Posts tagged perfectionism
My Addiction Was Control

Ever since I can remember, I craved control. It was the only way I knew to keep myself safe from making mistakes. I controlled my world to keep from being caught unawares. As a result, when my kids were younger and I was working full time, I kept myself (and my family) on a tight leash. Trying to be perfect doesn't leave much room for anything else.

I wasn't the type to be spontaneous, or to procrastinate, instead I was efficient and planned. I made lists and prided myself on checking things off as I accomplished them. It became an addiction of sorts, a worthiness booster to be organized and in control. I tried to always be ready, to be prepared for anything, to impress the world by looking like I had it all together. And sometimes I really did have it together, but the effort it took to maintain the control ate away at my happiness. And it gave more fuel to the mean voice which grew in my head, every time I fell short of perfect.

I really thought everyone lived with a mean voice, an inner critic like mine, who constantly pushed me to be better, to accomplish more, to never fail, to never give up, to never let anyone down, to be beyond reproach and who screamed about how stupid I was when I eventually screwed up. I now realize it isn't like that for everyone, and I was one of the (un) lucky ones who's inner voice took a negative and nasty turn.

Attempting to live beyond reproach is a slippery slope to navigate, primarily since it is IMPOSSIBLE. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone fails. If they don't, they aren't trying, heck they aren't really living, they are simply keeping themselves safe. No one is truly ever perfect, there is always something that can be improved upon, and hearing the helpful criticisms and suggestions given by those I was trying to impress, felt like mean jabs that lowered my self-esteem. Could they not see how hard I was trying?

"We put so much time and energy into making sure that we meet everyone's expectations and into caring about what other people think of us, that we are often left feeling angry, resentful and fearful." --Brene Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me

Desperate to hear the words I wanted to hear from others, I tried harder to attain that praise. Imagining if I was perfect, I'd hear what I wanted to hear. Yet no matter how good I got at things, my own mean voice often reminded me that I could have done it better, faster, righter: if only I had done this...or that. So I was never beyond reproach from my own inner voice, even if I had heard the words I wanted to hear from the outside.

You will never find your own worth if you search for it outside of yourself. Which is why in the end, I had a magnificent crash and burn mid-life crisis, and was forced to start the journey over.

Once upon a time on a cold day in November I took a walk and sobbed my way through the darkest thoughts I had ever had about not being enough, not being good enough, not being worthy of love, of praise, of all the things I had been given. I was convinced I had messed up my whole life, screwed up parenting, and I couldn't even get being grateful for all I had correct. I slogged through the darkest of shi* on that walk and came to decision that life as I had known it was over. I was going to take a leap of faith and jump in without a plan.

No more miss perfect, no more worrying about how it all looked from the outside, or how crazy people would think me to walk away from a good job, and a nearly 24 year industry career and start over. Worse yet, to leave without a real plan. The only plan was to not have a plan and instead learn to follow my heart. Life had gotten too hard, I had made it that way, and it was up to me to change it.

The first stop after quitting my career and walking away from all I knew, was to sign up to be a substitute teacher. I didn't ease into it that role either, I chose a two day middle school assignment as my first experience to move out of my comfort zone. It pushed me so far out, I nearly walked away from substitute teaching an hour after I started. But I stuck it out.

A friend actually saved me that day, he was working in the building and stopped by to check on me. He ate lunch with me, and calmed me down. He let me know it was okay to be scared to death, and making mistakes was natural, and convinced me no one would think less of me if I didn't come back for the second day.

To walk away would have been a bonafide failure in my book, so I stayed with that awful assignment and made it through day two, vowing to never return to that particular middle school. And all that spring I gave it my best shot, I took assignments in all grades from K - high school, special ed, phys ed, split level classrooms, I wanted the full experience. And I got it. Realizing only later, after school let out for the summer, that substitute teaching was really not my thing.

I had been keeping my life so controlled and safe it had been years since I had been brave enough to get out of my comfort zone, to allow myself to be lost, unsure, uncomfortable, and caught unawares. Since there was no way to plan your day during substitute teaching, or to follow the rules and do things "right" or perfect, as the rules changed in every school, and in every classroom (sometimes there were no lesson plans for me to follow at all), I was forced to stay in the moment. To just be myself and deal with whatever came my way in each unique situation. It was uncomfortable, especially for the control freak me, but the times I succeeded in connecting with the class, or feeling like I had actually had a good day, gave me a new sense of accomplishment. It started rebuilding my inner strength. I was no longer checking things off my to do list and judging my worth by accomplishment, I was learning to live in the moment and slowly beginning to believe in my worthiness again, from the inside.

For a person who didn't like messing up, I was forced to ask for help often, to own my mistakes, and to extend grace to myself when I handled things poorly. I not only learned to be more comfortable with making mistakes and letting go the reins of control, I learned to give myself a break and to begin quieting the mean voice inside.

If life has you stuck in a pickle, the only way out is through the darkness, through the mud one step at a time. Find the courage to begin within, start by crawling if you have to, and let the winds of change blow in their magic.

Bye Bye Perfectionist

A couple of times recently I have been reminded that my life, my transformation back into the real me, is publicly out there on this blog when people I barely know have either asked me about it, commented on it, or referred to it. I am thrilled people have read parts of it and are intrigued enough to have questions. My whole journey began by writing it out. When I first yearned for something "more" in my life, I wasn't even sure what I was missing, I found myself writing it all out in a blog. It helped me organize my thoughts and uncover some of the feelings I was hiding deep.

It is also no secret one of my bucket list items is to write a book about my journey and what I have learned. Not to tell people "how" to do it, but to lead by example and encourage anyone they can change if they want to. My path will not ever be your path, yet some of the steps I took might help you. My roadblock seems to be in knowing how I should take what I have already written,  add in some additional thoughts, and combine them both into a book worth reading. I have always said I was a better editor than writer, but that seems not to be true in my own case.

How did I change my life? How did I transform from a rigid, unforgiving, perfectionistic, planned control freak into a freer, happier, live (a little more) in the moment me? It took a lot of inner work to shut down my inner critic, make some life (work) changes, step out of my comfort zone, and face my fear of failure head on. It took patience and trust and it took letting myself fall to rock bottom before I could see the way out. Maybe I should ask those who lived through it with me, to lend their perspectives? People I worked with, my husband, my children, my best friends. A lot of my most difficult work came from the inside. Because from the outside I faked it pretty well to those who didn't really know me. I was rarely a hot mess despite what was happening on the inside and was okay to have around (even if I was controlling) because I took charge and made things happen, running things smoothly and efficiently was my skill. But those who knew me well could see that on the flip side I was a fun sucker, lacked spontaneity and had a hard time deviating from my plan. I am determined NOT to be a fun sucker anymore. Ever.

I am still organized (in a lot of areas), that hasn't changed. And probably never will. But I know that once I quieted my inner mean voice, I found a softer side of me. I no longer want to watch life from my safe bubble, but to get down and dirty in it. To have some fun. To live in the moment. To stumble and fall, and get back up to try again. To allow myself to experience life and (if that means being the hot mess I once avoided at all cost once in while) then          so be it.

If I can change, I know if you really want to, you can too.

If you run from quiet, still, alone time, or find yourself easily bored when you do, you might be the perfect candidate to start where I did, with yoga. To me yoga is a moving meditation which uses breathing to bring a person into the present moment and put them back in touch with their body. It helped me stop overthinking, calmed my spirit and reconnected me with the inner wisdom I need to thrive. It reconnected me with 'me'. As I grow, my yoga practice grows with me. I have accepted that I will never be perfect and understand there is no "right" way to do a pose, only my way. Clearly yoga has helped me loosen up more than my hamstrings!

Your path will not be mine, but yoga is a great starting point for anyone. You may cross it off the list after trying it, or you may find like I did, that it can be a much needed lifeline to help guide you toward greater happiness and purpose. I'm teaching this summer -- ready to join me?

Namaste.

 

What Kind of Report Card Do You Give Yourself?

Author's note: This is a post I originally wrote nearly three and a half years ago. It was never published because I ran it by a friend before I clicked 'publish' on my blog, and her opinion stopped me from sharing it. She didn't say anything wrong or anything bad, but her lack of liking it made me doubt myself. And that was enough to stop me from sharing it. Back then I was accustomed to letting doubt creep in at the slightest turn. It was my way of staying safe--of attempting to stay ahead of any possible criticism. Having learned the futility and ultimate failure of this way of thinking, I have since successfully silenced my mean inner critic.

Working with so many highly sensitive people this last year has made me realize that I am not the only one clinging to the false belief that if I do everything perfectly I can remain 'beyond reproach'.  That is straight up crap --and is both exhausting and futile.

Silencing the monster within me took courage and patience. In hopes that a little inspiration may help someone else silence theirs, I am sharing this as it was originally written, without changing tenses or words. Freely. And without expectation. Or inner judgment.

I know it will reach the person who needs it most.

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Don’t get caught up in the chase, enjoy what is right in front of you.

How many times have you set a goal for yourself, and then gone after it with gusto. A new diet to shed 15 pounds, a new workout routine to whip your body into shape, a strict budget to save money for something you want to purchase? Whatever the goal you’ve set, it can be energizing and satisfying to have a purpose (and an end) to work towards.

Goals are trackable, achievable and recognizable, both to you, and to others around you. Call me weird but as a kid I always loved getting a report card. It showed me that I was on track. Or that I wasn’t, in some cases. It told me what I needed to work harder on, where my strengths were, and where they weren’t. It was a great way to stay focused and to discern where I stood in the scheme of life.

But what happens to that feeling of being on track when we become adults? Where is our report card? Who tells us if we are on track, or points out our strengths, tells us what we need to work on and gives us recognition for our accomplishments?

No one. We have to do it ourselves. We self evaluate, self analyze, and grade our own performance as mothers, wives, worker bees, friends. And most of us are pretty darn hard on ourselves. How often are we truly satisfied with our accomplishments?

I know I'm not. I always think about what I could have done better, choosing to focus on the areas that need improvement rather than stopping to celebrate what I have actually accomplished. It’s kind of exhausting. Take being a mother, for example. It is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. Even when I'm right, I feel wrong. And I think about all the things I could have done better to handle a situation. Letting your children make their own mistakes is almost impossible to handle gracefully.

So, how can we stop the madness of focusing on our weaknesses and not our strengths?

How about we all try to appreciate ourselves, and our accomplishments a little more...

Really think about that. The next time we start to knock ourselves for not accomplishing something on our "To Do" list, how about we pause and pat ourselves on the back for what we did do instead.  Cleaned the house, filled the cupboards with groceries, helped the kids with their homework, did the laundry, cooked dinner, picked up the new glasses at the eye doctor, returned the videos and library books on time, sent a birthday card to our mother-in-law, well.... you get the idea, right?

Remember your own awesomeness. Celebrate all the little achievements and give yourself some time to smell the roses along the way, instead of hurtling off headlong toward your next big goal. I know I'm willing to give it a go. How about you?
 

Perfectionism: The Grand Illusion

Wherever perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun. Perfectionism is not about healthy striving, which you see all the time in successful leaders, it’s not about trying to set goals and being the best we can be, perfectionism is basically a cognitive behavioral process that says if I look perfect, work perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid shame, ridicule, and criticism. It’s a defense mechanism.

— Brene Brown

I'm not exactly sure when my safe world was rocked by the realization that my life wasn't going perfectly, but I do remember the day I hit rock bottom.

For several months my life had slowly been spinning out of control -- and I was helplessly watching it get worse and worse. I had worked for years to do everything right, to be perfect, but it was a grand illusion. A joke. All my worst fears were happening right before my eyes and there seemed nothing I could do to stop them.

I had lived under the false belief that if I did it all perfectly, everything would all work out perfectly. I hadn't yet learned that attempting to control my world would not lead to perfection, it would lead to disappointment, helplessness and eventually a deep sadness. It didn't help me escape the shame, ridicule or criticism I so despised either, no matter how much additional effort I applied to doing it right.

Worse yet I was attempting to do it all perfectly with an expectation-- an if... then kind of a thing. Always pinning my happiness on some future thing meant that I never actually got to be happy or satisfied in the moment, it was just a constant uphill battle that never arrived at perfect.

I thought that if I did everything right, beyond criticism, followed the rules, then... I would be accepted, appreciated, and loved for who I was. But that never really happened. The real me was hidden under so many layers of thinking I'm not good enough, even I didn't know who I was anymore. I was always looking ahead and striving to be more, to do it better, to be beyond reproach. That meant that any compliment I did receive was immediately negated by my mean voice, which never even allowed two seconds of time to take in the warm fuzzy feelings a compliment should bring. I was always three steps ahead and thinking about how I could have (should have) done it better. Or how I would get it 100% right next time.

My mean voice eventually graduated to pointing out flaws in things and people around me. Even that felt like rejection--I heard my mean voice giving up on me, as if I wasn't worth trying to "fix" anymore. I easily slipped into the persona of a glass half empty bitch.

Being able to see and sense my own flaws and imperfections made it natural to wait and watch for that same criticism from others. And if I was "right" about my wrongness, it gave my mean voice more fuel.

Deep down I think I knew I could never really be perfect, and yet that fervently remained my goal.

Giving my best effort should have been good enough. Perfection is the great illusion. To think otherwise, to live otherwise, indicates we are operating from an unhealthy place. My need for control, to be right and insulated from criticism caused my perfectionism to spill outward to everyone around me. It crossed boundaries into other people's space. It got ugly.

The worst part is that I could not get off the train. I could not let go, even though I knew that life would be so much easier if I just stopped trying to be perfect. On I plowed, so darn unhappy, so mean to myself, so scared that I would lose control and end up a failure --which in retrospect I kind of did anyway. Because there is nothing quite like an epic fail to grasp the lesson that nothing is ever perfect, even if it sometimes looks like it from the outside.

I know that I am "judged" a little every time I lead a yoga class, by someone like the 'me' I used to be. They will find flaws, mistakes, and truthfully so will I, only now I don't let them stop me from moving forward. When I forget the second side of a series of poses, or call out left when I mean right, or fall over--- I don't dwell on the mistake, I laugh it off. I make a joke.

I am finally able to recognize that I am human and I give myself a little grace. My best effort is all I really have, and that will have to be good enough. Even for me.

Related links: http://www.fastcompany.com/3026324/leadership-now/do-you-have-the-good-kind-of-perfectionism

Doing it My Way

"I just want you to know I don't like gym yoga."

Her words hung there in the space between my breaths. As they sunk in I realized two things at once, oh my gosh she just put me on alert that I better do this right or she is going to hate this class (and me) AND hold on...she signed up to join this community yoga class. It is her choice to be here.

Thankfully that second thought stopped me from moving into panic mode. In my transformation from type A overachiever I have worked hard to respond  rather than react  (overreact) to life's unexpected situations.

Not so long ago the thought that someone was judging my ability to lead a yoga class would have kicked me in the rear and pulled me completely out of the moment. I think it shows growth that this time it made me smile a little on the inside. I knew this was about her and not me; she wanted attention. So instead of letting her words derail me with worry about whether or not she was going to like me and the class, I just paid her a bit of direct attention.

I asked her to get in the front row so I could keep an eye on her. And then I went right on leading my "community" yoga class the way I would normally do it, not even worrying that this person might compare my class to a "studio" yoga class and find it lacking. If she did, there was nothing that I could do at that moment to change it.

I have learned that you can't please everyone all the time, and maybe more importantly, I give myself permission not to always try. And at the end of the day (or yoga class in this case) my best is indeed good enough.

To my delight at the end of this particular class my new student told me she loved it and said that she'd be back the next week. I know it won't always work out that way, some people will find me lacking -- but I'm gradually getting more comfortable with that as well.

Later that night I received an unexpected text from the owner of a small company where I had led a yoga class at lunch. He said "Great session today. I think you have discovered our collective need. You're very good at what you do."

Thank you universe for reminding me that just being me, and doing it to the best of my ability is enough.

Are You Striving for the Impossible?

In the past I was never the kind of person able to say "I did my best" and leave it at that. As long as I can remember I have strived for an ideal, a perfect "whatever" that was so good it was beyond criticism, even my own. In all of my 51 years that has never happened. All compliments have been taken with a "yeah but", or several "if onlys".  I've always focused on what could have been better and not celebrated what went well.

I realize now that this is exhausting and frustrating and FUTILE. It feels what I imagine is like a never ending Ground Hog's Day loop. I understand that I have been striving for the impossible and I eventually let that wear me down.

Where did I ever get the idea that I had to be perfect to be of value? In reading more and more about a highly sensitive person, I realize that is just part of my dna. My head and heart have never known any other way to be. The child in me must have been so affected by my own reaction to the criticism I received when I made mistakes, that the adult in me attempted to never make any.

There is no perfect anything in a black and white mind like I once had. There is always a judgment, a critique, a report card, a here's what you could do better next time thought. It is exhausting to attempt to drive yourself toward a perfect "anything"--- you get caught up in judging yourself against your last performance, or against the performance of others -- a completely unfair, highly critical trap that causes years to go by like the blink of an eye, with little chance to experience any personal joy.

This past year I came face to face with the dark side of my perfectionism and the shame it brings. I am happy to say that I squared off against it and have since learned to accept that I will never be perfect in my actions, or in my thoughts, feelings,  performance, writing, cooking; I will never be perfect in anything. Especially if I am the judge. No matter how hard I try, nothing will ever reach my idealistic standards.

I will never be perfect. Nor will attempting to be perfect make me more lovable, more worthy, more of value than I already am.

Yet even as I say it out loud... I will never be perfect, I hear a tiny whisper inside telling me it's a cop out, an excuse not to do my best work. (Clearly that is an area I need to work on).

For anyone who shares my perfectionism, this admitting that I am not perfect is a huge step in the right direction. I will never be perfect, nor will my own judgment of my performance ever not have criticisms attached. But --- I no longer let that mean voice have the floor. I acknowledge she's in there, but I let the calm voice who looks at the positive side and sees the good in what I did, take charge.

Now when I say that I did my best, it is enough. I am enough.

Some of you will not understand how huge this is. Others may laugh at me -- or have no frame of reference to understand where I am coming from. That too, I have learned, is perfectly okay. My message will not resonate with everyone. It may only be relevant to 20% of the people on earth, the 20% who are wired like me. The 20% who are highly sensitive people.

I am perfectly imperfect. And that is good enough for me.

Do You Have a Name for the Voice in Your Head?/ Question of the Week #11

 positive

Self Criticism. It can be (excuse the term) a ball buster for some people.

Many people are their own worst enemies, spending valuable time and energy criticizing themselves constantly. It gets so bad they find themselves thinking they need to improve themselves in every new situation they face.

So, it is time to ask another hard question... how do you talk to yourself?

1. How does self-criticism show up in your life, and what impact does it have on you and your relationships?

2. What kinds of things does the voice in your head tell you on a regular basis?

3. What specifically stops you from fully appreciating and loving yourself?

I have often said that I am harder on myself than anyone else could ever be. Miss Perfect is what I call the voice in my head. She looks at every situation I experience and tells me in no uncertain terms how I could have done it better. Or maybe it is more appropriate to say that she tells me how I should have done it differently. For most of my life that is the voice I heard. But lately, there seems to be stronger voice emerging. The one that tells me that I did my best, and my best is all I have.

It helps that I am learning to operate from my sweet spot, and I don't feel off kilter every day. That in itself gives me a more positive outlook and attitude.  And being honest with myself about the things I can and cannot do well, or maybe even admitting the things I don't want to do anymore -- gives me so much more positive energy. It seems easier at 50 to appreciate what I do right, and not beat myself up about what I do less than perfectly.

So if you are still hearing a negative voice in your head, what can you do? According to Mike Robbins in the book Focus On the Good Stuff: The Power of Appreciation here are some steps you can take:

1. Acknowledge All Your Negative Thoughts and Feelings Honestly

The best way is to speak them out loud to someone you trust. Share all your negativity no matter how silly. The person listening does not even have to say anything in return. The more real and honest you are, the more effective this technique will be.

2. Create a Clean Slate

By letting out your negative thoughts, either speaking or writing them down, you will feel a shift or "loosening" of the grip of negativity. Have someone share back to you all that you have admitted about how you feel about yourself. It might sound ridiculous to you as you hear it all at once,  and that is okay. Get them out, and then be willing to start over with a clean slate.

3. Change Your Physical or Emotional State

Once you have cleared your negativity, do something to shake things up. Change your energy. Yell, sing, dance, jump.....do something unexpected.

4. Verbalize and Visualize What You Want

Speak out loud your positive intentions for what you want to have happen. Be very specific and make sure to keep your statements in the affirmative. Don't say "I don't want to screw it up," when interviewing for a new job, say "I want them to offer me the job on the spot," or whatever the situation is. Allow yourself to feel what is happening exactly how you want it to go.

5. Let It All Go

If you've followed all the steps up to this point, then it is time to let it all go and be in the moment. In doing so, you will position yourself to be ready to transform your negativity toward yourself and create some positive energy in your life.

Many of you will not know these deep self criticizing feelings that some of us feel. In fact, I once wrote a blogpost about self-criticism and shared it will a friend. She did not relate and had no idea what I was talking about. Taken aback by her lukewarm reception, I never posted it because I thought I was in the minority. Instead I have come to realize, she is. Most people do have a version of Miss Perfect in their head, those that don't might even be considered one of the lucky ones.

I encourage you to really ponder the question and to answer it honestly. Then treat yourself like the awesome person you are and work to silence that negative voice in your head. For good.