Category Archives: Perfectionism

22Mar/13

The Power of Vulnerability

TED Talk:  The Power of Vulnerability – Brene Brown

http://ted.com/talks/view/id/1042

This was the first TED Talk I watched.  It blew me away.  Not only is it funny and entertaining, Brene’s message is urgent and powerful for all of us.

Please comment below about what you thought and how you reacted to her talk.

Many Thanks,

Thea

04Feb/13

Do You React like a Child?

I have realised that a lot of the discord in our house is made worse by my own reactions to it.

I can give up my food, lose my sleep, give my children my gloves and socks on a cold winter’s walk, let them choose games, films, where to sit, what to eat………all in a mature adult way. That’s what mums do.  We put our children first, trying to ease their discomfort, not minding if we don’t get to choose the cake first, or sit in the front of the car. Sometimes I do mind, but I can sacrifice these kind of things with equanimity.

What I can’t cope with are their expressions of negative emotion: the arguing, complaining, the anger and frustration. It makes me feel so uncomfortable and out of control that I react to them as a child would. Immediately.  Without pausing and thinking. Without empathising with them. Only thinking of myself, my emotions, and how I can get control of  the situation, and smooth things over again.

John Gottman, in his wonderful book, ‘Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child’ explains that how we react to our children’s emotions reflects how we respond to our own.  Sadly, I have had to admit that this is true in my case.  In some areas I am not emotionally intelligent in the slightest.  I hate being angry or upset and have spent my entire life resisting it, trying to eradicate it, believing myself and my life to be seriously flawed in those instances.  I realise now, that as a perfectionist, I needed to control it. Anger and sadness have no place in a perfect life, so they were obviously Very Bad Indeed.

Now, while I am trying to raise a happy family rather than a perfect one, I understand the value of negative emotions and the choices we have in responding to them.  I know of many better ways of acting and talking to myself and my children in these situations to validate the feelings, accept the situation, set limits on behaviour and come up with solutions if need be.  Unfortunately my emotional side is not with the programme yet.  It seems to be many years behind, and I worry whether it will ever catch up.  Knowing something intellectually and rationally is one thing.  Knowing it emotionally in the heat of the moment is another thing altogether.

What further confounds the problem is that I wear my heart on my sleeve. It is easy to tell what I’m feeling, without me having to spell it out.  I’ve always thought of it as a sign of being honest and just a part of being me.  Now it seems a lot like a lack of self control – call it stiff upper lip if you like.  When the emotional going gets tough I just can’t keep it together.  It all comes out – like a five year old – directed at the people closest to me.   It’s like I am stamping my feet and shouting ‘its’ not fair!’  Knowing intellectually what I need to change doesn’t help me react in the moment, and even makes it feel worse because I am aware that I could be behaving differently, but can’t. It can be very frustrating, especially when I behave in a way that I’m telling my children not to.

But another important thing I’ve learnt in the past 2 years is that in order to change this and improve my emotional reactions, I need first to accept that it’s ok not to be perfect at the moment. This means being mindful and kind to myself when it happens.   I also know that to change a habit I need to focus on the new habit and have a plan of action.

So, I have compiled a list of  ‘alternative parenting responses’ for myself and my husband to use in the heat of the moment when we  start to get frustrated about the kids being upset or misbehaving.  We have practiced noticing what triggers our annoyance, and then started using the new responses. It will take some hard work before it feels natural or becomes a habit, but we’ve seen some small green shoots of success already which spurs us on.

It seems I may be able to grow up after all.

14Jan/13

How Could I Forget the Most Important Happiness Habit?

The trouble with being a perfectionist is that can make you very insular and inward looking.  Perfectionists are usually concerned with how well they are performing in their lives and how they look to others.  Sometimes we get so obsessed with ourselves and how to be perfect that we forget the basic priorities in our lives.

Over the last few months I’ve forgotten to make time for my friends.   It’s a basic happiness habit that I am well aware of.  People who spend time with friends and family, nurturing and enjoying their most important relationships are happy. However,  I seem to have withdrawn myself from my friends recently…not intentionally as such… but in an attempt to focus on my family, I’ve neglected my connections to my most important friends.

Last week however I got back on track.

On Monday I spent the day with a good friend taking the kids out for inset day. It was raining but we still had a picnic in the park, complete with fresh air and mud, wet bottoms and flasks of tea.

On Tuesday my husband worked from home and we popped out for a quick lunch together to plan the year ahead.

On Wednesday I spoke to an inspiring group of business women who I have become friends with over the last year, and who, when I announced I would be writing a book this year, gave me the most amazing support and advice.

On Thursday I spoke to my best friend in Australia for the first time in about 3 months. We are planning a trip to see them next month.

On Friday I went out to the local pub with a group of girlfriends that I love, but don’t see enough (my fault!), where the laughter, banter and support nourished my soul.

And finally on Saturday, I spoke to some other friends who have just moved to Perth, and caught up with all their news.  We are planning to see them next month too.

For the rest of the weekend I had a spring in my step, joy in my heart, and a seemingly never-ending supply of patience.  In other words, I was happy.

It was an important lesson that has reminded me to make time to nurture my friendships this year.

19Nov/12

Daring Greatly or Stretching Too Far

On the Chrissy B Show discussing Perfectionism

Two weeks ago I was invited to talk about perfectionism on the Chrissy B Show on Sky TV.  At first I was flattered, then I was excited, then I started to get scared.  I said yes, because it’s a topic close to my heart, made plans, then seriously wished I hadn’t.

As my inner gremlins set about me I began to feel worse and worse. I couldn’t relax, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t concentrate on the children. I was in meltdown. Completely overwhelmed by stressful emotions, it certainly was a weird few days. I thought I knew what was happening: I was just scared about doing something new, about being vulnerable and ‘out there’ with the potential to look foolish or rubbish in front of other people.  I endlessly rationalised: it will be ok, and if it isn’t that’s ok too. I’ll learn from it and I’ll still be loved by those who are important to me. I told myself that it would be fun to see a working TV studio, great to meet new people and a change from my normal life. I knew all this so why did I still feel so bad?  I ‘should’ be able to deal with this.

At other times I tried to convince myself to cancel, but my pride wouldn’t let me and I knew that in the long run it was a positive thing to do. But I found it difficult to justify much of the time. I’m all for pushing my boundaries, but to feel sick with nerves for a week felt like too much of a price to pay. Too much for my children to pay as well, since it was their mother who was away with the fairies one minute and snapping at them the next.

Gradually it became clear to me that the reason I was so scared and worried was because the situation was something I was not in control of, and because of that, I couldn’t guarantee that it would run smoothly.  These – I suddenly realised – are my two big perfectionist ideals. I was also ‘shoulding’ myself too much:  ‘I should be able to deal with this.’  I ‘shouldn’t let this affect my family.’  Being aware of why I was feeling so bad, made me feel a lot better.  Understanding yourself really does go a long way to improving the situation.

Last Monday I got the train to London and appeared on the show.  And, actually, it was fun, and I really enjoyed myself. The presenter, producer and other guests were lovely, friendly and interesting people.   I wasn’t half as nervous on the day, perhaps because I was living it rather than thinking and planning for it in advance.

So what’s the lesson here? Mainly that feeling bad is not all bad, because if we allow them to, negative emotions can teach us so much. It also strengthened my belief that my family is the most important thing to me.  Being successful professionally is very important to me, but will never take priority over looking after my young family.

On the way home, I was proud of myself for getting out there and giving it a go.  It didn’t go horribly wrong.  And at the end of the day, I’m still the same person, still worth the same as every other human being on the planet. I had just been lucky enough to add another new experience to that journey called life.

If you are interested in watching the programme here it is.

06Oct/12

Celebrating the Ordinary

This week I was in London to hear the wonderful Brene Brown talk about vulnerability. I know…it doesn’t sound that exciting. It even sounds a bit scary, especially when she adds words like shame into the mix.  The reason this is scary for us is that it is all about our primitive human emotions and behaviour.  We all experience them but we don’t really want to know about them, and definitely don’t want to talk about them. However, it turns out that understanding shame and vulnerability are key to living a happier life.

Brene talked to Roman Krznaric from The School of Life  about the ideas in her latest book Daring Greatly, which looks at how allowing ourselves to be vulnerable transforms us and enables us to live a full and connected life – what she calls ‘wholehearted living’.  She is a fascinating and funny speaker, getting her ideas across in such an simple relatable way, yet with the authority of 12 years qualitative research and data collection.

I’m familier with Brene’s work as I have read her two previous books, which continuously help in my journey towards overcoming perfectionism. There were many ideas in her talk this week, but the thing that stood out for me most was the idea of how many of us aim for the extraordinary at the expense of the ordinary in our lives. It is great that human beings aim high, that we have amazing qualities that enable us to achieve great things, like imagination, drive, compassion  and creativity.  But the question is:  do too many of us forget about the treasures within the ordinary moments of our lives because we are too focused on being or creating the extraordinary?  Brene illustrated this in two ways.

Firstly she talked about working with a group of parents who had lost adult children in the 9/11 attacks in New York.  When asked what they missed most, every one said they missed the ordinary, everyday things that they did with their children. This ties in with all the articles I’ve ever read where people talk about missing  a loved one who has died.  They miss the laughter, a certain mannerism, being able to share things, even the annoying and irritating habits they had, and the fighting.   All simple ordinary things.

Secondly she talked about her current trip to London (she’s from Texas).  Her 7 year old son has been picking up the UK lingo  and  using new words and saying things he wouldn’t normally say. Brene explained that being in London has been a great, exciting and fun experience with loads of great memories, but what she will remember most is an ordinary moment when a beloved 7 year old said something funny.

25Sep/12

Other People Can’t Make You Happy…..and Vice Versa

I am reading Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Happier at Home, in which she embarks on her second happiness project focussing on creating a happier home.

She talks about how important her family is to her happiness, but that it’s also important not to rely on other people for your own happiness.  She says:

My family’s happiness matters so much to me; realistically, if they weren’t happy, it was very hard for me to be happy – but the truth was, I couldn’t make them happy, no matter how fervently I desired to, and they couldn’t make me happy, either.  We all have to find happiness for ourselves.”

Family life is very emotional.  Dramas of one kind or another seem to happen very regularly in our house.  As an emotional, expressive, heart on my sleeve kind of person these ups and downs of family life really affect my equilibrium and therefore my happiness. As a perfectionist, I have struggled to let go the desperate need I seem to have for every single moment of my family’s life to run smoothly.  I often rest my entire happiness on how other people are feeling, and how they behave.  Our family is very good at ‘catching’ emotions from each other like a nasty disease.

But it needn’t be that way. Recently, mainly as a result of my mindfulness study and meditation practice, I’ve come to realise that emotions are transcient (yes, I know that may be obvious to most of you, but it wasn’t to me) and that if I felt angry this moment, it didn’t mean that I would still feel angry in 5 minutes. Also, I’ve learnt that uncomfortable emotions are not necessarily bad and don’t constitute some kind of failure on my part.  Feeling bad, I’ve come to accept, does not mean that my whole life is wrong.

Being aware of this has enabled me to ride the family’s daily dramas much better.  When my children are upset, angry or frustrated, I can see it as a normal part of life rather than a huge problem that I need to fix, right now, perfectly, otherwise they will be doomed to misery for the rest of their lives.

Taking responsibility for our own emotional equilibrium and happiness is something that we are not taught how to do in school (if we were, the world would be a much calmer, happier place). Some of us might have been lucky enough to have parents who were able to model and teach this, but most of us need to learn as we go along, developing our own personal techniques over our lifetime.

27Jun/11

Do you value yourself enough?

People with a talent for living give their physical and mental health a high priority. They exercise, meditate, go to yoga, pilates or dance class, play sports. They take time to recharge their body and nourish their soul.

When I visualise my ideal life, I am one of those people. I would go for a jog on a Monday, maybe join friends at  Zumba class on Wednesday and do training in the park on Fridays.  I would make time for ten minutes yoga 3 times a week, and even fit in some mindful meditation. And of course my diet would include double the fruit and veg and a quarter of the chocolate. Not to mention a cut in wine intake. I would stimulate my mind with much time spent on hobbies, meeting friends and reading.

My reality is usually quite different.  While I recently had some success introducing exercise and healthier eating into my life, going on holiday has set that back a bit. Generally when it comes down to each decision I take throughout the day, I often overrule my ideal self.  Instead, I seem to value spending time working, checking emails, or getting the house clean, over things that will really make me feel happier. I know that they will make me happier and healthier, yet I don’t do them.  And I know from speaking to friends and clients that I’m not the only one who does this. Why is this?

Here are a few possible reasons:

  • We don’t value ourselves – and our physical and mental health – enough.
  • We don’t focus enough – ie we get distracted, we go for instant gratification over hard work, or long-term goals.
  • We find it difficult to change habits, especially ingrained thinking patterns.
  • We are scared – we don’t want to fail, make mistakes or make a fool of our selves.
  • We are too busy trying to prove we are someone else rather than allowing ourselves to be who we are.
  • We don’t realise (or we forget) that many of the goals we aim for will not solve all our problems and make us instantly happy.
  • We worry about what other people will think of our lifestyle.

I am sure there are many other reasons, like laziness, unexpected events, being human, even being spontaneous, that distract us from our idealised life.  Maybe a big one is expecting that an ideal life is possible anyway.  I know personally, and I hate to admit this, that one of the biggest reasons that I don’t give enough time to my mental and physical wellbeing is that I’m constantly trying to ‘prove’ myself in other ways to everyone – including myself. So this means I am chasing achievements rather than valuing myself enough as I am.  Sounds crazy written down in black and white, but there it is.

08Mar/11

Do You Dare to Fail?

“Success is going from failure to failure without loss in enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill.

What do you think and how do you feel when you fail?

Maybe you complete a piece of work which wasn’t up to your usual standard, or shouted at your children, or forgot an important appointment, or received another rejection letter. How do you interpret your failure?

It is easy to forget that failure is a good thing. Most of us have heard the anecdote about how the inventor of the lightbulb Thomas Edison countered a criticism of his many ‘failures’. He said: ‘I haven’t failed. I just found ten thousand ways it doesn’t work’. We also hear about how successful entrepreneurs only succeed because they pick themselves up, learn from their mistakes and keep trying and failing until they get it right, implying that you only really fail when you give up. So why don’t we apply this thinking to our own lives?

We used to. When we learnt to feed ourselves as babies we missed our mouths many times. When we learnt to walk we fell over and risked serious injury all the time.

It seems that as we grow up we lose the security of our faith in ourselves and we start to worry about what other people think. We feel the need to prove we are good enough and worthy of people’s affection, love and respect. And because we don’t want others to see us fail,  we become scared of taking risks and making mistakes.

Below is an exceprt from a speech at  Harvard by J K Rowling in 2008. Hopefully we won’t get to rock bottom, but perhaps we should not be so scared to risk it.

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential…I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life… Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies…The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships until both have been tested by adversity.”

02Feb/11

Whare did all the Time go?

I’ve realised I’ve got a problem with time.

I am almost paralysed by fear that I might not choose the best thing to do in the time available to me.  I am constantly thinking about how to best use my time, what can I do to be most effective, to be most productive, to achieve the most. Which things do I want to achieve in the time I have this week?  What is the most important thing for me?  Should I put my family and children’s interest first – are they more important? Or should I put my business first because obviously if I’m happy with work, then I’m a happier and better mum and wife.  The constant choices I bombard myself with are never-ending.  What should I do? Who should I be? What do I want to achieve?  What do I want to do? What is best? What is most important?

What I am really asking is:  When will I ever get there? When will I ever be good enough? Who do I even want to be? How can I create perfection? How can I feel satisfied?

Its exhausting. And needless to say, it doesn’t get me anywhere. It poisons my creativity and spontaneity and joy.  I am ground down by the supposed seriousness of the constant decisions I have to make on ‘the best use of my time’. I am always judging myself, and the choices I make.  I have to make the perfect decision. And I can’t. And its making me crazy.

So I’ve decided to stop striving.  I have just started reading a book by Brene Brown called The Gifts of Imperfection in which she says the difference between people who live a wholehearted life (i.e. people who are truly happy) and those who don’t is their belief that they are enough, already.  In other words they don’t have to prove anything. Instead they are brave and open and vulnerable and connected and they believe they are worthy.  So that’s my challenge for the next few weeks* – to remind myself that I am enough already, and that I don’t always need to make the right decisions and use my time perfectly to be a worthy person. I am one already.

*I think I meant to say ‘years’…

The Gifts of Imperfection

15Dec/10

What is a Perfectionist?

In my life, being a perfectionist means:

  • I expect to get everything done.
  • I want to feel in control – ie everything must be going right and running smoothly.
  • If things go wrong life isn’t perfect anymore, and that’s a problem.
  • If I have a problem, I should be able to work at it and sort it out.
  • I’m not allowed to get angry, because it means things are not running smoothly.
  • I’m not allowed to feel physically tired, or have an afternoon slump, because that stops me getting things done.
  • I love getting things done, or rather I love having done lots of things.
  • There is always something else to be done.
  • I should be able to translate all (or at least most) of the ideas in my head into reality.
  • Because I can’t act on all my ideas and get them done, it means I am not the mum I wanted to be. Or the successful professional/business woman I wanted to be.
  • Not meeting these expectations makes me feel like a failure – however unattainable they are.
  • Being a perfectionist is the only way I can be.

Until now. As I’ve recently  realised, it’s time for change.  Being a perfectionist no longer serves me or my family.  Reading some of the above sentances makes it clear how skewed my thinking has become due to this expectation of perfection.  So I’m going on a crash course in being kinder to myself and lowering my expectations.   To get me out of the habit of setting high expectations, wanting every moment to be perfect, and needing to be in control at all times my mantra will be:

  • I don’t want to be perfect.
  • I’m aiming for imperfection.
  • It is ok for me (and my family) to have a rainbow of emotions in one day.

I just need to remind myself, one moment at a time, that there is another choice.  I won’t make that choice every time. I will automatically think my ingrained perfectionist thoughts, but I’m starting now to try and replace them, and it’s ok to do that imperfectly.