Many of my clients embrace perfectionism in one way or another. Outwardly, they appear successful and confident but their inner dialogues are filled with self-judgments and a whole host of “shoulds” — things they should have done better, perfectly. As we unpack those patterns of negative self-talk and begin redirecting our brains to more worthy thoughts, it opens up yet another opportunity for self-judgment.
It’s not working.
I can’t stop the negative thinking.
This just the way that I am.
This isn’t worth the effort.
When those old negative patterns come back around and take the wind out of our new, intentional thinking, it can be incredibly frustrating. It starts to feel like it is never going to work; we’re never going to “fix” our brains.
Consider what it would be like to commit to writing with your non-dominant hand. There would be time when you would forget about the experiment — you might reach for your pen with your dominant hand, you might even write a few words before realizing your mistake. It would be frustrating. There would be times when it would feel like a fool’s errand and a waste of your energy.
Why not just forget it and go back to the way things were?
When we experience set backs on the path toward our goals, it can be demoralizing. It can feel like it’s never going to work. But, in our example, most of us wouldn’t be surprised when you automatically grabbed your pen with your dominant hand or when you simply forgot you were making efforts to change the practice. We wouldn’t be shocked when our automatic, unconscious impulses kicked in, of course they did!
This is the same thing that happens with our brains and goal-ing. Those old negative thoughts will come back. They will try to rain on your parade. They will creep in when you’re tired and out of gas at the end of a long day.
But what if those “slips” were part of the deal? What if those “mistakes” were there to teach you something?
Transitioning to new, more high vibrational thoughts will include some slippage and likely will never completely eradicate old patterns; however, the back and forth dance is an opportunity to embrace our own imperfections and challenge the concept of perfectionism. It’s an opportunity to recognize that change is never going to come easily and that it will require not only commitment but compassion for yourself and your imperfections. Practicing new beliefs and experiencing those challenges often forces my clients to come face to face with their own perfectionist tendencies. It forces them to accept their slips, have compassion, and keep going. It forces them to see that perfectionism is just a pretty excuse for treating themselves terribly and setting unrealistic expectations.
What if we could translate that practice to all aspects of our lives?
What if we were willing to embark on any task, knowing and even anticipating, that we were going to mess up along the way but committing to do it anyway?
Simple thought work often reveals a microcosm of my client’s relationships with themselves. It sheds light on all our self-deprecating tendencies and requires us to face them head on in order to make progress. Those small steps develop a skill that will last a lifetime and will allow you to do away with perfectionism and embrace your dreams.
Our minds can be adapted and renewed. Developments in neuroscience tell us that the brain is capable of establishing new neural pathways, healing and building new brain cells. To do this, the brain simply requires direction and repetition — it requires a commitment to change and push through the discomfort and the setbacks that will inevitably come.