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Mindful : June 2016
Perfectly Stuck For some people, striving for perfection seems like a huge motivator in their lives. They may feel that letting go of perfectionism feels like giving in to inertia or giving up. Yet self-im- provement, and working hard in general, requires resolve, not fear of failure. We’re not looking for a pass from trying, only from extra layers of weighted judgment. In fact, perfec- tionism itself creates hurdles that can hinder motivation, progress, and change. When our goals become too idyllic, they can overwhelm our ability to take the necessary ini- tial steps toward what we want to accomplish. The Inner Critic rejoices, as it watches the mon- strously large wave we’ve created racing toward shore, and then spits from its beach towel, Yo u ? You’ll never handle that! And when we stumble in our tentative first tries, we end up sucked into an undertow of self-loathing as we compare our lack of progress to that distant ideal. Or we burn out from the constant striving to get somewhere other than where we are right now. Beyond perfect, we may find ourselves capable of compromising and tak- ing manageable, equally productive steps instead. So maybe your kids really do wake you up every weekend. But right now, holding onto the picture of how they “should” behave isn’t getting you or your partner more sleep. It’s just creating frustration on top of sleep deprivation. A solution requires letting go of should once again—if should means “What I picture” and not whether they are capable, or likely, to do what you hope. And then either taking turns with your partner sleeping in until they mature, or creating a specific plan to nudge their behavior in the direction you want. Of course, perfectionism affects life beyond lazy Sunday mornings at home. Letting go of what a job or a relationship should be, and managing what actually is, can also mean admitting when something doesn’t fit. “I should be happy with my health/work/relationship. I’m so fortunate, that’s clearly how I should feel.” And yet, this “should- ing” ourselves doesn’t honor when something really feels off, and may keep us from taking appropriate actions to remedy the situation. It can also feel like failure when the Inner Critic chimes in. Vacation with friends instead of my extended family? Oh, man, that sounds so much more relaxing. But what will the family think? We always meet for a week at the shore. Moving past perfect may mean finding a new way to accept something that’s tolerable (I don’t love the big family beach trip, but it’s important to everyone so I’ll go and make the best of it), or assertively addressing something that is not (I’m done with the family beach house, even though I feel guilty and I know some people won’t be happy with me). Recognizing failures, biases, or even smaller hurdles for what they are allows us to take charge—and nothing is more motivating than this. And when our plans go askew anyway, an honest view lets us humbly reassess, make amends, adjust, and get on with our day. A Better Definition Stuff happens, not all of it great. We mess up, and so do the people around us. As Jon Kabat- Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, suggests in his classic book Full Catastrophe Living, ease means finding comfort in the midst of the full catastrophe of life. A formal mindfulness practice is an acknowl- edgement that if we aim to build certain traits, we access them more readily in daily life. If you want to be more aware, responsive, emotionally balanced, compassionate, or anything else, it takes effort. It doesn’t require being perfect. And when you notice that voice taking over, it’s an opportunity to move past its influence. We all benefit when we take a few moments to focus our attention (without expecting stillness). Or settle our busy minds (without expecting stress to go away completely). Or build aware- ness of the assumptions and habits that drive us (without blaming ourselves for those tendencies in the first place). Or develop more compassion in our lives (even though some people absolutely, totally annoy us). There’s no perfect. If you’re practicing mind- fulness and judging yourself, notice that. Be aware of that impulse, and then let it go. You’re flawed and so is everyone else. But when you aim for improvement, everyone benefits. Mindfulness isn’t perfectionism. It’s the anti- dote to perfectionism. ● Moving past perfect may mean finding a way to accept something previously intolerable, or it may mean asserting yourself and living with the fallout. ILLUSTRATION©DOLLARPHOTOCLUB/JAMESBIN.PHOTOGRAPHBYSTEPHANIEDIANI. 52 mindful June 2016 well-being