As you might have noticed, the June newsletter is coming a little late. First, I’d like to apologise as this wasn’t a technical issue. There have been some changes that have been developing much more quickly over the last couple weeks than I was expecting. Due, in part, to some confusion on the lease, we’ll be terminating operations from 35A Neil Road at the end of this month. While I ‘should’ have told people earlier, I was hoping for a more perfect (in my mind) option that didn’t end up happening. While I could beat myself up about this shortcoming in result, I’ve instead decided to focus on the lessons I’m learning (again and again) on the mind and the concept of perfectionism.
Perfectionism, the moving target
As Stephen Parkhill writes about in one chapter of “Answer Cancer”, perfect and perfectionism differs in basic ways. Perfect is a state in which all living things are created – for their specific purpose, journey and lessons – it is something we are naturally. Perfectionism, on the other hand, is a constantly moving target of which we are always falling short – and this is usually something that we (the mind) learn. My nephew, who just turned three last weekend, is a child whom I can ask or tell him that he’s great, artistic, handsome, wonderful, smart, loveable, capable (in 3-year-old language) and more, and he’ll answer me with a confident response that implies “Duh, Aunt Jennifer, of course that is true.” He’s a lucky boy.
Parkhill suggests that other children may be presented to an environment that is filled with unhappiness, regret or want. Because children often have great expectations for their ability to affect those around them, this is seen as a failing on their part. So they try harder and harder to be ‘better’, but still cannot make others happy or fulfil their unfulfillable desires. And so they fall short, and have started the continuing saga of perfectionism.
Conscientious has two definitions when I looked it up. One, which in many societies is held in high regard is “thorough and diligent in performing a task”. The other, which I’d like to focus on is “governed by or done according to somebody’s sense of right and wrong”. The only problem with this second definition, or maybe the part that gets us into trouble is that ‘somebody’ – who they are and whether or not their concept of right and wrong is relevant, helpful, acceptable or even widely held.
Often people inherit perfectionism. Sometimes it is because others around us feel that they are falling short (often only within their own minds, in spite of the ‘actual’ or evidence which may show quite the opposite), so keep ‘trying harder’ in futile attempts to achieve flawlessness. Because they feel that way, and they may be our elders or the people we look up to as standards of thought and action, it is a natural succession process for younger people to see striving for an unreachable goal as the norm. This belief is then readily accepted past the critical factor, establishing itself as a program in the subconscious mind.
Sometimes it comes in words or actions or implications that stick. It may have been the way the people talk about their own ‘shoddy’ work (implied not good enough), or their disapproval of people of others who don’t reach for the stars (implied never trying hard enough). So our ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ may not be based on reality but on a viewpoint of the past. And so our performance is governed by this even now – in a way that may no longer be serving us.
Procrastination… more about that later…
Just kidding, and back to the story. So what tends to happen when we have a job to do, but don’t feel that we’ll ever be able to do a ‘good enough’ job? Does the anticipation of failure fill you with motivation and vim to get started on it? Probably not.
And so, time and time again, we put off what we feel will inevitably be less than we expect (remember, how can you be sure of hitting a forever moving target?) until we get to that magical point where we can say to ourselves, within our own mind “well, if I had just started it before I could have done a much better job, so if I don’t do well, it’s because of the lack of time I took in doing it.” See how sneaky that is?
John Henry Newman is quoted, “a man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault.” So we protect ourselves by our inactions, or our muted answers, or our delayed decisions. And the subconscious mind of the person with ‘perfectionist programming’ is happy, because there’s no chance for emotionally scary things to happen – people telling us we’re not good enough or wrong, that they’re disappointed in us for doing something, that doesn’t turn out the way we expect and we are embarrassed or disappointed in ourselves. We protect ourselves from external or internal criticism.
Yet the longer we put something off, the more the mind knows, ‘well you should have done/decided/shared this earlier’ so it’s even WORSE to do/decide/share now, so the cycle repeats.
Going back to one of the basic rules of the mind – it can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, so that reactions of others or the ‘emotional death’ we’ll feel if we do something (wrong) may not be actual or real. While it’s true that there’s a chance of a negative outcome, we often tiptoe around situations, people or decisions as though that option is the only possible outcome. And we buttress ourselves against slips that may be unforgivable. We forget that most pencils have erasures on the other end for a reason.
The Perfect Man/Woman/Job/Situation
The imaginative subconscious can create anything – it is in the mind alone that we can assure ourselves of ‘perfect practice’. Yet, you’ve possibly had single friends who remain that way because they are waiting for ‘Prince or Princess Charming’, or know of someone who spoke harshly about the job they were jumping from, just to hear them talk in the same way about the next one. We often complain about a situation that would be so much better ‘if only’…
We often wish things were more different than they were, and often by activating the subconscious mind we can start creating positive options and opportunities (if you want more information about this, let me know). Sometimes, however, we need to do a reality check. For me, I’ve put off writing that we’ll be leaving Neil Road, because I was hoping for something else, yet now it’s an immediate truth. I’d love to have a twin who could take my sessions while I’m on vacation in July, yet the reality (and a positive alternative, in fact) is that I have a list of several therapists who are fully capable of doing this work while I’m away, or I can take appointments by phone or skype (which are extremely powerful).
As Socrates put it: “If all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be contented to take their own.” When we realize that many of our perfectionist patterns of the past meant well but may no longer fit, we can then take responsibility for picking up the imperfect pieces of life and moving on.
This Perfect Moment
A friend shared that his father always said, “if you wait until you can afford children, you’ll never have them”. Interesting. Looking at my own life, the most ‘perfect’ moments have been ones that, in spite of questions that the subconscious might present to me about not being able to handle/perform/gracefully execute, I just do it anyway. And the advantages to a ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach is that sometimes it truly is better to aim high and miss, than aim low and hit.
While this isn’t the perfect end to a newsletter, it will have to be – I’ve got the rest of my life to live imperfectly but enjoyably.
Perfect months ahead:
If you’re interested in reading more about perfection/imperfection, you can go to http://www.greymatternetwork.com/exec/sam/view/id=358/lang=en/node=427/ and download “The ImPerfect Host or How to Avoid Party Stress” written for Complementary Therapy Magazine last year.