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Perfection is a Direction, Not a Goal

So often as a teacher I see my students beating themselves up because they are not doing things perfectly. It can be so hard to witness. Of course we all want to do well at what ever it is that we have taken on. The problem is that this very desire may turn against us, dashing our aspirations, and ruining our good efforts. It is important to recognize that it is part of human nature to focus primarily on the negative. Our brains are designed to support that habit. It is a left over survival default.

Left unattended this default can lead us to establish a semi or subconscious habit of never acknowledging, owning, and rewarding ourselves for our accomplishments and progress. This can become a constant internal dialogue that sounds something like “I’m never good enough, I’ll never get this, everybody else is better than me,” or worse; clearly not a happy or empowering experience. It is so dangerously easy for this thinking to permeate our entire lives and cast its long shadow everywhere.

With that knowledge in mind, here are some ideas for helping us navigate these tricky waters. The gremlin in this scenario is our expectations, almost assuredly riding firmly on the back of the dragon of comparison. We frequently, and very inaccurately, believe that if we have not performed perfectly (whatever that is) we have not done our best. Here is a perspective that will help put a little slap down on this gremlin of unrealistic expectations.

Four different categories of “best” are:

Historic best – this is the best I’ve ever done, perhaps when I was younger or under optimum conditions.

Relative best – this is the best I’ve seen – unrealistic because you are judging yourself against others who may have significant advantages at the time, or in general.

Imaginary best – this is some form of a fantasy. In a healthy way it can provide a vision or a goal to move toward. The danger is that it can be entirely unrealistic and we will focus on any perceived shortfall.

Actual best – is the healthy and realistic idea that I am putting forth my best effort in the here and now, this time, this experience, on this day.

If we can mindfully train ourselves to consider what is actual best in any situation where we are striving to do our best, we will save ourselves a lot of self-inflicted stress, strife, and damaging self-criticism.

As far as being perfect goes, we would all do well to acknowledge what that word really means. Perfection is an ideal, something that can keep us moving in the right direction. To hold perfection as an expectation is to set yourself up to either fall short, or to reach a one-time pinnacle and agonize over the inevitable descent, and trap your mind forever in the past. The next time you catch your mind talking to you about perfection remember that “perfect” is a directional indicator. It is not your destination.

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