The Perfectionist Trap
I get messages like this from my clients sometimes. Even if they don’t actually use the word “perfect,” they seem to be elevating the positives they see in me to a level that, quite frankly, isn’t real.
Do I have good days most of the time? Yep. Am I positive most of the time? Yep. Am I happy and taking responsibility for my outcomes most of the time? Yes and yes.
And — Do I have moments when I’m completely at effect and blaming the world for my problems? Sure do! It’s not my normal behavior, but it does happen from time to time.
I’m human, and I live in the real world, and it’s only realistic for me to hit home runs some times and only get to first on other days.
And if you think that we can set ourselves up to hit a grand slam every time we step up to the plate, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. If someone is selling you the lie of perfection, you need to recognize it for what it is.
I work with people who are on their way to achieving excellence. They’re experiencing success after success, and within their pursuit of greatness, they’re often spending energy and focusing on their shortcomings.
I had a client in my office a few weeks ago, and she said something beautiful. She said that she couldn’t wait to get there. And my question for her was, “Where is there? What is there? What does that mean?”
And she said, “I can’t wait to get to a place where I feel good.”
I replied, “Okay, so what’s keeping you from feeling good right now?”
“All this change,” she quickly replied.
I said, “Okay, so what’s happening now?”
She continued, “All this change. I just want to feel good again.”
I continued to dig deeper, “Feel good? How specifically?”
And she said, “The way I used to feel.”
I asked her, “Did you feel good before you came here and started doing your work?”
Frankly, she replied, “Yes.”
I said, “Did you feel good back then?”
And she said, “No, I just didn’t know any better.”
What we discovered is that during her progress, she’s doing the work all of the time. And doing that work requires a lot of focus. People don’t just arrive at excellence. They make strides on their way to excellence. That’s what it’s all about.
The highlight reel of social media.
We live in a society that’s telling us to be this, that or something else. Scroll through your social media feed, knowing that social media is a place where we post all the fantastic feel-good things in our lives — whether they’re real things or exaggerated. This is when we post a picture smiling with our partners, but behind closed doors, maybe we’re like fighting like cats and dogs, and we don’t even like each other.
This is when we post a selfie, “Look how great I look in this sexy outfit,” or “Look at me. I’m meditating on top of a mountain.” And we look at these images and unconsciously think that this should be our life experience because we see it so often. The thing about unconscious thoughts is that we don’t even notice it happening.
If we have access to 2 million bits of information per second, and we only consciously process 50 to 60 bits per second, where do you think the other almost 2 million bits go? We’re taking them in unconsciously.
That’s why it’s so important to be mindful of what we’re watching and consuming. It’s essential to be vigilant of the things we’re allowing ourselves to see and hear. If we’re going to base our existence on those bits of information, then doesn’t it make sense to be cautious of what we consume?
This isn’t intended to make you feel afraid, only to become more aware.
This socially-oriented perfectionism is everywhere. And now, thanks to algorithms and powerful marketing engines, we’re seeing these messages all the time.
These messages of “perfection” create internal representations.
And the power of that internal representation is pretty sizable. If we create enough internal representations of what it means to be successful, healthy, and strong then unconsciously, we want to live up to that standard. Consciously, it’s tough to do that because that stuff doesn’t really exist.
The problem happens when we’re sitting here, consuming social media, and our minds are somewhere else. And when what happens, as a result, is that we start creating all kinds of negative emotions, limiting beliefs, and internal conflicts because, as we’re experiencing it, the thing we’re experiencing doesn’t match our internal representation created by that dang social media scroll.
An internal representation is how you interpret an event from the outside world inside. How are you taking in that information? How are you filtering it? What’s it making you feel inside? What does it make you want to do?
Perfectionism, being perfect, and perfection, that’s not real. It doesn’t exist. Progress does. Sticking to your goal — that exists, and that’s real.
This is why it’s so essential that you guard yourself against untruths and unrealistic standards.
So what’s a person living in the real world to do?
Here’s what you can do instead:
- Focus on your progress.
Recognize how far you’ve come from where you started and pause to celebrate your successes. You’re going to create internal representations of what progress looks like to you. When you focus on the gap between the person you want to become and the person you are today, you’re focusing on the lack — and focusing on lack creates more lack.
- Challenge your thoughts.
Question and challenge every negative thought and limiting belief that pops into your head. Rewrite the negative thoughts with positive ones that will fuel your continued progress.
Get into a state in your mind where you know that thoughts are just thoughts, and are simply thoughts you’ve thought often enough that now you’re aware of them. And just in the same way you’ve learned to think that thought and create neurological patterns, you can begin to generate new thoughts and new patterns.
- Guard your heart and mind from marketing messages.
What the smart marketers are selling oftentimes isn’t real, and while what they’re selling might make you happy momentarily, chances are you won’t stay satisfied for long. The real, good, and authentic person is already alive and well in you. This may mean that you use social media mindfully, and continue to question every thought that comes up as you engage online.
At the end of the day, this is all about action, focus, behavior, and language.
And language being our thoughts, beliefs, values, and the words that we say. Changing behavior changes the language. Changing focus, changes behavior which changes language.
The idea of perfection is really good for just one thing — to sell us things. It’s to get us to buy into something that we think that when we buy, we’re going to feel the way the marketer tells us we’re going to feel.
Keep this in mind, and trust that you’re going to know better and do better as time goes on. In the end, I think that perfection rests solely in a human being an individual. I think individually, each one of us is perfect. And outside of that, there’s no place for that concept because it doesn’t fit. Everybody is different.
So I firmly believe that you are — you reading this right now — are absolutely perfect and magnificent exactly where you are. And the only thing you have to do is make progress towards your goals in all kinds of ways, have fun doing it, and celebrate your success and your progress along the way.
And when you do, your whole being is going to support you in that, and your unconscious mind is going to reward you with experiences that are going to match that sense inside of you just simply being okay. And that you are perfect and magnificent right now.
If you’d like to hear one of my personal stories of comparison-itis, grab your earbuds and head over to episode #38 of The Mind Revolution Podcast on Taming the Perfectionist Self.
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I'm Brenda Terry. I'm a personal development trainer and master coach who works with go-getters like you who want to achieve big results in your business and personal life.
If you're excited and ready to play bigger in business and kill it in life, I help you identify and change beliefs, patterns, and behaviors that aren't supporting your goals so you can make more money, find more joy, better manage relationships, and communicate more effectively.
I'm here to help you make the powerful, effective shifts you're craving- faster than you ever thought possible.