The Myth of Perfection

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As I was reading a book an acquaintance sent me, Clear Quiet Mind, I came across a section in the book from Chapter 7, The Myth of Perfection, that I believe is very helpful for accepting our imperfections and living with peace of mind in a World that is constantly telling us to be “perfect.”

After reading this chapter on the myth of perfection I googled “myth of perfection” and found that many people have written on this subject: The Huffington post, Professors, TEDTalks, etc. It is a popular subject, so it must be important to discuss. 

Here I break down what I find from these multiple sources with practical ways of accepting our imperfections from Clear Quiet Mind, which can help you get past your myth of perfection to living a life with more peace of mind. Enjoy.

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Dictionary definitions of perfect include: “Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.”

“Completely free from faults or defects, or as close to such a condition as possible.”

Why do so many of us strive for an impossible feat which only leads us to disappointment? Why do we judge others when they make a mistake, but are forgiving for our own faults?

Are your role models perfect? Who are your role models? If they are a superhero from a movie or book, then that’s just not realistic.

A TED Talks speaker, Jim Hill, speaks of his former unrealistic expectations of himself and of others here.

He says, “Ive been wrong about role models all along. They don’t have to be perfect. How could they be perfect? They’re people.”

He goes on to speak about how no one is “perfect” all the time. We’re people. We’re flawed, and that is okay. After someone told him he was a good role model, he thought of all the reasons why he was not a good role model, but he says, “But if I could be a good role model for this slice of time, well then maybe all my role models could be perfect in slices of time.” 

Instead of judging a person off of one bad thing they did, or maybe something they didn’t do, we can look at the slices of their lives that are inspiring to us: A characteristic of theirs, an achievement, an attitude, etc. When we chase perfection in ourselves and in others we only end up beating ourselves up, or others up (verbally usually), because we all fall short.

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I want to be perfect just like you do, so how can we accept this inevitable fact of being imperfect?

Practical techniques from Clear Quiet Mind are next, but one way the speaker Jim helped himself was by practicing recognizing that his friends aren’t perfect, but they are pretty awesome at times, so he looked at the positive traits in them instead of focusing on any negative. He now tries to look at everyday people as role models, none of them are perfect, but they have slices of perfection woven into them. He says that doing this has let him off the hook of perfection.

An incredibly helpful way to release the myth of perfection is to understand that no one is perfect or ever will be, but we can look at the good qualities in others life and look up to those qualities.

Author Kevin Schoeninger also has great ideas and ways on how to handle this myth of perfection. He goes a little deeper on this subject by diving into ways to recognize when we are viewing things from a myth of perfection and then ways to release the myth of perfection.

Remember, we all struggle at times with this myth of perfection. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect.

Kevin says things like:

“Do you avoid taking risks in business because you think you might fail?”

“The Myth of Perfection is an invisible line that is impossible to measure up to.”

“When have you done enough? “By what standards can these be judged—and, who says so?”

“Is it really important for you and/or your kids or be busy, productive, and perfect all the time? Does that make for a happy and healthy life?”

“What if these standards of perfectionism are arbitrary, illusory, and moving targets that keep you locked in the stress of never being good enough or worthy enough for what you really want?”

The bottom line is that ‘perfection’ is a myth. What you see when you step back and observe life more objectively is not perfection, but ‘diversity.’ Life is infinitely diverse. Diversity is a rule here on Earth. There are over seven billion different human bodies, sets of skills, habits, lifestyles, preferences, and personalities—and countless other lifeforms, each with their own unique characteristics.”

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3 ways to recognize The Myth of Perfection

(All quoted examples below are from Chapter 7 in Kevin’s Book, Clear Quiet Mind, pages 63-74)

“The myth of perfection needs to be made conscious before you can let it go and choose another outlook. Until you recognize it and can pause it as it arises, you’ll be a slave to its mythical power.”

The first way to let go of any limiting perspective is to recognize what you’re doing, Kevin says.

1) Black and White thinking

Example: “A person is a ‘good person’ or a ‘bad person.’”

“Actions are either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’”

“This just isn’t true. Every person is a diverse mix of different intentions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. There are no 100% good or bad people. No one is 100% percent anything.”

“Actions can only be judged in context-yes even the ‘bad ones,’ like stealing, lying, and taking a life(example just below). What if these actions were in the service of a greater good?” 

(Example)—“Would you lie to a Nazi about hiding a Jewish family in your attic? Would you steal their gun if they barged in and were trying to use it? Would you kill them to save innocent lives? Perhaps?”

*”Life presents itself in a rainbow of different colors and shades. Black and white thinking just doesn’t represent Reality. It’s important to view everything, every action, and everyone in their uniqueness within the complex contexts in which they appear.”

2) Always, Never, and Should

“This kind of thinking disregards the truth that all things in this physical world of time and space change and grow. Circumstances change and require different responses. We all change. Life is always changing. Life requires adaptation.”

…“Yet, we tend to label things as if they are unchanging. We say things like, ‘you always…’ and ‘I never…’ to judge others and justify ourselves.”

“‘Should’ is an equally fallible concept. We think that people should follow the rules, until they break them, create something new and amazing, and become famous for it. Then, in retrospect, they were courageous or creative geniuses.”

What if minorities and women never stood up for their rights and just followed the rules? There were laws that women couldn’t vote and that people could own slaves..How unbelievable is that? What good would happen if we didn’t break rules that are meant to be broken?

“We think that people should work until they are 65—yet, we admire those who can retire early. We think that we should long for retirement, yet those who stay engaged and active in purposeful work seem to have the most fulfilling, healthy, and happy lives.”

“Discernments about what is good, right, and valuable can only be made within the ever-changing contexts in which they occur. So, check yourself for the words always, never, and should. See if you can notice the arbitrary standards behind these statements. What if these are unnecessarily stressing you out or creating conflict?”

3) Comparison and Nitpicking

“We are brought up to compare—and this naturally leads to critical judgments if we or others don’t measure up.”

“A current example of this is the notion of ‘political correctness.’ This concept is one of the most arbitrary markers for what is good and bad. Political correctness clearly is about what is most important to the group with which you identify. It has no absolute value on its own.”

“In U.S. politics, as people congregate around ‘whatever Democrats do is bad’ or ‘whatever Republicans do it bad.’ This type of thinking leads to all sorts of contradictory and conflicting judgments…Life doesn’t offer absolute answers”

The bottom line is that people, things, and actions can only be discerned within the complex contexts in which they occur. Quick and easy, black and white judgments are inaccurate to how life actually presents itself. Life is infinitely diverse.

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4 powerful techniques on releasing The Myth of Perfection

1) Notice Exceptions and Alternatives

“Notice exceptions to the rule you’re applying.” Kevin’s idea is that we are around imperfect people all the time, friends, family, etc, but we still love them for who they are.

He says, “For example, do you think so and so is beautiful even though he or she is ‘overweight?’ Can you think of a time when a ‘good person’ had a ‘lapse in judgment?’ Can you remember a time when the point you are now disagreeing with was true?”

“Notice the variety of possible ways you can look at the same situation. By momentarily adopting different points of view, it helps release you from the stress and tyranny of any one perspective.”

“At a minimum, it can lead you to say, ‘Maybe there are a variety of ways of looking at this situation.”

2) Refute Irrational Ideas

Our ideas, our self-talk, whether rational or irrational will impact our emotions, and our emotions motivate our actions. Kevin discusses how the psychologist Albert Ellis wrote about this, identifying common irrational beliefs that “launch us into stressful feelings which result in poor coping behaviors.”

Some of these adapted irrational beliefs include: “I must have love and approval for me to feel good, I must be flawlessly competent, successful, and perfect to deserve good things, My happiness and suffering are entirely dependent upon external events, Anything unknown, uncertain, or potentially dangerous is scary, What happened in the past determines what will happen now.”

There may be truth in some of these ideas for you, but “it’s how you use these ideas against yourself that’s decisive,” Kevin says, “When you attach to them as strong beliefs, they limit how you view yourself and your possibilities.”

“Certainly, you don’t control everything that happens, but you can control how you interpret, relate to, and respond to what happens.

“Ellis discovered that, if you can refute your irrational ideas, you can interrupt the chain of reaction, and create a new outcome. If you reframe your thinking, you will feel and act differently. By doing this, you become stress-resistant and stress-resilient.”

Kevin discusses Ellis’s 5 Steps to Refute Irrational ideas which you can read more about here in Ellis’s ABC Model

3) Ask yourself, ‘Am I Coming from Love or Fear?’

“Anytime you’re feeling critical or judgmental toward yourself or others ask this question: Am I coming from love or fear?”

“The root of the myth of perfection is fear of vulnerability— that ‘I am vulnerable if I’m not perfect.’

“The cure for fear is first identifying your fear and acknowledging it, then deciding if it needs to be acted on or not. This helps respond appropriately to what is happening. Perhaps your fear is alerting you to something that needs to be done? If so, how can you address your fear by taking appropriate action? If not, can you let that fear go?”

Good questions to ask fear: ‘What am I afraid might happen? Is that likely or am I exaggerating that possibility? What actions do I really need to take? Is it possible that nothing needs to be done except letting go of fear and seeing things in a more realistic empowered way?’”

“Once you’ve identified necessary actions or decided that you may be exaggerating risk to protect feelings of vulnerability, you can move toward love.”

“On the love side, you can ask, ‘How can I be more loving and compassionate toward myself and others in this situation? What would ease fear? What would help things work out well for all concerned? How can I initiate or participate in this positive outcome?’”

“In moments of fear and vulnerability, what would someone who loves you unconditionally, exactly as you are, say to you or do? How can you apply this principle to how you relate to yourself and others?”

Love is a response that naturally arises when you see the real needs of yourself and others in any situation. Love desires the best for all concerned. Love is your natural response when you are free from fear. When you love, instead of criticizing and blaming, you can observe and discern what needs to be done.”

4) Observe and Accept What Is Actually Happening

“In moments of challenge, vulnerability, and fear, is it possible to set aside all mental chatter, all stories and judgments, and simply be an objective witness to what is happening? … It is possible with practice to do this, to free your mind.

“Remember your skills of mindfulness, acceptance, and detachment. Is it possible to mindfully observe what is happening, accept it as it is, and let go of judging people and events as good or bad? Is it possible to see others and situations innocently, as if for the first time, without prejudice? —To help do this you might use the First Seat of Consciousness(technique): — Observe the situation from a perspective above and behind your head. Imagine yourself sitting up there, looking down on yourself, others, and the situation as a whole.”

The technique above reminds me of the Stoic technique of “taking a view from above.

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You can imagine being in the sky, on a cloud, looking down at yourself and all of life, which can get you out of your own thoughts.

“I encourage you to try these techniques to release the myth of perfection in situations in which you are harshly judging yourself or others.”

Kevin’s book is very useful in helping people achieve an inner peace through practical techniques. I have underlined almost every single word throughout this book as I read it. As I read the book, part of me wanted the next page to not connect with me so I didn’t have to underline it, but it kept happening!

If you would like the full book you can buy it here from Amazon for $15

Thoreau Pondering Quotes

I began looking at thoughtful quotes from a multitude of great thinkers of the past, and as I was looking at Thoreau’s quotes, they kept pulling me in and in—he has some amazing things to say that can impact your life. Take time to ponder these quotes that make you think:

“Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn you attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” 

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“Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.”

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aid, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.”

“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”

“If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.”

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.”

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“The universe is wider than our views of it.”

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

“It is what a man thinks of himself that really determines his fate.”

“Things do not change; we change.”

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find eternity in each moment.”

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“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed…Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

“There will never be a reality free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.”

“What is called genius is the abundance of life and health.”

“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

“In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, they had better aim at something high.”

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“Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.”

“The Artist is he who detects and applies the law from observation of the works of genius, whether of man or Nature. The artisan is he who merely applies the rules which others have detected.”

“To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea.”

“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

“Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” 

“It is better to have your head in the clouds, and know where you are…than to breathe the clearer atmosphere below them, and think you’re in paradise.” 

“A man cannot be said to succeed in this life who does not satisfy one friend.”

“The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.”

“Money is not required to buy one necessity of the soul.”

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“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

“The perception of beauty is a moral test.”

“It is never too late to give up our prejudices.”

“Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed by them.”

“If you can speak what you will never hear, if you can write what you will never read, you have done rare things.”

“The rarest quality in an epitaph is truth.”

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

“If you would convince a man that he does wrong, do right. Men will believe what they see.”

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

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“Books can only reveal us to ourselves, and as often as they do us this service we lay them aside.”

“There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.”

“Instead of noblemen, let us have noble villages of men.”

“That government is best which governs least.”

“If the machine of government is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.”

“So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change. This is the only way, we say; but there are as many ways as there can be drawn radii from one centre. All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.”

“The smallest seed of faith is better than the largest fruit of happiness.”

“That man is rich whose pleasures are the cheapest.”

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”None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”

“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”

“If a man constantly aspires is he not elevated?”

“The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and, at length, the middle-aged man concludes to build a woodshed with them.”

“As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

“To be awake is to be alive.”

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

“Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around.”

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“In human intercourse the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.”

“There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.”

“A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.”

“Live the Life you’ve dreamed”

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“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.”

“I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.”

“I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”

“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”

“Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.”

“Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.”

“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”

“Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends…Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.”

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Painting by John Latermilch of Thoreau

Other good Thoreau Quotes:

“How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?”

“Every generation laughs at old fashions, but follows religiously the new.”

“In wilderness is the preservation of the world.”

“It is the greatest of all advantages to enjoy no advantages at all.”

“The language of excitement is at best picturesque merely. You must be calm before you can utter oracles.”

“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.”

“‘Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?

“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”

“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.”

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

“Men have become the tools of their tools.”

“Men are born to succeed, not to fail.”

“Til healthy to be sick sometimes.”

“Generally speaking, a howling wilderness does not howl: it is the imagination of the traveler that does the howling.”

 

I’m sure I have left out some great ones. Which is your favorite? Please share any thoughtful quotes in the comments.