So many of us have this incessant drive to be perfect or to do things perfectly, even when it comes to our health. We place unreasonable demands on ourselves and then spread that out to our friends, family, and even our children. But doing things perfectly is just an idea in the mind and our identification to it causes immense suffering. Anything short of this impossible perfect goal creates feelings of pressure and sparks thoughts of disappointment and failure. It’s a set up!
The drive to be perfect has been found in a number of anxiety and depressive disorders. We think we need to do something perfectly. What if we were able to draw the way our mind and body worked on a wall. Imagine drawing a circle on the wall representing a thought that is popping up, “If I make a mistake, others will think I’m a failure, so I better do it right.” Then draw a line over to another circle that represents emotions and put the emotion of fear or anxiety there. Then draw a line from that circle to another circle that represents the body and put words like tension, tightness, pressure and achiness in that circle. Then draw a line from that circle all the way back to the thoughts circle and put in “I hate this, I’m so disappointed.” Here is a classic example of the cycle for a perfectionist.
One question we can ask when looking at that diagram we just created is, “how is that working for you?” For the most part it doesn’t and creates problems for us mentally and physically. In other words, it’s simply not effective in supporting us in our daily lives. It’s important to understand that this drive for perfection may have come from some deep seeded need for approval that we may have never received growing up and we’re still trying to play out today. The answer to “why” can be important as it allows us to realize that that was then and this is now and when it pops up, we can begin to identify with it less.
Another way of understanding this is that thoughts are just thoughts, mental events in the mind that come and go and when we realize this, we can begin to examine them and recognize that we are not our thoughts and gain perspective on whether we actually need to be trying to live up to these unreasonable demands. We can cultivate a sense of compassion for ourselves as this mind trap plagues us, but at the same time, allowing ourselves to notice it as it arises, not get caught up with it by judging it, and gently redirect our attention to what is really most important to us right now. Something that is going to be nurturing and supportive to us rather than drive us and those we love into the ground mentally and physically.
Try: Notice this perfectionism when it arises in the mind, become aware on how it is affecting you physically and emotionally. Go ahead and label it in the mind “perfectionism” or any other word that works for you, let it be, and start to guide your attention back to the present moment. It is expected that you will do this again and again so treat any self judgments in the same way, let them be and guide attention back. This is a process and each time you practice it you are watering the seeds of your own freedom.
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From Psych Central's Dr. Elisha Goldstein:
Two Questions You Must Answer to Live the Life You Want | Mindfulness and Psychotherapy (March 17, 2010)
Last reviewed: 18 Jun 2009