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The Perfectionist

Perfection can Inspire us to a goal, or be a demon in our head that makes us suffer.

The Perfectionist is one of the voices in our head. It has the role of pointing out all the ways that we should be perfect, better or different than we are. As a secondary role it also points out how other people should be as well. It might seem very helpful with high ideals and standards, and it might seem very noble with its authoritative voice of “knowing”, but it has a dark side. It can make us miserably unhappy, feel inadequate, and even invoke emotions of self hate and depression. So with that much at stake it’s best not to leave these goings on in our unconscious.

The dark side of the perfectionist is that we are always left feeling inadequate. Or, in its secondary role, when we believe what it says about others and end up disappointed, frustrated, or angry. We often don’t see this darker emotional role because we are focused on achieving that elusive standard of perfectionism. If we stop chasing that standard for a few minutes we can see some how wrong the Perfectionist is.

The Perfectionist is full of false beliefs and lies that we are trying to appease.

Perfection looks like the solution that will make us feel better. If we achieve it, we will avoid the harsh Inner Critic of the Judge. But the bar the Perfectionist puts up there isn’t what we should be striving for. It is a contest that has us set up to fail.

The concept of Perfection over so many years has become intertwined with the narrative of the Judge. The Judge’s use of the standard of Perfection is far more common than how we would use it, or in a way that it is used in our psyche for a helpful purpose. Getting things perfect, or even good enough is synonymous with the Judge’s criticisms and feeling inadequate. The same is true for related ideas of “good enough”, “right”, “Better”, “supposed to”, “success”, “should”, “Fair”, etc. All these ideas illicit some feelings of unworthiness, frustration, disappointment, and failure.

The Judge is likely to be using these terms against your emotional body more than they are being used in a way that helps you to be happy in the world. The same is true for all the terms that are the opposite, “imperfect, not good enough, wrong, worse, etc.

You can notice how much this game is rigged by counting the number of times the Perfectionist and Judge congratulate you on how great you were.  If you can’t think of any times that happened, then you get my point. They always use their standards to induce unworthiness and inadequacy feelings and that makes them a problem not a helper or keeper of some great goal to achieve.

Perfection, or even just the idea of something like it is a beautiful creation in your imagination. However, the perfectionist version is not generally based in reality and shouldn’t be used to judge what we do in the real world. Use it as a goal you strive for, but don’t use it as a measuring standard.

The challenge in awareness is to be present with that idealized perfectionist version as a goal in the imagination and be aware that what we create in imagination does not transfer immediately or easily to the world of reality. Creating beauty in the real world takes practice. With an awareness of the difference between the imagined world and the real world we can avoid the Judge’s misplaced criticism that expects the two to be congruent.

 

Consider this.

  1. Take something you do. It could be build something in your garage, sing a song, dance, or a project at work. Take a moment and imagine that you did it perfectly. Great.  You just used your imagination to flash on an imaginary performance. It probably took you a few seconds. Now consider how long it really takes to do that activity. Playing a song would take you 3-4 minutes. Getting to your ideal weight might take several months. A “perfect” work out at the gym might be 30-60 minutes. You can imagine being “there” in the imagination in only seconds but in real life that same thing takes 100 to 100,000 times as long. That is a clue how far removed your imagined version of perfection is from real perfection. Your imagined version is seen finished instantly.

2      Now imagine doing the whole song, work out, or project perfectly in actual time. Imagine playing or singing every note of the song. Imagine building that work project in the garage or at work and it happening perfectly. (no, I don’t expect you will do this but try doing it for 3 minutes)  If you just imagine doing it for a few minutes you will likely notice something interesting.  Your imagination, right where the Perfectionist can direct the whole show, can’t imagine doing it perfectly. Your imagination wanders.

Your mind will jump around, lose track of where you were in the project, forget something, retrace a step, or get distracted on to something else. In the previous exercise, where you spent 3-4 seconds imagining it “perfectly” you really imagined it in a really distorted way. You only had a symbolic idea of perfect. You can see that really focusing your attention can be a challenge. It also shows you that your Perfectionist isn’t even a Perfectionist in it’s imaginary world. He’s just pretending about that. This awareness can also help take away some of the authority we unknowingly give him.

The other place where your Perfectionist gets it wrong in the real world is in the instantaneous results. If I take a dance class and I watch the instructor demonstrate a move, my mind can intellectually say, “I got it.”  Now, what I have is the intellectual idea of what the instructor did. To really “get it” I’ve got to take the idea of what my mind saw and train my muscles and nervous system to move that way with the timing of the music with a dance partner. That is much more than an idea. It is work.  It takes multiple iterations to get my “idea” integrated into my unconscious memory, nervous system, and muscles, so that the dance move is automatic. If I practice 10 or 20 times I might get it, as long as I’m not also trying to learn other things at the same time or too complicated. Then there is the issue that I may not remember that move next week at the same class.

Your perfectionist lives in an imaginary world where it is possible for you to do things perfectly without any trial and error or practice. Actually, your perfectionist not only thinks that it is possible, but that you are supposed to do things perfectly without any practice. It thinks you live in the imaginary world also, but you don’t live in an imaginary world. If you develop awareness and mindfulness of these two separate worlds you can eliminate a lot of unhappiness from your life.

One of the consequences of these delusional “Perfectionists” expectations is that if we aren’t aware and skeptical of it, we succumb to the next character of the story in our internal dialog. If we accept the Perfectionists imaginary standard, then we fall to accept the Judges criticism for not meeting them as well.

Then one of two things happen. We attempt the dance move, song, or work project. It goes in accordance with reality, which requires some trial and error to get it right. This doesn’t meet the perfectionist standard and so the Judge has a harsh internal dialog of criticism for us about how we are a failure, can’t do things well enough, and that other people must think we are incompetent, etc. From this harsh self-criticism we suffer emotionally.

In the second scenario we have some awareness, that this harsh criticism and emotional crap will be generated by our belief system if we try to do something. So we unconsciously employ an avoidance strategy. We procrastinate any attempt or work on the project. Procrastination is one way to avoid self judgment. If you don’t try, your Judge can’t make you feel unworthy for not being “perfect.”  Or we avoid doing it all together often with a false justification like, “I’m not good at that.” Or “I don’t feel like it right now.”

But I think the real thing that is failing us here is the Perfectionist. It is failing to give us the space to learn, grow, practice and develop skills to get better. The Perfectionist is living in an imaginary world where things happen without time and without effort or practice and come out perfectly. It is failing to be aware that we live in a real one where our nervous system takes time to learn things and we have distractions in our life. Our failure is in awareness when we don’t notice that the separation between the imaginary one and the real one and try to merge the two. The “Perfectionist” is going to fail at this distinction but we don’t have to.

Baseball players swing at pitches and miss. Golfers hit shots into sand bunkers. Basketball players miss shots, including free throws when no one is guarding them, they still miss. These are the best in the world and paid millions of dollars, and they still live in world of reality where they practice, develop skills over years, and play for percentages not perfection.

The next time your Judge and Perfectionist want to give you a hard time for failing to meet their standards. Consider that they are failing you. They are failing to notice that their imaginary world doesn’t map to the real world.

If you find it difficult to be aware and skeptical of the Perfectionist and Inner Critic, this is understandable. Awareness and skepticism are mindfulness skills to be developed with practice and time.  You can find helpful exercises to practice in the Self Mastery course.

How To Stop Being Jealous

If you want to stop being jealous then you have to identify and change several parts of your emotional dynamics and the ways you think. These different parts of our personality are comprised of belief systems we have acquired over years, very often early in our life. Belief systems can determine how we interpret events, what thoughts we think, emotions we generate, and behaviors we automatically act out.  Very often these belief systems operate at a level that is unconscious to us. Because they reside in our unconscious, we can very often have a reaction such as jealousy driven by these unconscious beliefs, and then later, wonder why we reacted that way.

You can learn more about the different layers of beliefs that make up a reaction or behavior such as jealousy from this video. It will show you some of the different beliefs that create jealousy, and show you some insights on what needs to change so you can stop being jealous.

 

 

From the video you can see that beliefs make up more than just the thoughts in your head. Beliefs are part of how you see your self differently in different moments. In this way beliefs form various false identities of our self, or what we can call parts of the ego.  Beliefs are a large part of what causes you to generate emotions, and those emotions often drive another action in your behavior. When you look at the types of behaviors and emotions that create jealousy, you aren’t looking for one singular belief.

To identify and change the core beliefs behind such a behavior or emotional reaction such as jealousy sign up and do the exercises in my Self Mastery Course, and begin to get control over your self, so you can get control over your life. 

 

Happiness Is All Made Up

Someone kicking the tires on my Self Mastery program asked, “Is being really happy possible?  I think this talk about living with love is a bunch of Pollyanna Woo Woo.  It might just all be made up.”

My answer is, Yes. IT is all made up!!!!  That is kind of the point. We are all creators of our own emotions. From nothing we created thoughts and emotions and stories. We create behaviors and actions in how we treat people and how we treat ourselves.  Self-criticism, fear of what others think, feelings from failure, success, or rejection are all created by us from nothing but our beliefs.  If we have free will, and all the great traditions point to us as having free will, then we have autonomy in what we create.

All happiness and love is made up. We create it from nothing. Each day we wake up and we have not created anything yet.  Each day we live can have a different experience outcome.  We may not control the events or circumstances outside of us, but we can choose a better story than what we tell our selves or what we believe about it. This better story, or our interpretation about what is going on will change how we feel.

What often interferes with us choosing how we want to live is that we have created a number of pre-programmed responses. Our mind is set up to do some Pavlov dog type automated interpretations.  I call these programs our belief system. Some of these programmed beliefs system we may be aware of, and others are unconscious to us. We may see and experience the emotions we create from them, but the beliefs themselves are so automated we don’t notice. Much like many of our automated actions while driving a car go unnoticed so do our thoughts and interpretations. So we do those automated responses instead of create something enjoyable.

Here is a simple example.

Let’s say our partner has a glass of water and then leaves the glass on the counter. They could have put it in the dishwasher, or cleaned it and put it away but they didn’t. Maybe the programmed response we have is something of a big reaction:

What is this doing here?  I’ve told him dozens of times to put his dishes away after he is done. He just doesn’t listen to me. He doesn’t care about what I say. He doesn’t listen to me and he doesn’t respect me. He treats me like a free maid service. I can’t stand this relationship anymore.”  You end up feeling hurt, frustrated, and maybe even worthless and angry.  The emotions will vary depending on the beliefs.

What are these beliefs and why do different people react differently to the same thing. Or, more interestedly, why do we possibly react completely differently to the same thing at different times or different days?  What is it in us that causes no reaction on some days, and then to seemingly over react on others?  The answer lies in how our beliefs and emotions operate. Not all moments generate the exact same response. A belief system response doesn’t always behave the same way and that makes it more difficult to identify. Some days we are in a better mood because of other circumstances. Some days we are tired and have less resistance to the unconscious patterns.  Some days we have had a buildup of triggers and so are primed for certain responses.

The event of someone leaving the glass of water on the counter, by itself, doesn’t have any emotions to it. If we walk into the kitchen and see it there, it is like the ringing of the bell in the Pavlov’s dog experiment.  It triggers in us a response we have conditioned our self to have. We don’t salivate, but we do follow a programmed response of emotions, and thoughts. It follows some order of interpretations we have believed in the past. In that moment 10,000 different people will have 10,000 different responses. All will justify theirs as appropriate.  But we hardly ever consider a different one, a more pleasant one, or a happy one.  We are conditioned to accept the first one that our mind projects and go along with it. We do that until we become more aware that there must be a better way to live.

The thoughts we have are only part of the story. There is a lot of meaning, assumptions, expectations and unspoken beliefs that are woven between the lines of thoughts.

“What is this doing here?” Isn’t really a question.  Behind it is all the history of how many times we have told our partner we want the dishes put away after use. There is the expectation that since we told him that he should do it and he should do what he said he would do. We might have strong emotions of frustration.  If we did it shows we had programmed beliefs in our subconscious. He didn’t do it therefore he doesn’t listen to me and doesn’t respect me. This can produce frustration and feeling hurt.  He thinks of me as a maid so he finds me unworthy and not his equal. He takes advantage of me. In this moment “he” is not thinking of us that way, but our belief system is telling us the story of what he is thinking and we believe it.  In that moment it might help to ask. The emotional hurts from this belief can add up over time and produce anger. If he did love me he would have done what I asked, but since he didn’t, he must not love me. With this belief we are now in a story about our whole relationship and perhaps feeling worthless or despair.  We made this all up, but the emotions make the story feel like it is real.

Then our mind might add in some associated beliefs that it relates to the above. Since he doesn’t love me or respect me it doesn’t make sense to continue the relationship.  So now, based on the meaning within the thoughts to finding a water glass we are ready to end the relationship. These emotions didn’t come from the glass on the counter, we created them with our Pavlov dog type responses.

This story is an example of a big emotional reaction to a little thing, but it helps us question what the mind is doing.  In our smaller reactions it is more difficult to see.

Could we just consciously choose another made up story such as, “I’m sure he will use this glass later and didn’t want to be wasteful.”  Both are made up in our mind, but both create vastly different emotional experiences. Assuming you have free will, which would you choose to experience? In one version you are miserable and in the other you can be happy.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t facts and truths we have to face. Not turning in your homework will result in a bad grade. Not paying rent will eventually get you evicted. Not showing up for work and delivering good service to your boss or customers will result in a loss of your job or business.  In the external world, there are real consequences.  But for now, I’m only talking about the emotions we create from our beliefs, and that is most of them.

In our mind it is a world of make believe. It is in our mind that we generate most of our emotions. If we are stuck in traffic what story do we tell ourselves? We can get angry or frustrated with other drivers in our world of make believe.  Or, we make up a different story, and see that we are all in this together. Even have a chuckle that, according to the other drivers on the road, we are partly responsible for their traffic jam.  Nobody there is intentionally causing one, and we are all in this self-created mess.  In those moments what do you make yourself think, believe, and therefore feel?

When I am behind a slow driver, I like to imagine that the delay he is causing is preventing me from getting in an accident at upcoming intersections.  I practice being grateful for him driving slowly.  It’s a made-up story, and I generate emotions of gratitude from it, and so I feel good and have a nice time behind the slow driver. What do you make up, tell yourself, believe, and generate emotions about? I’ve had to learn to consciously learn to make up good stuff, and not believe the bad stuff.  It’s been worth it.  It’s all made up, why not make up something nice.

Don’t confuse the reality of the real world consequences with the world of make believe, but be aware there is a difference. It is a fine line and important one to learn.  In the real world the driver is going slowly.  In the story you tell, any other comments and adjectives you add are likely made up opinions. With the free will you have, choose to believe a made up story that is enjoyable, instead of one that makes you miserable, depressed, or angry.

Is it just that easy?  By my experience, absolutely not.  There is something in the way of us just freely choosing to be happy and think happy and loving thoughts all the time. That thing in the way is the programmed set of beliefs that often determine our thoughts, behaviors, and emotional reactions. So it has been my experience that if you want to change to a more positive interpretations and emotions you have to dismantle your existing belief system.

For a method and practices that will guide you to dismantle your false beliefs check out the free sessions of the Self Mastery Course for an introduction. 

False Humility and Self Image

I used to think that I knew it all. No. That’s not correct.  It was worse than that. I knew that I knew better than other people. I didn’t want to act like I had an ego though. So I downplayed it. I wasn’t one of those arrogant guys that talked a lot.  I was quieter but I would pick my places to reveal my intelligence.  I have to revise that earlier comment. I knew that I didn’t know it all, but I felt I knew a lot and I kept my mouth shut about what I didn’t know. I didn’t want people to think I was stupid.  Uninformed was okay, but mis-informed was not. That was tantamount to being stupid. In those situations when I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to look smart, or at least not appear stupid, I kept my mouth shut.

When I did speak about something that I knew about I tried to make it soft spoken. I didn’t want it to sound like I was trying to impress anyone. It was a mask of humility. 23 years ago I started practicing awareness and began to see how hard I was working to impress people. I had consciously worked on the humble  soft spoken part. I was so consciously focused on that I didn’t see the part underneath working for recognition.

As I think about it now, it is pretty obvious that the reason I was working so hard to be soft spoken about how smart I thought I was had to be that there was such a force of ego pushing out trying to get noticed.  I would only be so focused on being casual and humble if the part that “believed I was great” was trying hard to get that recognition.

The more interesting part is that there was another layer under that. It was the belief about not being good enough.  So for those of you keeping score at home here is how the layers of my ego stacked up:

  • False Humility  –  Soft spoken when I talked about what I knew
  • I’m smart and I want you to recognize me – Looking to jump into a conversation and be seen as smart. This was hiding the next layer.
  • Not good enough   –   insecurity, self judgement, and fear of what others thought of me.

I think I did the “I’m Smart Layer”  so that I wouldn’t feel the painful emotion about not being good enough. It was a way to deny and repress this layer of beliefs and emotions. I’ve come to see it is very common.

Then there was one more.  It wasn’t really a belief system layer.  It is more of an essence that has been here all along. It was just what was here whether I believed it or not.  I am. That’s it. Very simple, and enough without trying to be something.   I am here and I am fine. This essence doesn’t have a story about being better or worse than anyone else, and I don’t have a story about anyone else being better or worse than me. It is who I was when I came into this world without a name, without a label, and without any opinion about my value. It doesn’t care what I could do, what I knew, or how I behaved.  It is also unmoved by the opinions of others.

I just love, and accept myself the way I am. I love and accept you the way you are.  It is what I did when I came into this world. It is what I did before I learned my name.  It is what I will continue to do until I die. The practice is to stay present with that essence, and not step into the other layers.

Below your layers there is an essence like that too.

It is a lot less work and feels a whole lot better than those false beliefs of self image that I used to hold up and hide.

to help guide your self out of these false layers and be more present with your essence I suggest the practices in the Self Mastery Series. 

How to Stay Conscious and Aware

The challenge in remembering to be mindful is that this isn’t about remembering at all. It is not like trying to recall a fact like the capitol of New Hampshire.  We are invoking a state of mind, emotion, attitude, and focus of our attention. In being Aware, Mindful or Conscious, we are using a different part of our brain to function, a part that might be turned off, or asleep when accessing memories or facts.

Being conscious so we can break old reactions and habits has more to do with focusing your attention inward while you take a long slow inhale and exhale. This is an act of consciousness and operates separately from actions of intellect or memory.

That part of your mind telling you to “remember” is focused on information about being conscious. It is not in itself aware. The part of the brain that does the “remembering” is by definition not able to be consciously present.

Conscious awareness is like a muscle. For muscles to be strong and not get fatigued you have to exercise them.  When they get fatigued, telling them to remember to be strong will not help. If you want your Consciousness to remain strong throughout the day then you have to train it with practices to make it strong.

When interested in being physically fit we don’t ask ourselves, “How can I remember to keep my muscles strong.”  We know that keeping our muscles strong is a matter of exercising them.  The same is with awareness.  We have to exercise our awareness muscles daily so that they have the strength to work longer hours for us. When the muscles of our attention, focus, and attitude become weak or tired our old emotional reactions and automatic behaviors take over and we are behaving unconsciously. This often leads to more emotional reactions and drama.

Practicing mindfulness is just that. It is a practice.  It is an exercise of your mental, emotional, and conscious focus.

Some people want to know when they will be done or can stop. I liken that question to, “When will I be in good enough shape that I don’t have to exercise anymore?” The problem is that when you don’t work out your muscles they become weaker. The good news is that when it comes to conscious awareness, once you are in shape, it is much easier to stay fit.

We can have a daydream that takes us away from where we are and what we are doing. During that daydream we experience a different world. The daydream can be an upcoming meeting, party, or a memory of what happened last year. Our emotions attitude, and attention are all there and even our nervous system is responding to being “there” in the daydream.  In that moment it is not a matter of remembering that there is a “here” but of being aware that you are here. Being present as “here” is an experience of attention and feeling not a fact.

When you get into a fight with your partner you don’t remember all the things you promised you would do to avoid escalation.  When you were conscious and present you promised that you would leave certain topics out, that you would lower your voice, count to ten, or leave room and cool off before confronting them.  But in the heat of that emotion, such as anger, anger is the consciousness of the moment and it is deciding behavior.  The part of you that was “Conscious” the week before making the promise of ground rules for arguing isn’t present. It is resting or asleep. Nor does the “Angry Self” want to listen even the aware part were there. The consciousness of the “Angry Self” does not ask your Conscious and Mindful Self for any information. It behaves as if your Mindful Consciousness didn’t exist.  The same is true for the other parts of your sub-conscious that operate as habit like the Judge and Victim Characters that I often mention.

Being conscious has very little to do with remembering. Unless you were to remember to bring your consciousness with you to the daydream. Remembering is a mental exercise of recollecting knowledge. Being conscious is an action of attitude and focusing your attention in the present moment. Being conscious might come without the mind chatter of other stories absorbing your attention. You can also be conscious and present while the mind is busy with chatter. You do this by splitting your attention. You are watchful of the mind running its daydreams, thoughts, emotions and beliefs while still having attention here in the moment’s activities.

Being conscious is holding a state of alertness, but while being calm and relaxed. It is like hunting.  You are scanning the trees and grass and you are vigilant. You quietly pick up on sounds, smells, and movements. You maintain a relaxed state and always have some part of your attention monitoring the area.  When being mindful you have your attention inward and notice movements of your emotion, breathing, and the sound of your mind chatter. As you pay attention for a while you might also notice that your muscles relax on portions of the inhale or when certain phrases are said. While in this state of awareness you do not have to remember anything. When you are in an unconscious state, you do not remember what being conscious is like.

You do not have to remember how to keep this focus. You are either doing it, or you are not doing it.  You are either vigilant, or you are distracted.  Your consciousness is focused on what is happening in the present moment, internally and externally, or it is being carried away in an opinion, or emotional reaction.  In that moment you have stopped “hunting” and stored emotions in your belief system have taken over your attention. One does not need to remember “how” to be conscious, just like when hunting one does not need to remember “how” to watch for movement.

What one has to do to improve is to remember to practice and through practice you will improve the way a hunter or athlete improves.

When you practice regularly, for a while it becomes a habit. When you live a habit for long enough it just becomes your way of life. In the beginning you will have to make a commitment to practice, and then after some months you won’t need to remind yourself or remember.  You will know how you feel, and you will feel better on days that you practice, and grumpy on days that you don’t.  Your own emotions and happiness will automatically guide you to keep your practice active simply because you like feeling better.

The Self Mastery Course provides a variety of practices to increase your Self Awareness, and change core beliefs that interfere with an elevated Conscious and Happy state.




The Self Mastery Course: Practical Tools for Getting Rid of the Emotional Drama in Your Life
  • Stop Emotional Reactions
  • Change Core Beliefs
  • Quiet the Criticizing Voice in Your Head
  • Develop Communication and Respect in Your Relationships
  • Create Love and Happiness in Your Life
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