Let’s unpack what we mean when we use the term perfectionism.
This term can be used a little too light heartedly and dismissively to describe a character trait that the Harvard Business Review describes as increasing in prevalence and as being linked with burnout, workaholism, anxiety, and depression.
As a recovering perfectionist, I have definitely been guilty of this.
Light heartedness when exploring personal growth is good, but I wasn’t paying proper respect to the big and powerful feelings perfectionism evokes. Big emotions have strong influence over our behaviour (even without our explicit awareness).
Without acknowledging the true qualities of perfectionism and how it showed up in me, I wasn’t giving myself the best possible chance to change the way it negatively influenced my behaviour.
Liz Gilbert said, “perfectionism is fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat”.
As always, Liz gets to the heart of it. Perfectionism is based in fear, and the term perfectionism glosses over the raw fear-based vulnerabilities that are the heart of perfectionism
Consider the classic interview question, ”What is your greatest weakness?” To which the savvy (but unimaginative) interviewee might reply; “Well I suppose I’m a perfectionist, I just work too hard…”
Let’s replay that scenario without the proverbial shoes and mink coat of the term perfectionism covering up the raw truth.
“What is your greatest weakness?” “Well, I hold impossibly high standards for myself and at times others, and my self-worth is tied to my productivity. Research shows that this approach to work doesn’t mean I’m more effective, but that I am more susceptible to burnout.”
Not so smooth right!?
Perfectionism may present in a range of behaviours, including excessively high standards and drive, high stress, and anxiety. Perhaps surprisingly, it can also manifest as procrastination. Doubtless, some of the procrastinators out there have been dismissing their lack of progress as “laziness” or “lack of motivation”, when really perfectionism is the dynamic at play.
I used to always get swept along by my perfectionist responses to situations which left me exhausted and feeling trapped by circumstance, for example not being able to leave work until that big task is done. Through my training as a coach and working with other coaches, I’ve learnt new ways to respond. Of course I’m still working on these skills and am not perfect. Pun intended.
By recognising perfectionism’s roots in fear, we can see it in a new deferential light and are motivated to look a little deeper because we don’t want fear controlling our decisions unnecessarily.
So next time you identify as a perfectionist, perhaps pause a moment longer and consider how much this trait is shaping your life? Is it helping you create the life you want?
With compassionate mindful action the beast of perfectionism can be tamed.
The Sunday Night Dreads is the gloom that descends towards the end of the weekend as thoughts turn towards the week ahead.
I used to lose huge chunks of my weekend to the Sunday Night Dreads. I would be doing my Sunday activities (seeing family, cooking, ironing etc) but I would be lost in the anticipation and anxiety of the coming week. Lots of worrying, ruminating and not enjoying the evening in a relaxing rejuvenating way.
By Monday afternoon the Dreads had passed. I’d given myself over to the work and was committed to the adrenalin rush of tackling urgent challenges, meeting deadlines at the last minute and drunk on the sense of control from perpetually finishing just one more task.
The clamour of the workplace is a strange siren song that drowned out the quiet whispers of my spirit longing to be elsewhere.
Whilst immersed in the work I was free from the longing that burdened me on Sunday evenings. My Sunday Night Dreads were weaved with laments about precious time given to work endeavours that didn’t feed my soul but assuaged my ego’s need to avoid criticism and fed its insatiable need for praise.
On Sunday Evenings I felt the full force of resistance to the life I had created. I can see now it was my body and spirt imploring me to course correct towards a life that better aligned with my true self.
But the pathways for change were unclear and scary.
I lacked the tools and confidence to explore them. So each week I sat in my Sunday Night Dreads feeling hopeless and the only relief I knew was to sink back into work.
And so it continued…until my body gave me little option but to stop. Burnt out.
The Sunday Night Dreads are no longer part of my life. Each Sunday I still marvel at this fact, and they don’t have to be a part of yours either. I firmly believe you don’t need to upend your life like I did to escape the Dreads. There are some small steps you can take to start edging the needle in a new direction.
Get curious about how the Sunday Night Dreads show up for you.
How do they feel and what do you think about when you’re having your Sunday Night Dreads?
Refocus onto Your Weekend.
Practice bringing your attention (both thoughts and physical action) to things other than work on Sunday. For example, if you’re preparing the week’s lunches, notice everything you can about that activity. If thoughts of work come up say “Thank you Dreads, I’m focusing on making lunches now”.
Acknowledge the Wisdom in Your Dreads
Is there some useful information in your Dreads? Are they inviting you to consider changes? Perhaps to introduce a moment of peace, fun or excitement into your week? Whatever it may be, can you acknowledge that, without any obligation to take action.
The key take home is that your Sunday Night Dreads do not just need to be tolerated and may hold some wisdom for you. But we’ve only just scratched the surface. If you’d like more on Sunday Dreads, check out my IGTV series on Instagram or contact me for a free chat about how I can support you navigate these waters. There IS a better way than suffering through the Dreads.
Shifting standards for myself; not perfect, honest.
I’m shifting my expectations of myself. For years it was perfection. Be perfect, please everyone, perform great, get it all done. Of course I wasn’t perfect so this strategy certainly had it’s flaws… cue dissatisfaction, confusion and mental and physical burnout.
Now I’m trying something new and it feels a little radical. I’m getting really honest.
Starting with just myself and my inner dialogue.
We tell ourselves so many lies to keep the peace and smooth the social waters that we lose sight of what is true and what isn’t. “This job is fiinnneee”. “I’m happy to compromise on that thing, it’s fiiinnnnneeee” “ Oh sure I’m comfortable with that, no worrrriiiieeeessss”.
So as a recovering perfectionist, who has people pleasing deep in her DNA, I’m trying something new.
Swapping Perfect for Honest. It’s going to be a learning curve, and I’m not going to be perfect at it, and that’s okay.
P.S This isn’t about harsh truth telling, honesty without compassion or kindness isn’t my bag.
What do I need in this moment?
The simplicity of truly honest answers can be confusing sometimes. We might skip right over the truth and go searching for more complex and complicated answers.
Being really honest with ourselves is a great place, perhaps the only place, to start to create positive change.
When we honestly acknowledge how we are feeling in the present moment, we get in touch with our true self and from there can better see our next steps forward.
But learning to trust our own answers can be a skill we need to relearn.
When we honestly answer the question ‘How am I feeling' right now, in this present moment, we can be baffled by seemingly simple answers. I’m tired, I’m thirsty…
In the present moment we only have to deal with what is, right now.
When I coach women about what they really want and yearn for, so often the answer is “to take a nap', delivered with a dismissive laugh as if to imply that’s not a legitimate answer.
It is actually an excellent answer.
When you pause and ask yourself, 'what do I honestly want right now', if you are exhausted from the hustle of modern life, gifting your precious body with a nap is a beautiful and worthwhile next step.
So with small steps we can relearn to trust our inner guidance and respond to the (sometimes surprisingly simple) needs we have moment to moment.
With this honesty we see things in a new light and can see our next steps more clearly.
Wonder needs a little moment to settle into our bones.
Last night I stood in my front yard as the International Space Station passed directly overhead.
Shining as bright as any star in the sky.
In the hustle and bustle of life, I could have quickly returned to the warmth inside and gotten on with the many activities of a Sunday evening.
But I gave wonder a moment. I paused and turned all of my attention to the ISS.
I thought of the 7 astronauts, zipping across the sky 400 kilometres above me. Orbiting the Earth more than 15 times a day, moving at 7.66 km/s. Yes that’s PER SECOND.
And of course there is the wonderous achievement of international collaboration that the ISS represents. For over 20 years it’s been home to humans, and it’s maintained by ongoing international coordination and collaboration.
Perhaps there is hope for us humans after all.
It really is a wonder.
Values are unique to each of use. They bring meaning to our values and help us answer the question: what really matters to me and what kind of person do I want to be – what do I want to stand for?
Values aren’t goals. Goals are things that can be achieved, ticked off a list. Values on the other hand are ongoing.
There are many ways to start clarifying what your own unique set of values are. Your values are unique to you and it is worth pondering what matters to you. We can be easily persuaded to fill our day with important and busy work… but if it doesn’t align with our values, we will find ourselves exhausted at the end of the day, and missing that sense of satisfaction and fulfilment that comes when our actions align with our values.
I was recently reminded that listing out values is not enough. Values really need to be like a verb, a doing word.
Values require action. You need to do, act and feel, to enjoy the sense of fulfilment and the richness in life that comes from living aligned with your values.
So how do I make the leap from a list of values to the embodied action of living my values?
Here are 4 steps you can start with:
Identify action that is aligned with your values
Knowing how to harness your values can be a great source of strength and motivation, if you'd like to know more about how to do this in your life, contact me for a chat!
Work place culture has been a topic of discussion in the news lately as awful events are uncovered and investigated. As I follow these discussions, my mind keeps returning to a thing called ethical fading and the importance of knowing your own self and your own values.
In his book The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek explains that ethical fading occurs when a company’s culture allows people to act in unethical ways to advance their own interests at the expense of others, whilst falsely believing that they have not compromised their moral principles.
A work place environment fosters ethical fading when it rewards outcomes regardless of the means in which those outcomes are achieved, when integrity is not valued, and when there is little tolerance for falling short of company expectations or performance goals.
There are many corporate examples where ethical fading has resulted in astonishing system wide corruption. Sinek points to the endemic corruption in Wells Fargo where from 2002 until 2016 employees used fraud to meet impossible sales targets.
Interestingly, people involved in ethically dubious practices in a culture that supports ethical fading don’t necessarily struggle with guilt or moral dilemmas. Ann Tenbrunsel and David Messick argue that self-deception allows individuals to rationalise their behaviour, enabled by a number of conditions, including using creative language (euphemisms) to obscure the moral or ethical implications of their decisions - in other words the stories they tell themselves about their unethical actions. And seeing past practices as an acceptable standard for similar (albeit slightly poorer) current practices, can result in a shift overtime that normalises unethical and illegal activities (small indiscretions aren’t called out and the norm is shifted).
It all starts with small, seemingly innocuous transgressions that then grow and compound.
This is heavy stuff. And it seems overwhelming when it is seen as a company-wide or system-wide issue.
So why is a life coach writing about it?
I find it is helpful to put a name to the socially constructed environments we find ourselves in. Seeing it as a social construct reminds us that it doesn’t have to be this way. It also reminds us how crucial it is that we know our own selves and know how to identify where our own values and integrity lie (helping you do that is my job). Without this as a starting point how could we ever withstand the influence of ethical fading if we were to find ourselves in such a work place.
“Failure is Not an Option” This powerful quote is associated with the Apollo 13 moon landing, you know, the one where Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon went to the moon…
In recent years, intolerance for failing has gone out of vogue. Big companies, leadership conferences and the movers and shakers of the world are embracing failure. But are all elements of failure being embraced equally?
“Fail fast, fail often” is now the often-heard cry of people looking to grow and develop in business and government. As a coach I love the failure space. That’s where we see new parts of ourselves, grow, and learn amazing lessons. Embracing failure is a key part of accepting ourselves and learning how to show up in our own lives more fully. When failure is no longer something to be feared, we can go forward and try new things, dare to chase our dreams, and more mundanely, we are more likely to own up to our mistakes, take responsibility and learn what lessons we can.
These are all good things, but we can’t have the benefits of failure without its sting. Embracing failure must not exclude its tender, painful moments. We can’t skip over the emotional elements and go straight to the redemption part of our story. Failing hurts and it can trigger some really difficult emotions in us; sadness, disappointment, guilt and the big one – shame.
These emotions are so powerful they can subtly shape our behaviour as we do whatever we can to avoid exposing ourselves to them. This can manifest as the tough conversation never had, the dream that stayed on the shelf, or the inner truth never voiced. The stakes are high.
So embracing failure really means embracing these uncomfortable emotions. And the best way I know how to do that is to practice self-compassion. With self-compassion we can sit with the discomfort of our failures and give ourselves comfort and love. We can do the scary thing despite the possibility of failing, because we know we will be there for ourselves if and when we stumble. We also become much better equipped to be there with compassion for our loved ones when they stumble.
So embracing failing is not just a trending hashtag, it’s a balls-to-the-wall act of bravery.
Breathe deep and feel those emotions. It will be OK on the other side.
Did you start feeling festive a little earlier this year? You’re not alone.
My friends and I started feeling the excitement and anticipation of Christmas in November this year! Unseasonably early.
What was going on?
It seems we are responding to a long year of uncertainty and change by looking to familiar rituals for comfort.
Associate Professor in Anthropology and Psychology at the University of Connecticut, Dimitris Xygalatas says the pageantry of holiday rituals sets these special events apart from more routine ones. It signals that the anxiety and uncertainty of everyday life can be suspended because at this special time we know what to do and how to do it. We can relax into the sense of structure, control and stability our festive routine provides.
Festive rituals in this anthropological sense of course include religious practices, but are not limited to them. Rituals can be any set of actions, often repeated, that are performed in a meaningful way.
In Western society we don’t often think of our practices as being ritualistic, but there are many common practices that have the ceremony and significance of a ritual. Activities like putting up the Christmas tree or exchanging gifts are examples of festive rituals.
Rituals provide a sense of familiarity, comfort and certainty, which are a soothing balm to the unprecedented challenges and changes of 2020. They also evoke a sense of connection as we partake in practices that are shared by others.
Rituals also help us mark time. They are used across cultures to mark change and define beginnings and endings. Celebrating the end of 2020 will be a significant marker for many of us, whether it be with a quiet night at home or at a COVID-safe event with special friends and family.
So if you’re feeling the urge to get festive and into the Christmas spirit, lean into it and enjoy! I’m off to watch Die Hard and make Rum Balls which has been part of my festive ritual for years.
As the saying goes, patience is a virtue. But if unquestioned, virtues can be a prison.
It can be helpful to pause and recognise what a virtue is before unquestioningly following it.
A virtue starts out as a value.
Values can be many things, they are as individual and unique as we are. Our personal values help guide us to a life that is rich in meaning and purpose. They tell us what kind of life we will be proud of living, and what we want to stand for.
A value becomes a virtue when it is imbued with a judgement of goodness by society.
This is an important distinction, because it can make it a little trickier to live our true life, aligned with our own values and not virtues we have unwittingly adopted from society.
The values that guide our decisions vary from moment to moment, sometimes certain values of ours will come to the fore, and in other circumstances, we will be led by a different set of values.
Values are guideposts that inform our choices, not strict rules that imprison us.
Living aligned to our values feels like sparkly freedom, lightness and excitement, with the occasional moment of terror and dread as we vulnerably go after our dreams. Aligning with a virtue may have positive feelings too, with perhaps a little righteousness thrown in for good measure, which can be an intoxicating mix.
But if your values are not aligned with the virtues that society defines, there will be some forks in your road that will be challenging to navigate. Your true self, your true values will be calling you in one direction and society’s virtues guiding you another.
So what do you do?
When I’m working clients and considering their preferred action in response to a dilemma, I often ask the question: what are you making it mean?
Taking a step back and looking at the underlying beliefs and thoughts around a value (or virtue) can help you understand why and how it is motivating your action. It can also help you determine if this is a value that you truly want to be guided by in this instance, or a virtue that is placing a judgement on the situation and acting more like a strict rule.
Navigating these cross-roads can involve deep thought work – where you and I as your coach, look at deeply held thoughts and beliefs and check if they are still serving you and helping you live the life you truly want.
But it is work that will be richly rewarded. Distinguishing values from virtues can help you break out of the belief prisons that are keeping you stuck.