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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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