When my daughter was six and at school in France, her teacher would set classroom work to practice cursive writing in a handwriting copybook. The kids would write rows of letters and words to develop their handwriting.
I noticed my daughter’s copybook becoming alarmingly thinner and thinner by the day with pages neatly torn out. I went to see the teacher, quite bemused by the forever-thinning copybook. The teacher explained that she tore out a page if it wasn't ‘perfect’!
20 years on, this story still sticks in my mind as a wonderfully appropriate and weird example of how the quest for perfection can lead to well, in this case thankfully only a very thin copybook and a bemused child and mother, but it could also have led to a whole lot of stress and tension.
Perfection is the action or process of improving something until it is faultless. Perfection itself is frozen in time and space, sterile and rigid. You can’t go beyond perfection, can you!
You never make a mistake. You never have a bad day. You never give a bad answer, you are always right, and on top of the game. You lead a flawless, perfect life a bit like a god or goddess up there in the clouds.
Except you’re not a god or goddess and this is where the difficulty lies. You and I are imperfect creatures who lead messy lives here on earth striving to do the best we can.
Let’s face it, it’s not human to be constantly ‘perfect’ and indeed it’s inhumane to push yourself or anyone else to continual excellence.
And yet, you still want to sit in the clouds with the gods and goddesses because it will be perfect, won’t it? You’ll feel better about yourself, you will, at last, give yourself the recognition you deserve, and you’ll be able to breathe… or will you?
This need to never fail, always succeed, and never get anything wrong can sometimes lead to immense frustration, dissatisfaction, self-loathing, and great mental and physical tension. The more you want to be flawless, the more you experience any mistakes with terrible intensity.
Just as the teacher tore out the pages in my daughter’s copybook, you tear yourself to bits when you esteem that what you have done, said, are, or look like hasn’t reached your idea of perfection.
The constant need for excellence encourages what is called ‘all or nothing’ or ‘black or white’ thinking. This kind of ‘crooked’ thinking leads to the natural conclusion: if there’s a mistake, it’s all rubbish. If you’re not top of your class, your profession, or your sport, you’re useless. If you don’t do everything you said you would, you might as well give up, you’re not good anyway, you’ve failed.
You don’t see or celebrate what you’ve already achieved, you only see and indeed magnify what you haven't achieved yet. And because this future goal of pristine excellence is unattainable, this can only feed at best an irritating sense of apprehension, at worst crippling anxiety.
Sometimes it means that you don’t even bother trying. Your imagination fills up with catastrophic predictions of how useless and incapable you’ll be. What's the point? It’s better not to bother. It’s safer.
What can you do to abate this need for perfection?
What can give you do to give yourself a bit more wriggle room, more self-love, and offer yourself a kinder, softer, more flexible, and ultimately more realistic outlook on life?
How about considering that there are lots of shades between black and white? How about considering that there are lots of numbers between 100% and 0?
How about saying to yourself:
This is good enough.
I am good enough.
I am enough!
I’m not perfect and I don’t even want to be perfect. Because it’s sterile and rigid.
Being good enough leaves you room to improve and learn from your mistakes, flexibility to enjoy where you are now, and self-confidence to celebrate your wins. You choose not to constantly worry about where you should be, what you should do, and turn off thoughts of needing to achieve excellence.
This doesn’t mean accepting any old result or outcome, no longer trying, and falling into complacent inaction. On the contrary, you grow in confidence and well-being as you enjoy matching yourself against your past efforts or against others, but in a relaxed self-accepting manner. You push yourself but not over the edge.
How can cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy help you be kinder to yourself?
A cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist can help you recognise, understand and stand back from patterns of thinking that lead to stifling self-doubt.
When you know that these thoughts are toxic, you can pick them out of your consciousness, like rotten apples, and you can use different techniques to disintegrate and fade them from your mind.
In hypnosis you can relive certain moments and find peace, you can go back and ‘alter’ your perception of that experience. You can face catastrophic visions and experience how much stronger you really are when you look that awful thing straight in the eye. You can practice, thinking, acting, and feeling more positive, self-assured, and proud. You can discover what it’s like to kick perfectionism out of your life!
Once you’ve experienced this freedom in your mind, it becomes more tangible in your life. You can let go of sitting with the perfect gods and goddesses above and mess around imperfectly enjoying yourself!
Don't let the goal of perfection lead to the goal of frustrating self-doubt!