01 February 2012

Step 1: Embrace Your Imperfections

A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here.

"It is more useful to be aware of a single weakness in oneself than to be aware of a thousand weaknesses in someone else." Dalai Lama

Simple living is as much about embracing yourself and your imperfections as it is about striving to become the better version of you.

The way I see it, simple living is a healthy mix of activities that will help us keep our sanity in the busy modern world. Even more importantly, if we stick to the principles of simple living we wouldn't have a hard time defining what is truly important in our lives regardless of temptations.

What is simple living?
  • Identifying what is most important for you and eliminating everything else.
  • Freeing up time for doing what inspires you and being with the people you love.
  • Decluttering your mind, your everyday life and your virtual life.
  • Single-tasking and learning to diminish stress.
  • Striving to live frugally by wanting less and buying only what is necessary.
  • Slowing down and being actively present in the moment.
  • Living a healthy life, including cleaning your home and your body, eating, exercising and thinking.
  • Striving to be green and sustainable as much as your surroundings allow.
  • Enjoying the simple pleasures of life.
  • Simplifying your goals, tasks and expectations.
Let me add that simple living is not about expectations or pointing out faults. It is not even about perfectionism. It is instead about the things you can do to elevate your perceptions, inner piece and self-respect. Yes, simple living is about getting closer to that better version of yourself.

What is perfectionism?
Perfectionism is the belief that a state of completeness and flawlessness can and should be attained. In its pathological form, perfectionism is a belief that work or output that is anything less than perfect is unacceptable.

While normal perfectionists "derive a very real sense of pleasure from the labors of a painstaking effort" neurotic perfectionists are "unable to feel satisfaction because in their own eyes they never seem to do things well enough to warrant that feeling of satisfaction".

How to recognize perfectionism
Perfectionism is when:
  • You believe that everything in life must be done to your level of perfection, which is often higher than anyone else's.
  • You can't stop thinking of a mistake you made.
  • You are extremely self-conscious about making mistakes in front of other people.
  • You either do things "just right" or not at all.
  • You must always strive to reach the ideal in everything you do because it is in the achievement of the ideal that you give meaning to your life.
  • You believe that you have no value in life unless you are successful.
  • You demand perfection from other people.

A perfectionist's story
In my circle of friends I have been known as the perfect baker. Apart from utter joy, I take great pride in everything I bake, be it a simple bread, or cookies, or any cake. One day, not that long ago I totally ruined the pastry I was making. There were 8 people expecting to eat a delicious pastry and I got it so wet that even after 3 (!!!) hours in the oven it still wasn't good enough. The pastry was ruined, the ingredients wasted. I was devastated. But although everybody had been waiting for the tasty dessert for a whole day, nobody seemed to be very disappointed or at the end of their nerves as I was. I honestly thought I had let everybody down and that I didn't deserve their trust ever again. How could I have been so clumsy. 

One of my lady friends approached me and just told me:
Hey, it cannot always turn out perfect.
And that line, my friends simple as it was, opened a whole new page for me. Nobody expected perfection. Nobody had become disappointed in me. Nobody but me blamed me. For my friends I was still the best baker around. It was only the pressure I put on myself that was ruining me. It cannot always turn out perfect. If it could, we wouldn't be human. If it could, we wouldn't have the need to be living our lives, learning our lessons.

We have all grown up thinking that perfection will gain us trust and respect but immaculate perfection all the time does not exist. While perfect moments and temporary combinations do happen, we are imperfect and only embracing the fact that we are imperfect will help us become better!

If you think of it, even the most accomplished and most successful people make mistakes in their work or home life. And from a self development point of view, the making of mistakes is actually a chance for personal growth and  development. We learn from our mistakes and I hope the day I don't make any mistake will never come because what then will be the purpose of my life?

What to do to eliminate perfectionism and focus on self development instead

  • Get rid of the burden you're carrying - the world will keep on turning even if you ruin a cake.
  • Learn to ask for help when you need it. "If you want a job well done, do it yourself" is not always right in the modern world.
  • Congratulate yourself on each mistake you make. No, I'm not crazy. Try it out and you'll see that it will help you define the seriousness of a mistake while challenging you to find a way to better yourself next time.
  • Make a deliberate effort to indulge in what you do and concentrate on the momentary joy in your actions regardless of the outcome. That is how you will charge everything you create with positivity, which will come back to you and make you happier.
  • Next time the perfectionism wave hits you remember: Nobody's expecting you to be perfect.
  • Celebrate the little successes in your everyday life. 
  • Enjoy success without second guessing your ability to sustain the achievement.
  • Differentiate between the ideal and the best you can do.
  • Let go of rigid, moralistic judgments of your performance and develop  compassion for yourself.
  • Embrace yourself just as you are, with all your positive and negative sides. Love yourself. Yes, look in the mirror, straight in your eyes and tell yourself out loud that you love yourself just as you are. You have no idea what a little (self)love can do.

You can do this!
Did you see yourself somewhere along the lines? Make a list of the perfectionism signs that are true for you. What are their negative effects on your life? How can you overcome them and transform them into constructive actions?

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  1. What a fabulous start Sonya! Your example is so powerful and speaks to all of us perfectionnists. It was a cake, just a cake. Nobody got hurt or died! If we can be so hard on ourselves for the little things, imagine how big mistakes can effect us. Serious food for thought (no pun intended!).
    Time to reflect...

    1. Yes, if we are so hard on ourselves for the little things, then the big mistakes don't let us sleep (personal experience). But letting go of that strive to do things perfectly all the time is one of the most liberating feelings I know!

    2. Okay, I'm back... I just finished my post which spoke mostly of organizing and at first glance I didn't think I was a perfectionist, but I think I could become one on the topic of organization! Great start to what I know will be an enlightening few weeks for all of us!
      Deb ( from across the ocean blue )

  2. Hello dear Sonja!
    Lovely way to get started! I'm in the process of preparing my first post which I will publish shortly, but I wanted to say thank you again for reaching out to me across the big blue sea and inviting me to share. I like seeing my button on your blog! THANK YOU!
    Keep blogging!

    1. Deb, thank you for being here, I really appreciate your presence and support!

  3. What a way to start!
    I just have to admit: I'm already living simple. So getting into this challenge was like 'yeah, right, how much of a challenge can this become? Of course I'll do this.'
    And then you go and start with 'perfectionism'. My Achilles' heel. I've been trying to be 'less perfect' ever since my blogpost in November. And it's hard.
    Thank you for having me refocussing on this topic.

    My success of today was accepting that my Sourdough Bread didn't turn out as well as it had to. It isn't perfect. Not to my standards.
    But: my imperfect bread tastes good and fills the stomache. What more is there actually to expect from bread?

    1. Perfectionism is my Achilles' heel too, and that is why I though I would just cut to the chase. I was taken aback when I learned that perfectionism is a condition... but that might mean that we could cure it, I thought. It was best to hit the problem in the face right at the very beginning!

      I would say that you really have a success with your sourdough. I can imagine how I would have felt in your place and I realize what a big step forward this is!

    2. You're right. Perfectionism is a condition. It's nurtured. Not nature. It took me a while to accept that too.
      Most of perfectionism is perception. Our own perception. It's subjective. So basically you can state that something perfect really doesn't exist.
      So why bother to try and achieve it?
      Letting go (or working on letting go or trying to let go) is really liberating!

  4. Perfectionism is a hard thing to let go of. To break the habit of striving for everything to be perfect is one of those thing you have to work at, and make part of your daily life. As I have gotten older I have learned to let go of things I cannot change, and if it does not work out you can always start over. Thank you for your great tips for letting go of the need for everything to be perfect.
    Everyday Inspired

    1. Yes, Valerie, it's hard to let go of perfectionism. But what I found even harder was admitting I had the bug :) I just never thought I was doing well enough. I think it has to do with upbringing and expectations but growing older is great and thankfully helpful for taking things easier and finding ways to remodel your attitude to life.

  5. Great way to jump in Sonya! I do tend to have some of a perfectionist in me, and along the way have had to decide in what areas I can let it go, and which ones I can't or am unwilling. (Ironically, baking has always been a big one for me too!) And yes, I agree with you on the 'mistakes' part of your post. I look at them all as guides now, pointing things out, or more often telling me which direction not to head in. I used to hang on to my 'mistakes' even as much as I wanted to let them go, and they made me miserable, over and over again. I'm able to laugh at myself now, often out loud, and walk away from them. It took a lot of practice but has made my life much more peaceful. :)

    1. I am trying to keep my perfectionism for more harmless stuff tough I must admit I am not successful all the time. Hanging on to mistakes? Oh, how well I know that!

  6. I definitely have some perfectionist tendencies, especially obsessing over mistakes I've made and feeling a pressure within myself to do everything perfectly. It is absolutely a cause of unnecessary stress! I love the idea of listing the signs of perfectionism that I have and how they negatively affect my life - I think that's a really great way to see more clearly how to overcome them and change them into something more positive. I'm going to do that later today. Thanks Sonya!

    1. Yes, lists always help us to see things in perspective. Mostly because seeing your thoughts on paper makes them more real than just letting them hang around in your head. I've noticed that once the list is compiled, things start untangling by themselves!

    2. Totally agree! Can't wait to get started!

  7. Very good post! I can definitely own to having this problem, I think it's hard for artists especially to let go of perfectionism because that's part of an artists training--to learn to critique yourself and other artists very harshly in order to learn and become better. It took a while for me to see the difference between what I do and who I am, but understanding that helps me balance what needs to be perfect (like a big job for a client) and what never needs to be perfect (like my haircut) .

    It's such a burden off the shoulders to be able to leave something unfinished and still be proud to show it to others when you know it isn't perfect. But it's taken a while -- the ability to accept being imperfect is as much as a learned talent as being "perfect".

    1. I can see what you mean, Rachel! Though artists may look casual and relaxed on the inside, the pressure they have grown used to takes its tall. But I think that being able to show an unfinished and imperfect piece of art has a very strong connection of accepting yourself too. I think that it's harder to do if you have insecurities about yourself - yet another proof that perfectionism only stops us from growing, don't you think?

  8. What came back at me today was your phrase "If you want something well done, do it yourself". There are certain aspects of my job that I trust to no one. Well, maybe it's time to rethink that. The key to having it well done is to make sure other workers understand how to do it.
    Maybe taking on a larger workload is an attempt at "perfection", too.

    1. You are right, overtaking responsibilities and taking on a larger workload is a sign of perfectionism. This lack of trust though, is the stronger point in your comment. It screams perfectionism.

      I lived with a perfectionist until I was 27. I even worked with her. So, I can tell you - you don't want to live with the consequences of said lack of trust. With time people learn that you know best, and you can do it in a perfect way, so eventually they just give up trying.

      But think about raising a child. Would you take over walking, just because you can do it better?

      We need to learn how to teach people cope by themselves, doing things for them could be faster and better on the outside but they will never get to learn. If you try to let go of that pressure and allow your colleagues some mistakes in the short run, things will turn so right later on.

      Thank you for sharing your insight!

  9. its nice to remember I am not the only one .. and as a mother I have tried to show my own daughters by being authentic with them in the way I act , that it is OK NOT to be perfect ..sort of trying to "stop the cycle" if you will...

    great post!!

    1. It takes a lot of courage to show that it is ok not to be perfect, especially to your children!

  10. What a great start to the Simple Living Challenge!! Your story actually makes me think of a friend I had a few years ago...once, she and her brother were having a birthday party, and the whole time I was there she was so busy rushing around and trying to make everything perfect that she didn't even get to enjoy her own birthday party. It's the kind of thing you can learn a life lesson from - if you're too busy trying to make everything absolutely perfect, you won't have the time to enjoy life! It's one thing to want to improve your life, but totally different when you spend all your time stressing about perfection.

    Although, hm...as I was reading the signs of perfectionism, I was thinking, uh oh...

    I can relate to, "You can't stop thinking of a mistake you made" and "You are extremely self-conscious about making mistakes in front of other people." Sometimes even "You either do things 'just right' or not at all", but especially the first two I listed! :)

    Usually what helps me stop obsessing over my mistakes is reminding myself that what's done is done. I've already made the mistake, whatever it was, and I can't go back in time to relive the moment. So I just have to accept that I'm not perfect, resolve not to do it again, and move on. It works, thankfully!! :)

    Once again, great start, Sonya!! :D Hugs!

    1. Oh Taylor, you've got a point. In fact.. I've been there and that is why I think that sometimes you just need experience and deep analytical qualities :) after a while things start sliding in their right places, I think. It takes some time to realize that perfection is impossible but you, smart young lady, seem to know that already!

  11. very good post.
    Thank-you very much for posting.

  12. I'm a couple of days behind in starting, so today I'm catching up!

    I definitely have some perfectionist traits, especially when it comes to how things reflect on me as a "modern woman." The idea that we have to be able to do it all really wears me down sometimes, but I also have this bizarre need to get everything done and have it be perfect. Or people will judge me.

    My business continues to grow, and for the time being, I don't have any employees. It's been a busy month and we have family coming to town this weekend. They all know how swamped I've been with my jewelry, but I still have this feeling that I need to have the house spotless for them. They won't care if it's messy, but I feel like it has to be perfect anyway.

  13. I love your suggestions to switch gears from being a perfectionist to looking at situations differently. The points that hit me the most:
    *Enjoy success without second guessing your ability to sustain the achievement.
    *Let go of rigid, moralistic judgments of your performance and develop compassion for yourself.
    These are two things I really would like to work on. Hopefully over the next few weeks, I will be more comfortable with these.
    Thanks for the great post!

  14. Hi Sonya. I finally am managing to do this challenge, which is seeming more and more important to me now. I blogged about this challenge on my blog. I talked about my inability to say 'no', how it affects my life, some changes that I have made and some recent successes.

    Thanks for the structure and ideas for this challenge. It really is very timely!

    1. Thank you for keeping me informed, Lyndsey. I am off to check your blog post, I am sure there is something new I could learn from you. Looking froward to more insights along the way!