Author Archive

The Perfection Complex

Posted on: May 2nd, 2023 by Liz No Comments

Perfection is defined as – the need to be or appear perfect or even to believe that it’s possible to achieve perfection. It’s not the same as striving to be your best, or about healthy achievement and growth.

It’s seen by some as a positive trait that can increase your chances of success, but it can also lead to excessive and harsh self-criticism that causes self-defeating thoughts and behaviours.

Some of the research into perfectionism correlates it with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental health problems.

Perfectionism exists on a continuum – many of us have some perfectionist tendencies, although these may be specific to certain areas of our lives or may only emerge if we’re feeling particularly vulnerable. But for some people, perfectionism can be compulsive, chronic, and debilitating.

Take a moment to think about the following questions:

What do you think the payoffs of perfection could be?    And what are the costs?

Here are some potential payoffs (“advantages”) of perfection:

Here are some possible costs (“disadvantages”):

Some signs that you might be a perfectionist:

Ask yourself the following questions:

What is the difference between being a perfectionist or just wanting to achieve success, work hard and do your best?

A perfectionist doesn’t believe that what they do is worthwhile unless it is perfect – instead of being proud of their progress, or acknowledging how hard they’ve worked, or how much they’ve learnt / are learning through the process, they are likely to compare themselves constantly with others or to obsess about achieving a flawless result or constantly doing better, improving themselves, others, or their environment.

They may be dissatisfied even if they reach their goals, judging themselves for having had to work so hard to get there, possibly thinking that if they were truly good enough (perfect enough) they wouldn’t have had to make such an effort. In other words, for a true perfectionist, nothing is ever good enough.

Having high standards, persevering in the face of difficulties, being conscientious, and organised, and goal driven, doesn’t make you a perfectionist. It may be that you are someone who strives to do your best, and who likes to meet (or even exceed expectations) … but you don’t get upset if you can’t always meet your goals, and you are not defined by this.

If, however, you are preoccupied with past mistakes, constantly fear making new mistakes and always doubting yourself and whether you’re doing the right thing; as well as being overly concerned about what others expect from you, you may be a perfectionist. Perfectionists don’t allow any room for being human, errors are unforgiveable, and they will beat themselves up for the tiniest little mistake or flaw or lack, which can rob them of any joy or satisfaction from the things that they do well.

Perfectionists are often afraid that if they stop aiming for perfection, they will become lazy, not achieve anything, and end up poor or destitute, or that it somehow makes them “bad” people.

Here are some examples of perfectionist behaviours:

Perfectionism can impact different areas of our lives, for example:

School or work – if you’re a perfectionist in this area of your life you may find that you take longer than others to complete tasks, or avoid starting something you don’t feel confident about and you need to complete every task perfectly.

In certain professions where attention to detail, precision, and ethics are important, for example, doctors, lawyers, accountants, may have a higher “need” to do things perfectly.

Certain sports may encourage or exacerbate perfectionism (this can be common in individual sports such as gymnastics, athletics cycling and swimming, ballet where athletes compete against themselves)

In industries like fashion, there can be unrealistic expectations of how we should look, and this can further exacerbate perfectionist tendencies.

In intimate relationships or friendships – we can place unrealistic standards on loved ones, causing extra stress and pressure in the relationship.

In our environment / surroundings/ home, we may be excessively focused on cleanliness, order, tidying, sorting, and could spend large amounts of time, energy and/ or money to keep everything tidy and up to aesthetic standards.

In the area of hygiene and health, perfectionism can cause obsession with diet, exercise, being rigid and hard on yourself can lead to eating disorders.

With regards to physical appearance, a perfectionist may worry excessively about personal grooming, style, spend hours choosing what to wear, hair style, make up, and this can also lead to eating disorders and exercise addiction.

Causes of perfectionism can include:

How to manage perfectionism:

  1. Allow yourself to do things incompletely and imperfectly.
  2. Be willing to let go of some of the minor details (don’t sweat the small stuff) eg does it really matter if the hangers in your cupboard are not the same colour or facing the same way?, etc)
  3. Celebrate your progress – every small step counts even if it’s not finished or perfect
  4. Learn to delegate and let go (accept other’s definitions of good / good enough)
  5. Set realistic expectations for yourself and others
  6. Don’t compare yourself to others, know your own worth
  7. Try letting go of some of the things you “have” to do to meet your own high standards eg if you think you have to check every email 3 x before you send it, try sending emails without proof-reading / re-checking them for a week, and see what happens. You may be surprised by how much more efficient you are, and that most people either don’t notice or don’t care if you make a typo (ie allow yourself to do some things imperfectly)
  8. Identify your Inner Critic (the internal voice that scolds and chastises you every time you don’t live up to its high standards) – you could draw the inner critic, give it a name, make it into a cartoon
  9. Recognise that the Inner Critic is only trying to help or to protect you – identify your fears and then when you find yourself slipping into perfectionism, you can remind your Inner Critic that you’re okay, you’ve got this and nothing bad is going to happen.
  10. Acknowledge that your imperfections are part of what make you human, and don’t feel ashamed of being human
  11. Don’t judge yourself and others – realise that “we’re all doing the best we can”
  12. Treat yourself with compassion (the work of Dr Kristin Neff on self-compassion is helpful in this regard – she names 3 components of self-compassion – being kind to ourselves (treat yourself as you would a friend), recognise our common humanity (others have similar struggles/ experiences) and mindfulness – which means turning towards ourselves and our experience with non-judgement and acceptance)
  13. Seek help if necessary – get a coach, find a good therapist, chat to a trusted friend or family member.

Julia Cameron in her book The Artists Way, says that – “…instead of creating freely and allowing errors to reveal themselves later as insights, we get mired in getting the details right. We correct our originality into a uniformity that lacks passion and spontaneity. … instead of enjoying the process, the perfectionist is constantly grading the results.”

I love her line “Progress not perfection is what we’re after.” She describes how perfection can sabotage the achievement of goals, and how it kills creativity and innovation.

Brene Brown, in her book, aptly named The Gifts of Imperfection, says that “When we’re striving for perfection, we miss out on many opportunities because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect. Or we don’t follow our dreams because of our deep fears of failing, making mistakes and disappointing others.”

She goes on to say that, “Feeling shamed, judged, and blamed (and the fear of these feelings) are realities of the human experience. Perfectionism actually increases the odds that we’ll experience these painful emotions and often leads to self-blame: It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because “I’m not good enough.”

To overcome perfectionism, we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities to the universal [human] experiences of shame, judgment, and blame; develop shame resilience; and practice self-compassion.

When we become more loving and compassionate with ourselves and we begin to practice shame resilience, we can embrace our imperfections. It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts: courage, compassion, and connection.”

Finding Contentment with Things Just as they Are

Posted on: April 9th, 2017 by Liz No Comments

How do we find Inner Peace whatever the external circumstances? –

Be the Change

A common phrase that we hear from participants in our programs, and from clients that we work with in the coaching space is “I want to feel happy, peaceful, and content”. Many people seem to think that if only external circumstances were different, then they would find the peace, happiness and contentment they are striving for.

In Mindfulness, we move our focus from the external to our internal space and explore ways to build our ability to be with “what is” with balance, calm and wisdom.

Mahatma Gandhi said that “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source for our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”

Be the change you wish to see in the world. In this world that can feel overwhelmingly chaotic, uncertain, and at times, crazy, it is helpful to have a ‘practice’ that builds the capacity to remain steady, grounded, and peace-full. This is one of the benefits of Mindfulness and can lead to skilful responses to external events rather than automatic knee-jerk reactivity.

An exercise that you can try this week is to pause when you notice you are being swept up in the negativity of what is happening around you, and wishing for things to be different. Bring your attention to your thoughts and take a deep breath. Then see what happens when you shift your thinking from what is ‘wrong’ out there and instead identify one thing that you can change in yourself – whether that’s to change your thinking, a belief or perception, your response or to identify some action that you can take.

For details of our next MBSR program, please go to http://www.simplicitycoaching.co.za/mindfulness-coaching/

Catching the Stress Reaction before it Gets You

Posted on: March 9th, 2017 by Liz No Comments

One of the greatest benefits for me, of practicing mindfulness, has been to notice when I’m getting caught up in my stories and creating additional stress for myself.

Did you know that we react to imagined (perceived) threats in the same way that we react to a real threat? So for example, if I am rushing to a meeting and get caught in a traffic jam, and in my mind, I start worrying about what everyone is going to think of me for being late, how the meeting is going to be a disaster now, what if I don’t get there in time, what will “they” think, the physiological response in my body is the same as if I were to come face to face with a lion!

Through mindfulness practice, I become aware of my physical responses to the external stressor – my clenched fists on the steering wheel, tight jaw, scowling face, thumping heart, emotions of irritation and frustration, the thoughts about being late, the other bad drivers, and so on.

PAUSE.

This is a situation that is completely out of my control and this reaction I’m having is not going to change it.

If I catch myself I can remember to breathe, remind myself that the situation is not actually life-threatening, and sometimes I’ve even been surprised, because in that moment, as I come back to the present, I notice the beautiful sky… feel compassion for the other drivers who are in the same situation that I’m in… and arrive at my meeting in a far calmer state and more able to contribute something of significance.

Most times I’m not even late.

To find out more about our next Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program, please go to http://www.simplicitycoaching.co.za/mindfulness-coaching/

For an interesting talk by Jon Kabat-Zinn about “thoughts”, see this link: http://bigthink.com/videos/jon-kabat-zinn-on-meditation-and-thoughts-as-bubbles

Crouch-Touch-Pause-Engage for Mindful Connection

Posted on: February 24th, 2017 by Liz No Comments

Crouch-Touch-Pause Engage: what does rugby have to do with mindfulness?

I remember a few years ago facilitating a retreat, over the weekend of an “important” rugby match. This was during the time when the phrase “crouch-touch-pause-engage” was used by the referee during a scrum. There were no televisions at the retreat centre; however those who wanted to watch the game were invited to the retreat owner’s home.

At some point during the match, one of the participants on the retreat, commented on how the phrase “crouch-touch-pause-engage” made her think of what happens when we apply this principle in our daily lives. Over the past two years Julie and I have been on a Teacher-Training Program through Stellenbosch University in running Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction Interventions, and what we’ve learnt in our training, reminded me of this comment all those year ago.

In applying this phrase to the concept of mindfulness, the following is what came up for me: when we “crouch” – sit on our cushion or chair with the intention of being with ourselves; “touch” – actually make contact with our inner thoughts, emotions, body (feel the cushion beneath us, hear the birds outside, connect with the present moment); “pause” – allow ourselves to rest, breathe, BE still for just a moment; we find that we ENGAGE with Life.

In my own experience, the benefits of this engagement have been that I am more aware, I’m able to handle external stressors with greater ease, calm, and equanimity (balance), and my relationships feel exponentially more honest, authentic, real and connected.

What a Gift and a Blessing this has been.

For more information about our next Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction Program , go to http://www.simplicitycoaching.co.za/mindfulness-coaching/