It’s remarkable to see how many talented people are walking around this world with unhelpful ideas of perfection in their heads. Like some sort of abstract Platonic Idea, perfection is an ideal scenario of things we expect or demand to happen in any given situation.
The theory of Ideas, also known as the theory of Forms is a concept outlined by Plato, that the physical world is not as real or true as timeless, absolute, unchangeable ideas. According to this theory, Ideas or Forms contain the perfect essence of all things, of which objects and matter in the physical world are merely imitations.
This is an interesting and fascinating philosophical concept. However, the idea of the existence of a ‘perfect’ world out there unspoiled by the limitations of our flawed daily routine, is the source of suffering and misery in our day-to-day realities, leading to unrealistic expectations about our performance. It’s also leading to illusions of control in situations and events where we can’t control things.
I recently spoke to a client who had such ideas of perfection in her head. They led to feelings of insecurity, which is turn led to nervousness. Nervousness led to mistakes at work, which gave rise to feelings of guilt, which in turn led to feelings of insecurity. And so the cycle went on.
Perfectionism often leads to a lack of enjoyment; when expectations of an ideal scenario are no met (which is more likely than not) you get frustration, unhappiness and self-criticism. Focusing on finding pleasure and meaning in the things you do rather than doing them perfectly, helps to shift the focus away from your inner critic to things you can adapt in your environment in order to find pleasure and satisfaction.
Like most other things in our lives, problems related to perfectionism can be tackled by changing the way we think. Small changes seem insignificant on short term, but due to the compound effect they give rise to big changes on longer term.
Feelings are often the product of our own thoughts, even if they are first to notice. Observing carefully the feelings that start the process of self-criticism and self-disapproval, can be key in adapting our mindset in such ways that it shifts away from our inner critic to things that give us meaning and pleasure.
Daily affirmations such as “I allow myself to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes” can start a process where the mind gradually shifts away from the idea that your performance in any given situation needs to meet standards of perfection. Breathing techniques can help you focus and reduce negative feelings. Next time you notice the physical sensation that accompanies that unhelpful feeling, such as e.g. a tightness in your stomach or nausea, stop and take deep breaths for a few minutes.
This simple act gives you a sense of control about your physiology and your thinking. It will allow you to change that physiology and look at your state as an outside observer, rather than feeling completely absorbed in your emotional response.
Giving yourself permission to fail and to make mistakes will be your best self-investment in order to silence the inner critic and improve the way you experience and enjoy your life.