I am not a writer. In fact, I strongly dislike writing. My propensity for perfectionism is the culprit. I find it incredibly difficult to select and commit to the exact or “perfect” words to express what I want to say. I have a hard time putting my thoughts down on paper with the intent of sharing them with the “internet universe” for all to see and judge for eternity. I can’t take it back, revise it or “perfect” it over time. Yikes! The finality and vulnerability of it freaks me out.
But what my coaching mentor, Lynda Wallace, explained about the blogging process is this: “The ego says “I’m not good enough.” Humility says, “I’ll offer what I have.” So that’s it. I am offering what I have.
Permission To Be Human
I have been studying Positive Psychology and coaching techniques for several years now and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute of this process. This journey has been life-changing – my relationships are better, I am kinder to myself and I am more peaceful and present.
One of the most powerful things I have learned in my Positive Psychology journey is to give myself the “permission to be human.” This one hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m a go-getter. I always try my hardest at anything I do. I try to do better the next time and am not afraid of a challenge. But what I discovered is that I try to control every possible aspect of the process to ensure success and perfection. And mind you, that certainly helps in producing a good outcome.
However, this concept – the permission to be human – is telling me I can let go of perfectionism. I’m not SUPPOSED to be perfect. In fact, I never have been and I never will be – no matter how hard I try. No matter how many variables of a situation I can control. It’s telling me I am flawed. And more importantly, I am supposed to be! I was actually designed to be flawed.
Once this concept sunk in for me, I felt a huge weight taken off my shoulders. I was okay, a good person, even when I wasn’t perfect.
Now, this does not mean we shouldn’t set high goals for ourselves. Big hairy, audacious goals are wonderful and provide meaning, structure, and focus to our lives. “Permission to be human” means we let go of perfectionism along the way to reaching these big goals. To focus on and celebrate our effort versus the outcome. To not beat yourself up when things go wrong along the way. To embrace mistakes as part of our human experience.
I’ll never forget my friend Emily telling me that when she was in college she accidentally went to the wrong airport to catch a plane to visit her parents in another state. She called her dad in tears. Instead of reprimanding her, he said “Congratulations. You finally made a mistake!” I love that parenting story. What an amazing message to send to our children.
Diminishing Marginal Returns
I started to realize that over my life I had expended A LOT of extra effort striving for perfection. In business school, I learned about the diminishing marginal returns of capital, energy or effort. As any of these variable increase, there is a point at which the marginal output starts to decrease. In other words, your efforts produce a somewhat linear result for a while – for each unit of energy you put in, you get the same measure of output. But there comes a point when your energy or effort does not produce equal increments of results. There is a diminishing marginal return.
Good Enough Is Good Enough
And this is the same with striving for perfection. I can spend an extra twenty minutes making my kitchen spotless or leave it “good enough” for tomorrow morning’s rush that will result in yet another dirty kitchen. I can also choose to spend two more hours on this blog post trying to get every concept and word perfect in an attempt to protect myself from self-judgment and the criticism of others. Or I can put my heart into it for a respectable amount of time and then set it free.
I have learned not to let perfect be the enemy of good. “Good enough is good enough” is my new mantra. And it has helped me create much more balance in my life and an acceptance that I am good enough the way I am. Flaws and all.
Kristin Neff has done extensive work on this subject. I highly recommend her TED talk on the subject and her book “Self-Compassion”. She also has a wonderful website (selfcompassion.org) where you can take a self-compassion assessment to see where you lie on the spectrum of self-compassion.
According to Kristen Neff, self-compassion is “reducing our judgment of ourselves and constant evaluation of our behaviors and beliefs.” You may recognize some of these questions:
“Why did I say that?”; “What was I thinking?”; “I’m so stupid”; “I’m so lazy”; “Why didn’t I do that instead?”; and the piéce de resistance, “Who do you think you are?”
We say things to ourselves that we would never say to other people – even people we don’t like very much. We tend to be our own worst enemy a lot of the time.
What Can You Do To Curb Perfectionism?
Try to become more aware of your self-critical thoughts and when they arise, ask yourself what you would say to a friend who was facing the same challenge or experiencing the same situation. Say it out loud to yourself. Give yourself the same kindness, care, and concern that you would offer a friend or loved one experiencing the same pain or setback.
Create a new mantra for yourself with which you can counter your self-critical triggers. For example, “I am good enough,” “I am worthy of love just the way I am,” or “I am perfect in my imperfection.” Say it to yourself every chance you get.
Our successes and failures come and go. They don’t define us or determine our worthiness. They are merely part of the human experience. So go forth my friends and set big, hairy audacious goals for yourself. Work towards them and embrace the mistakes and failures along the way. And remember, you are perfect in your imperfection. That’s what connects us all in our human experience.
Amy Larson is a life coach and career coach who meets with local clients in her comfortable office at 1877 Broadway in Boulder, CO and with clients from around the country via phone and Skype. Amy has worked in Investment Banking, Management Consulting and Consumer Products Marketing holds an undergraduate business degree from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach.
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