Episode 37: Striving vs Perfectionism
I’m LDS Life Coach Hannah Coles and you are listening to The Confidence Catalyst Podcast, episode 37: Striving vs Perfectionism
Welcome back to another episode. So glad you’re here where we talk all about how to live a confident life, a life of joy and empowerment, of learning, embracing, and ultimately becoming that next level of ourselves.
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So one of the things that I wanted to talk about that I coach on quite a bit is perfectionism. I have an entire episode on that, so if you want more or perfectionism 1.0 go check out episode 3. In this episode, I talk more about what we want to work towards and embody rather than reside in perfectionism.
Perfectionism is the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. Which is a huge problem because perfection is subjective. This means that your definition of perfect is going to be very different than my definition. When I was first married my husband made this comment, a suggestion to me that I didn’t even realize I was doing until he said something.
It was Christmas time and I was giving out handmade gifts. I love handmade gifts btw. I love the time and effort put into each gift and the thought that went into it. And at the time we had time and little money so we had to get creative and do what we could. The problem with handmade gifts is the drama that comes with them. I know you’re familiar with this drama. This drama is the jumble of thoughts in your head about what the recipient is going to think about it, how you messed up in that one area, how you hope they won’t notice – but then when you give it to them you immediately point it out and apologize for it.
This is what my husband commented on. With each gift, I knew all the imperfections, all the areas that I was short on talent, expertise, or know-how. And giving them the gift was both exciting and terrifying at the same time. I was excited because of all the time, thought, love that went into each gift and terrified because they’d see all my shortcomings and judge me. So what I did and what we all tend to do is point it out for them. If you point it out then they’re not discovering it and you have a chance to apologize, to explain why it’s not perfect, why you’re still worthy of acceptance. And I know we don’t actually think about that last bit but when you dig down deep that’s really the fear. The fear that they’ll judge you, they’ll think negatively of you, they’ll reject you in some way, shape, or form and to our primitive, natural man wiring – that’s ultimately what we fear the most.
This perfectionism stems well beyond the things we make, create, or give away. This perfectionism is in our entire perception of the world, but most especially in ourselves and that refusal to accept anything that’s not to our standard and definition of perfection.
But how do you know when you’ve reached perfection? How do you know when the gift is perfect? How do you know when you are perfect? How do you know when you’ve reached the perfect weight or shape?
Perfection is an illusion. We set these standards for ourselves and we aim and work towards attaining them but when you get there the bar has moved just a little out of your reach so you keep reaching, working, shaming yourself all the while because perfection is never yours.
Do you see why this might be a problem for our lives? Do you see how maintaining perfectionist views is blocking your ability to feel and create confidence?
So there’s something I want to offer instead of perfectionism. This is Healthy Strivings.
Brene Brown once said, “Healthy striving is self-focused: ‘how can I improve?’ Perfectionism is other-focused: ‘what will they think?”
Think about what happens when you’re operating from a perfectionist view. With my gift-giving. I wasn’t focused on celebrating what I was able to accomplish or that I made anything. I was focused on what they’ll think, what they’d notice, how they’d do it differently. And when we’re in this mindset we’re entirely outward focused. It creates a disconnect within ourselves.
We’re shaming ourselves for not being better. We’re talking down to ourselves and comparing ourselves to others that we think have attained perfection – at least from where we’re standing. There’s no growth here because you’re not putting attention on you and how you can improve. You’re chastising and criticizing yourself for not being there already.
So this healthy striving, on the other hand, is what we want to aim toward. Healthy striving is focused on self in a kind, loving, and compassionate way. It’s operating from the belief that it is attainable and it allows for creativity of “okay, what do we want to try next?” This healthy striving connects us.
There are two main primary emotions. All other emotions stem from these two primary emotions. One is love and the other is fear.
Perfectionism stems from fear. It’s afraid of the judgments of others – that may or may not come but you suffer either way because you’re judging you already. It’s fearful that you might never be perfect and that you’re always falling short. Perfectionism worries that even when you get there it’s not going to be enough because what if you lose it.
Perfectionists constantly have to prove to themselves and others that they belong. They insert themselves into conversations and talk about themselves and their accomplishments. Whereas people who aim for healthy striving already know they belong. They don’t have to prove anything. They may or may not interject but when they do it’s out of love. It’s out of awe and a sense of accomplishment of what they were able to do and then encouraging others to join with them. They operate from the more the merrier stance. Perfectionists worry that the more there are, the less of it there is for them.
Perfectionists are fearful.
Healthy striving is loving. Loving themselves and their progress, loving others and are genuinely happy for the successes of others instead of jealous or envious.
Before I go on I know a lot of you are already spinning in your heads and making one good and one bad. You’re thinking, “okay, healthy striving is right. Perfectionism, wrong” and then you’re categorizing yourself as an either-or. If this is you, please stop. I love you and stop spinning for a moment.
We are both. We’re not either-or yet. We’re on a journey to becoming. This is all about how you show up along the journey. One is not right or wrong, good or bad. It’s a mode and a way to get there. They each create different results for you. Perfectionism will create more setbacks, negative emotions, challenges for you because you’re traveling through life always at odds with yourself.
If you notice, healthy striving isn’t a label. It’s not a box like I am a perfectionist. It’s a way of living. It’s not a box, it’s a road.
Healthy striving is a difficult journey in and of itself too, and I’m going to talk about that in a minute but it’s a path that is full of love, of connection, belonging, gratitude, and becoming.
You’re on the mortal path. There’s no standing still. I’m offering you a different lens through which you can try on to experience a life of joy instead of unrest and worry.
Let me give you an example, we recently watched, The Great British Baking Show for the first time ever. You guys, I absolutely love it! It’s such an uplifting show. They’re so positive and encouraging on it. We were sick this weekend and bedridden so we turned on Netflix and binged the entire season and there were two types of contestants, the worrier that fretted and feared the whole time and as a result their hands were shaky, they’d make silly mistakes, they didn’t enjoy the process of making their creation. Whereas there were others that never seemed to get alarmed, never seemed to worry. They seemed to just be loving each and every moment. It didn’t matter if they won or not the joy for them was in each task, each creation, each day of being on the show. They were enjoying the journey now.
This is what you can have. The worry, the fear of going through life never being enough or the joy of being human and each experience that you create.
One of my favorite hymns is More Holiness Give Me. In the second line of the hymn. It talks about striving. It starts with, “More holiness give me, More strivings within”
Have you ever stopped to think about striving? How would you define that? In what context would you use that?
Websters defines it as:
to devote serious effort or energy : ENDEAVOR
: to struggle in opposition : CONTEND
Remember I told you that healthy striving was a way to experience life. It doesn’t make the challenges cease to be. It isn’t easy but it’s worth it because it means that you can enjoy the journey.
Healthy Striving requires work, energy, effort, focus, and endurance
Our primitive wiring is just about as opposite as can be in this. Our natural man wants comfort, wants ease, wants quick rewards – instant gratification, wants others to do the work for us – so we don’t have to – as in outside validation, compliments, waiting for others to do or say things so that we can feel better.
So when we aim for a life of healthy striving it’s self-focused. It’s looking inward to be intentional about what we want to create, who we want to show up as, who we’re striving to be, all while embracing who we currently are and loving how far we’ve come.
Marvin J. Ashton said, “Striving can be more important than arriving”
For the perfectionist, it’s all about the end result. When I get there, then I’ll feel happy, proud, put together, accomplished, confident.
But for the person who adopts a healthy striving approach, it’s about creating those feelings now. They know that circumstances don’t create feelings. Our thoughts do. They know they can create that feeling now and enjoy that while still working on becoming. For them, it’s about the process, not the end product.
Do you remember the old Karate Kid movies where sensei tells Daniel to do a list of seemingly insignificant chores? You know the one, “wax on, wax off”. And Daniel gets frustrated and fed up thinking that sensei is using him for free labor and housework. He wants to be an ultimate fighter. He was outward-focused, entirely consumed with the end result.
Sensei, however, knew that the best way for Daniel to become who and what he wanted to become was through the journey. It was in the repetitious movements, the strength that each task was building. He knew that for Daniel, the best thing for him was going to be not in at the end but in the process. It was in the struggle, the devotion to serious effort and energy spent in each task that was helping him become who he needed to become.
For so many of us, we focus on the end result. We want to skip this path and just BE there already. We don’t want to struggle, to expend great effort or energy. We think we should just already be there and because we’re not, we make it mean all kinds of negative things about ourselves – thus contributing to that disconnect of self -which as a byproduct when you’re not at peace with yourself, it’s difficult to be at peace with others as well.
Healthy striving calls for being intentional. It requires great effort and energy. It’s easy to want others to show up and act how we think they should. If they did then we wouldn’t have to expend great energy in thought work. Healthy striving means you recognize that they’re beautifully human and on their journey as well. It recognizes that you’re human and that it’s okay to be.
Healthy striving allows for possibilities to exist and for peace to be present. It allows you to step back and think, “Okay, that happened, now what?” Instead of “That happened and it shouldn’t have!”
Patricia T. Holland said, “We must have the courage to be imperfect while striving for perfection”
Wanting to be your best self aka perfection isn’t a bad thing. It’s Nobel to want to become more, to be better, to want to improve. But it’s in the healthy striving that you get there. It requires courage. Think about when and why you’d need courage.
Courage can only exist when there is a challenge present when fear knocks at your door. Perfectionism invites fear in as a live-in guest whereas healthy striving acknowledges it, processes it, and then lets it go.
Healthy striving allows you to feel the full spectrum of emotions without indulging in or residing in them. It’s this process of allowing all the feels without resisting them, rejecting them, avoiding, or reacting to them that helps us become more.
Carol F. McConkie said, “Holiness is in the striving.”
It’s allowing you to be present without having to have become the end product yet. The holiness is in the striving – it’s in choosing to be intentional and deliberate in your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions.
It takes work and effort to be present. Wholly present with your thoughts and observing what you’re thinking, present with your feelings and recognizing what you’re feeling and when you’re feeling it.
It’s taking the time to pause when needed to allow for the emotions to process instead of pushing through and building up the emotions for an explosion later. It’s allowing yourself to be present with where you’re at this very moment, in character, in skill, in who you are instead of wishing you were further along, that you knew more, that you were more.
It’s allowing you to embrace yourself in your imperfections while believing that everything will come instead of doubting that you might just not have what it takes.
Healthy striving is intentionally choosing to believe the good thoughts about yourself and others instead of slapping on a negative label and then stacking up evidence to prove it true.
How many times do we do this? We think a negative thought about ourselves and then we pile up evidence to back it up?
We think thoughts like, “I’m just not good enough. I’ll never be enough” and then we start taking an inventory of all the times we’ve fallen short, all the comments made all the things that still aren’t done proving to ourselves that we’re not enough.
Instead of healthy striving that believes it’s coming. It knows you’re not perfect now but it’s okay because you don’t have to be. You’re on the path, you’re getting there and you’re doing amazing all the while.
Healthy striving is recognizing that thought when it pops up for what it is. Just a thought.
It observes what feelings believing that thought creates. Inadequacy, fear, worry. It sits with the feeling, noticing what that feels like physiologically and then it intentionally decides what to believe next.
Is it possible that I’m doing enough in some areas? And with that thought allowing your brain to look for all the evidence to prove this thought true. It notices all the things you are doing well, all the areas you’re already put together, how far you’ve come, and what you’re trying to do. It sees all this and from love asks, “okay, what do we want to do next to improve?”
Healthy striving isn’t a label. It’s not something you either are or you’re not. It’s a way of getting there. It’s sitting by the window seat and enjoying the view – being able to look around and see the vastness of our world and the limitless possibilities open to you.
Perfectionism will keep you limited. It doesn’t allow you to embrace where you’re at because it’s too focused on shaming you for not being there yet. And it’s an illusion because you’ll never get there.
I invite you to embrace healthy striving. Allow yourself to be present. Present with where you’re at, who you are currently while knowing that you’re becoming, you’re on the path, you’re making progress, each step, each thought, each action is getting you closer and closer. Healthy striving isn’t in a hurry. It knows that this is the most important part. Holiness is in the striving.
Connect with yourself. Drop the labels. Question your ego and each thought until you deliberately decide what you want to believe, what you want to put back in your head.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf once said, “Never stop striving for the best that is within you”
Override the natural man, the primitive wiring that seeks instant gratification – that wants to just be there already. Embrace healthy striving, enjoy the journey not just the destination. And don’t worry, you’ll have help all along the way. Healthy striving isn’t about already being, it’s about becoming and Jeffrey R. Holland said, “ “The Lord blesses those who want to improve”.
Healthy Striving is about improving. It’s about asking yourself, “How can I improve” instead of perfectionism that asks, “What’s wrong with me?”
There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re becoming. Enjoy where you’re at. Embrace who you are while trusting in yourself to work towards what you want to create. This is confidence, my friends:
Knowing all the parts of you – the good, the great, the ugly – all of it and then
EMBRACING it. Not wishing it away or criticizing. But acknowledging how far you’ve come and addressing that you’re not supposed to be the end result yet. It’s okay that you’re human. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay. You’re okay.
Then Trusting yourself that you will continue to strive to take action, to keep going, to keep progressing, to keep working towards what you want to create.
Know, Embrace, Trust – these three are the key to confidence. It’s engrained in healthy striving.
Thomas S. Monson said, “Our task in life is to become our very best selves” – we do this in the striving, not the being already but each moment, each thought, each action. Embrace and adopt healthy striving as your mode of transport to travel through this amazing world.
You can do this, my friends!
Talk to you next week