We all knew from the start that it was going to be a long-haul operation to beat this virus, and the process has been compared to running a marathon, not a sprint. A marathon is a good analogy for lock-down and social distancing.
Pressure is on!
Pressure to be the best, to achieve more, to give 110% (clearly impossible), to earn more, to have a bigger house, a better car, to score A+ on every test you ever sit, to have a fit, lean, healthy body, to be right all the time, to live in the now while preparing for the future, to eat more whole grains and less fats, wait, scratch that, some fats are good, avoid the grains. Pressure to simply be… perfect.
Perfection seems to be highly valued by many individuals, ignoring the fact that what is perfect is both purely subjective, and an impossibility. The pressure to strive for perfection can have extremely detrimental effects on the mental and emotional wellbeing of individuals.
Have you ever met someone who seems to be blessed with great abilities, and has achieved amazing things, but still struggles with depression and anxiety? These can be the sports stars, musicians, artists, academics, and business high achievers, or sometimes all the above. It is easy from an outside perspective to observe someone like this and think, “They have no reason to be depressed, they have it all.” What we need to consider is: what drives us to aim to be the best?
The more people I meet who strive for perfection, the more I notice that perfection is often driven by a deep core belief of being a failure. This core belief is being reinforced every time we try to do something perfectly, because when the goal is perfection, failure is always the end result. It is little wonder that people who aim for perfection have issues of anxiety and depression. Where does this need to be perfect come from?
I was talking to a school teacher recently who commonly meets with parents who are distraught because their child is achieving at an average expected level for their age. This could suggest that perfectionist expectations creep into our parenting as well. Not that we expect our children to be perfect, but we expect that we must be the perfect parent. Like any other endeavour to be perfect, we are destined to fail at this too, what the hell does a perfect parent look like? There is so much contradicting information about parenting out there that even a genius human brain would melt trying to come up with a description of perfect parenting.
The media can fuel this social expectation to be awesome. News stories about not-so-perfect parenting are fairly common, not to mention the never-ending line of experts telling us what we should and should not feed our children, what is the best kind of education, what toys and games will negatively affect their personality, and it goes on. It can seem that it doesn’t matter what life decisions we make, there is an expert telling us we got it wrong, driving up the guilt, and fuelling the failure belief. So, in desperation, we turn to social media where any numpty with a keyboard becomes an expert with a negative opinion.
So, parenting becomes another failure to add to the list of things that the perfectionist hasn’t managed to perfect, because the information available to us is sure to point out where we are going wrong, and completely ignore what we have done well. If you have a 6-year-old who is at school and loving life, congratulations! You have done a hell of a lot of things well to get them to this point. In the eyes of our children, we are already perfect parents. They have no other point of reference. The child then picks up the behaviour that is modelled to them. If you are constantly pressuring yourself to be perfect, and finding your constant failures, this may be something that was modelled to you, and you may be modelling to your children. An attentive, conscientious parent won’t be pressuring their child to strive for perfection, but this is the behaviour that will develop if it is the behaviour that is modelled to them.
This is such a distracted way to live. Whatever part of life we are trying to do perfectly, whether this is a physical activity, related to our physical appearance, an artistic pursuit, academic performance, career related, or parenting, the parts that are not perfect become all-consuming to the point that we completely miss all of our great achievements. We end up spending so much time focussed on our perceived failure that we miss the true joys and experiences we have every day. Life is here to live, not to win. I’m unsure how you win at life, but I’m fairly certain getting to the end first is not it, and neither is pressuring yourself to do every task perfectly.
For those who are striving for perfection and are nearing breakdown point, there is a simple piece of advice, and here it is:
Be okay with average!
Average means that you are achieving what you need to, enabling you to stay alive, and frees up a lot of time and brain space to experience the life you are living. Focus on what is important to you at the end of the day. On your death bed, would you rather think, “I wish I had done everything perfectly.” or “I’m glad I experienced all the things I did.”
Yeah, fair enough, that is a fairly morbid thought, but the point is, keep your focus on what is important to you, and what brings you joy. For example, most days I pick up a guitar and play for around 30 minutes. I thoroughly enjoy my time doing this and find it very calming. At the same time, I am under no illusions about my ability to play and have no desire to be perfect or ever perform for anyone, it is simply something that brings me peace and joy. For this activity, I am totally happy to be average, okay, below average.
This is not to say that I am discouraging you from trying your best at the things in life you undertake. Sometimes your best may be average. When we accept this, we can live a lot more in the moment. Also, there are some things in life where there needn’t be a right, or best performance to aim for. House cleaning, for example. Just put on some loud music and dance your way through the vacuuming.
A great way to be okay with being not-so-perfect in some areas of life, is to acknowledge all the success in life that you have had and continue to have. Challenge the core belief of failure by finding all the evidence of your success. Include all the simple stuff: got out of bed this morning – Success! had a nutritious breakfast – Success! cracked a joke that made a work colleague laugh – Success! And remember the bigger stuff too: passed Uni – Success! Selected for the A team – Success! Got a job – Success! Always make this specific to you, own your successes, also own your struggles, they are all part of the amazing package that is you!
Avoid comparing yourself to others, this just complicates things and can downplay what you truly have to offer. Remember that others will see their own imperfections even if it seems like they are the perfect package. Think of all the talented people the world has lost to drug addiction, or depression. Most of us struggle with our perception of failure to be perfect at some point. Judging your own value on your perception on the life of others is destined to further reinforce the failure core belief.
When you count up your successes in daily life, you will notice that your successes through each day far outweigh your failures, this challenges the core belief of being a failure. Make this a daily habit, the need to be perfect decreases, and you become less susceptible to the pressure that once felt crushing. You will no longer hold a core belief of failure, and will be okay with being average, happy, and healthy.
Feel free to contact me with any questions or make an appointment, text/phone 021 99 00 54 or email [email protected]