where does the compulsion to be perfect come from? Why do we demand so much of ourselves? Why are we often so hard on ourselves?
Living in an image-obsessed society, it’s all too easy to get lost in a perpetual cycle of self-improvement efforts. We are bombarded with infomercials, movie reels, and glossy magazine pages that get us thinking, Maybe my stomach and arms need to be a little firmer, maybe my hair needs to be a little fuller, and maybe my smile needs to be tad straighter, whiter, or more “natural” looking. People selling books and conference seats tell us that we need to “grow our wealth,” “unlock our potential,” and generally just get a lot more out of our lives than we are currently harvesting. The implication in all of this being: Perfect exists. You just aren’t there yet.
Living in a competitive society, we are often encouraged to adopt sky-high expectations for ourselves from a young age. The “lower rungs” of society are for losers, and the middle of the pack is pretty much just as bad. Strong ambition is a sign of good mental and emotional health in this society, and if we are satisfied with our lives (i.e., if we are content and not constantly striving toward a better job, a bigger paycheck, more “satisfying” relationships, and a more global reach at all times), then something must be wrong with us.
Don’t get me wrong. Self-improvement is great. I think that we must have goals and projects to stay satisfied and energized, but when did perspective get lost? When did every day become about changing or improving ourselves? When did we forget how to compliment ourselves? When did play and rest become suspect terms? When did we forget how to feel satisfied with an honest day’s effort to live a decent life?
This month at The Lovely Grind, I’m focused on reminding readers that life is too short to spend it running uphill trying to reach PERFECT all the time (that just leads to anxiety and depression). So toward that end, here is a to-do list for the upcoming week. The items on this list might sound a little hokey or simplistic to some people, but if I’ve learned one thing over the course of the past couple of years, it’s that we can all use additional doses of hokey simplicity in our lives as we get older. There is nothing wrong with that. Getting wise and finding happiness often requires getting back to basics, so here we go. Here is your list to have a less “perfect” but more satisfying week.
1. Remember to compliment yourself at least once a day.
We often mentally replay the moments of our lives and get sick thinking about what we could have done differently. We often think of what we need to do differently in the future to move up the ladder. But what have you done right lately? What are you ALREADY DOING RIGHT? Every day this week, compliment yourself on at least one thing you are doing correctly already. This can become a great habit for you that will boost self-esteem.
2. Spend enough time playing and resting.
No further explanation needed here.
3. Remember to refocus your mind away from negative thoughts instead of dwelling on them.
The mind is like Netflix. If you “watch” too many negative scenes in your head, then your mind will quickly suggest a list of future negative thoughts based on your past selections. So, don’t click on any of the “titles” that come up under the “Because You Recently Put Yourself Down” list. And don’t click on any of the “Suggestions Based Upon Your Recent Anxiety” titles, either. Instead, when negative thoughts creep up, move away from them and start building new playlists for yourself. How about a “Reasons Why My Life is Already Good” thought, or a “This Person Thinks I’m Smart or Kind or Funny” thought? Those will build on themselves.
4. Try for 1 percent change.
If you have HUGE changes you want to make in your life, that’s great. But remember that messes don’t get created overnight and fixes don’t happen overnight, either. Nowadays I’m an avid runner and often go 8 or 9 miles at a time, but a few years ago I couldn’t imagine running a half mile because I had let myself get out of shape and wasn’t living healthy. So I walked and walked and walked, and then I walked a little farther. And one day I started running, and I quit smoking, and little by little a bunch of other changes came to pass. Everything happens little by little. Instead of hoping that the whole world will shift for you this week, try for 1 percent change in your life. That will add up to monumental growth over the course of a year.
5. Celebrate the past year’s small victories.
What have you accomplished in the past 12 months? Do you walk a few more miles each week or eat a little healthier? Do you spend more time seeking God or connecting with old friends? Have you taken on a new challenge that frightened you (“success” or “failure” isn’t important here)? Whatever you’ve done, think about it. Memorialize it. Take a moment or a day to celebrate it.
6. Trust God with childlike faith and feel the simple security that act brings.
We can’t be perfect and we can’t take perfect care of ourselves and our loved ones. But thankfully we are perfectly cared for as part of a much larger plan. Believe it. We often spend way too much time trying to gain some “perfect” knowledge of God and His opinions. We try to analyze God and guess at what He would say about every current political issue instead of simply living in His perfect love. Walk peacefully in faith this week instead of complicating your ideas about God.
7. Compliment friends and loved ones.
I admit that I can be somewhat of a self-improvement addict at times, and this can spill into my relationships. It’s easy to wake up thinking, I need to change X, and my spouse or siblings could sure change Y, but what about encouragement? We all need encouragement and compliments before anything else, so give some out this week.
8. Feel okay about your professional life and your financial situation.
This one can be tough, I know. You're NEVER supposed to be satisfied with these things. In modern America, it’s not good enough to have a job, you need to have a Career with a capital, diamond-encrusted C. You need to have a platform. You need to be a leader and an entrepreneur and an innovator. You need to get a promotion and gain some power and leave a legacy. But what about just relaxing for a second? What about remembering that if you have food in the fridge and a roof over your head, you’re doing okay for the time being. Give thanks for where you are. Get back to basics. You’re doing okay.
9. Give yourself time to heal and renew.
We all have some wounds we are healing from. Some are recent and some are old. Some are physical and some mental. Some are so deep and so emotional and so confusing that we are ready to give up or give in. But healing is possible. It just takes rest, faith, time, and surrender. Be gentle with yourself, forgive yourself (and others who have hurt you), and let God place His healing hands on your heart, mind, and body. People can’t move at full speed when they are wounded and healing takes time, so be gentle and patient with yourself.
10. Be okay with changing directions.
Life seems to be a constant exercise in changing directions, and that’s why our plans can so often lead to frustration. When we make a plan, we obviously want to head in a certain direction, but maybe our journey will have a few twists and turns, and that’s okay. So even if you feel a change in direction coming, feel good about the fact that you’re moving at all instead of sitting stagnant. Don’t equate a change of direction with the F word (failure). You’re learning, growing, and experiencing. Feel good about that.
This list could go on for a long time yet, but I think that the above items are good starting points for a productive and restorative week. I would bet that at one time or another, no matter our age, we’ve all wondered, “Am I ever going to feel grown up?” Well, maybe growing up isn’t what we thought it was. Maybe it has little to do with achieving Stability or Perfection. Maybe it has a lot to do with simplicity and getting back to basics. Let’s give those things a shot this week and see how we feel.
MICHAEL PRIEBE is the author of THE LOVELY GRIND: SPIRITUAL INSPIRATION FOR WORKDAYS (90 Devotions for Stress Relief & Personal Growth). The book released June 6th and is now available in both print and Kindle versions. Get the book here, and sign-up for The Lovely Grind's mailing list to receive all of Michael's blog posts and better-living ideas.