space for it.  Rest and relax.  Soon you can return to working.  There is certainly an important place for that.  But at the end of the day, or the end of a life, be sure that you have remembered to live.

 

We the Creators Dream

One night I awoke from a strange dream in which I was supposed to be constructing clothing for a fashion show.  Mady, an artist and close friend of my daughter’s, was with me.  I kept trying different fabrics and trim, but never got anything finished.  I was still mixing and matching fabric pieces when I became aware that other people had finished, and models were wearing their clothes on the runway.

Since fashion is pretty far afield from my daily work and routine, I was wondering what on earth that was all about!

Influenced by Jung and Jeremy Taylor (When People Fly and Water Runs Uphill)  I have found that dreams are really useful in peeking beneath the conscious layer of our daily life to see what might be going on at a deeper level.

Of course we have all kinds of conscious thoughts about what we need and want.   Attaining those things is often not so easy.  And one of the big complicating factors is that those needs that we are aware of are often in conflict with our unconscious beliefs.  Dreams often point the way to some clarity about that.  And since our dreams arrive in “movie” form, images speak much more frequently than words.

Pay attention to the emotions that are most pronounced after you awaken from the dream.  You may see some reference to the dream from your daily life.  For example, you dream about training a dog and getting ready to pass a test in your dog training class, and in your waking life, you have been thinking about getting a dog.  Look a little deeper, and ask what that image or person represents in you.

What is the “dog” part of you?  What associations do you have with dogs that may reflect some aspect of you?  What is the “trainer” part of you?  How does the “training class” represent some part of you?  Is there some conflict in your life that is reflected in the dream?

Everyone will have personal references to the images in their dreams.  There are some useful books about universal symbols that can be helpful, but always go with what is most meaningful and resonates with you.  Don’t ever allow anyone to tell you what your dream means.  They may have their own projections, but they need to limit comments to what the dream would mean to them if it were theirs.

Taylor, as well as C. Jung, also state that dreams always come in the interest of our health and healing (even when they are scary or weird).  We can look for messages regarding our physical bodies, our spirits, relationships and the social or cultural order in general.  In this day of environmental concerns, there are no doubt messages about the earth itself.

As for my dream about the fashion designing, my preliminary thoughts are that it has a message about my creative life, which I must say has been lying fallow to some extent.  It also says something about needing to finish something!  (I shudder to think about numerous unfinished creative projects that literally are in pieces and stashed away out of sight in the closet as well as the computer files)!

In real life, Mady is a woman who is highly creative and productive!  I am frequently impressed by her keen eye, imagination and the amount of projects she gets done.  So my “inner Mady” is my Creative, who works hard and efficiently and gets projects finished.  One of the messages of the dream appears to be that I need to get on the stick!

The dream reminds me that we are created to be creators.  Conceiving the idea or being inspired is essential of course.  But if we don’t take the little steps to implement them, our creations will never see the light of day, and the creative process that is so enlivening and enriching is stunted.  The poems molder in the attic, and the half painted canvases collect dust.  The world is the poorer for it, and so are we.

“Dreams are postcards from our subconscious inner self to outer self, right brain trying to cross that moat to the left.  Too often they come back, unread: ‘return to sender, addressee unknown.’  That’s a shame because it’s a whole other world there – or in here depending on your point of view.”
~Dennis Koenig and Jordan Budde~

 

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.