Paralyzed by perfection

For many years, I admired others I viewed as perfectionists; they seemed to do everything so well. While having high standards is a good thing, it isn’t the same as being a perfectionist.

I wore perfectionism like a suit of armour. If everything looked perfect, and I paid great attention to detail, and worked harder, I felt safe. If I did things perfectly, there was nothing for anyone to criticize and I felt I had value.

It worked for quite a long time, until it didn’t. It led me to an epic burnout, when my mind and body said, “Stop!” 

I didn’t recognize my own tendency towards striving for perfection or understand it for many years.

I thought my new co-worker was crazy when she handed me a paper listing the qualities of a perfectionist during my first week of orientation at the university. I didn’t get it; I surely didn’t feel like I had a right to claim the moniker, until I read it. 

Others saw it, and it was encouraged and rewarded by many. Who doesn’t want a perfectionist on their team?

My work was always done, with painstaking attention to detail. My family was proud of my fabulous GPA, my house was perfectly clean and in order, and every task was done with great attention to detail.

It all looked good on the outside, but inside it felt crappy, and it felt like anything but perfect. 

I work with many people who are suffering because of their drive for perfection. Researchers report the tendency of perfectionism is rising in society today, especially among young people.

Perfectionism doesn’t always look or feel like perfection. It has some surprising faces.

Procrastination, feeling paralyzed to take action, fear of making decisions, being hyper-critical, feeling anxious and/or depressed, never feeling enough, and being more focussed on what’s wrong instead of what’s going well, are hallmarks of the perfectionist.

I avoided things I couldn’t do perfectly. Important things got put on the back-burner, which was a cause for inner shame. I had analysis-paralysis when faced with big decisions, and got so caught up with insignificant details that other, more important things, got missed. I held challenging emotions close to my chest, not wanting others to see my vulnerability. 

Perfectionism isn’t one-size-fits-all, as there are different types of perfectionism. You can take an online test to determine the source of your perfectionism, but receiving the help of a wise professional is invaluable. 

For me, perfectionist traits were a buffer for feelings of vulnerability, and made it hard to bounce back from challenge. 

Mindfulness and gaining awareness into my own tendencies was, and continues to be, essential. 

Becoming aware of my negative self-talk was shocking. I’d never speak to another person the way I did to myself. Learning to challenge my all-or-nothing mentality was powerful, as was finding out the world wouldn’t end if everything wasn’t perfect.

Learning to drop the very critical lens I had of myself, and hold my quirks and foibles with self-compassion and a good amount of humour, has allowed me to relax and chill. Vulnerability has now become one of my greatest strengths. Brene Brown was right about The Gifts of Imperfection. 

While I still have to remain aware and alert to my tendency toward perfectionism, it doesn’t limit and destroy my happiness like it once did. Sometimes good enough is enough.

Understanding perfectionism, gaining insight into myself, and learning a new way of being was instrumental in recovering from burnout and a life of striving for what was unattainable. 

I still like to do things well, but giving up striving for what’s not real has allowed me to relax, enjoy life more, and feel happier and more resilient.


Suck back and reload

Taking time to suck back, take stock, and reload enhances life’s experiences.

It’s so easy to get sucked into the vortex of life’s demands and lose the meaning behind all we do.

With so much to do, places to be, and things to accomplish, living in reaction to life is easy. We get thrown off course, and no longer feel at the helm of our own lives, and we don’t reap the rewards of our labours.

Remembering the reason behind all we do, or our ‘why,’ is important.

As we live in reaction to life, even potentially positive and meaningful activities start to feel like something we ‘have to do’ instead of something we ‘get to do.’

Living in reaction to life has a way of taking us off-course as we lose sight of our values and intentions, the very reasons behind all of we do. Life then begins to feel like a series of demands, and we can feel drained.

When this happens, life can lose meaning, as we become ‘human-doings’ instead of human-beings. We miss out on reaping the benefits of all our labors, we lose a sense of satisfaction, and our lives no longer reflect our highest values.

Pausing to ask ourselves if our life’s an expression of our highest values is a powerful practice and leads to greater life satisfaction. 

Time for reflection and contemplation is a precious commodity, but one worth investing in. It’s up to us to set the compass of our lives, to ensure the way we show up in the world reflects the qualities we hold dear.

It’s valuable to pause and ask yourself, “Who do I choose ‘to be’ in this thing called life? What are my highest values and intentions for living?” “How do I choose to show up for what’s required of me today?”

Many people I’ve worked with realize they’re no longer living an intentional life, making a conscious decision about how they are going to live life, but simply let life live them.

These are beautiful, busy people who experience moral distress as they realize they’ve been pulled off course. In losing sight of their highest values, they feel they’ve betrayed themselves. 

The way they are living life loses a sense of satisfaction and holds little meaning, as their lives no longer express their highest values. They say their actions feel empty, and they don’t reap the gifts life has to offer.

While becoming conscious of our intentions, and consciously choosing them might seem like a small thing, it’s being shown that the power of our intentions may be greater than we knew.

I’m intrigued by the work being done by Lynne McTaggart in her research into the power of intention. In her books, Intention Experiment and The Power of Eight, she reveals the power our intentions hold, particularly group intention. 

One simple, yet powerful practice I engage in each morning is pausing to remember my highest values and intentions for living, and inviting the quality of those intentions to infuse my life. I remember what’s important to me and make a conscious choice of how I’m going to show up.

Setting intentions is not something that’s externally focussed, it’s an internal process, with more of a feeling tone, based more on being than doing.  Intentions guide our behaviour and create outcomes that help us stay aligned with what’s most important to us. 

When we live life with intention, in alignment with those things we value most, we experience a greater sense of satisfaction and meaning.  We alone set the attitude with which we show up, and we reap the harvest of our intentions. 

What are your highest values and intentions for life? At the end of the day, what matters most to you?

The myth of multitasking

Just because something’s a new normal doesn’t mean it’s good for us. 

Modern-life habits can come at a cost.

Many of us pride ourselves on our ability to multitask, holding and juggling many balls in the air at the same time. It’s a badge-of-honor for many, and is becoming an expected ability. Email has made this problematic, and texting and instant messaging has made it even worse.

While we may pride ourselves at our multitasking ability, researchers tell us we’re probably not as good at it as we think we are. We may be fooling ourselves.

Whether it’s doing two things at once, quickly switching back-and-forth between a few jobs, or doing many tasks in quick succession, the belief that multitasking saves time and makes us more efficient is a myth. 

Our brains aren’t made to work that way and it might be hurting us more than helping.

While modern computers are designed to have multiple browser windows open, our brains are not. 

What we’ve come to believe as multitasking isn’t really that at all. What we’re doing is quickly switching between several tasks, and in doing so, not only does our work suffer, but so does our health. Multitasking comes at a cost. 

Converging evidence finds multitasking:

  • Reduces our productivity – it takes longer to complete tasks, by as much as 40%;
  • Reduces our cognitive ability, reducing our IQ by 10 – 15%;
  • Makes us more prone to errors;
  • Makes it harder to filter out distractions and irrelevant information;
  • Inhibits our ability to remember what we’ve done or learned;
  • Reduces creativity and problem-solving;
  • Creates inattentional blindness – we don’t notice what’s happening in the moment;
  • Increases the stress response in our bodies.

It may feel like we’re getting more done, but we’re not. 

We’re developing bad brain-habits. Studies reveal multitasking causes our IQ to fall to levels similar to a person who is sleep deprived or who has smoked marijuana. Yikes!

Multitasking is exhausting, and it activates the stress response in our bodies, causing increases in the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which over time, has harmful implications for our health. It can easily lead to mistakes, causing us additional stress.

Quickly checking things off our to-do list feels good, because we get a hit of dopamine for completing a task, but many of those quick things we complete aren’t helping us accomplish the big things requiring our full attention. 

Researchers at Stanford found heavy multitaskers were less mentally organized, and these effects lingered even when they weren’t multitasking.

Multitasking during meals can cause us to over-eat. I recall a mindfulness student who was horrified at the thought of eating her meal without the distraction of technology. To her, it just wasn’t efficient to simply enjoy a meal. Using meal time as an opportunity to check our inbox or social media easily leads to over-eating and we miss out on the pleasure-benefits of noticing our food.

As the pace of life and demands increase, the modern tendency is to try and cram it all in simultaneously. It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex and feel spit-out at the end of the day.

Technology is wonderful, but the immediacy demands created by the way we live life keeps us on high alert. The constant notifications of emails and texts arriving are distractions. 

It’s easy to get hooked on the feeling multitasking brings. The hits of adrenaline and dopamine can become addictive, even though they’re not good for us in the long run. It can cost us our health and prevent us from using all of our intelligence. 

Creating habits to assist ourselves in becoming more focused, truly productive and creative can be as simple as creating a schedule for checking emails, turning off text notifications, and avoiding the use of multiple devices at one time, such as watching TV and checking our phone.

Making it a habit to pause, breathe and stretch between tasks allows our brains to make the switch.  These simple practices support our health, our happiness, and our intelligence. 


I think I can, I think I can

What do you say about yourself within the privacy of your own mind?

What are those repeated thoughts you practice over-and-over?

Our thoughts matter and they affect our experience of life.

“Every thought is either an investment or a cost,” according to T. Harv Eker.

This doesn’t just apply to money, but also to our health, the quality of the lives we live, and our relationships with other people. 

Repeated thoughts create neural connections in our brains, and the thoughts we practice regularly become hard-wired, and our defaults.

We all have neural ruts, those thoughts we practice over and over again. Neurons that fire together, wire together, and impact not only our health, but our experience of life.  

Many people I work with are challenged by the negative chants they’ve practiced and find benefit in developing a practice of positive affirmations.

Positive affirmations are positive phrases used to challenge negative thoughts or difficult situations. 

Before you dismiss this as feel-good gobbledy-goop, read on.

According to the Psychology Dictionary, positive affirmations are brief phrases, repeated frequently, and are designed to encourage positive, happy feelings, thoughts, and attitudes. Positive affirmation is used in business, health-care, and widely in sports psychology.

Positive affirmations aren’t magical; the benefits are scientific, based on well-established psychological theory. Our neural pathways change as we practice self-affirmation.

Positive self-affirmations:

  • decrease the health-deteriorating effects of stress 
  • enhance our ability to make positive health-related changes 
  • improve our ability to learn
  • improve our self-concept
  • improve our outlook on life
  • cause us to be more resilient in the face of adversity 

Positive affirmations can change the way we see the world.

You see and experience what you expect to.  Why? Because you’re looking for it.

The human brain is efficient, and does what it can to conserve energy.  

Due to a tendency of the brain called the confirmation bias, we tend to notice more of, and believe things that confirm our beliefs, and disregard what doesn’t fit.  

If you believe all rich people are shysters, then your brain alerts to take notice when you see a crooked affluent person, and minimizes or explains away acts of philanthropy. 

Our thoughts create our reality; we focus in on and see what we expect to see. 

This is why two people in the same situation can have a totally different experience. 

What we focus on increases, and we focus on what we expect to see.  We’re always canvassing the world for evidence of things that confirm our beliefs. 

We all have personal narratives, those thoughts we have about who we are, what we’re not, and the things we believe about life.

Repeated negative thoughts can affect our health, as they come with an associated feeling that results from the chemical cascade within our bodies. 

If you doubt this, just think of a nice, juicy lemon for a few moments, and you’ll feel the saliva flow. 

There are myriad secretions happening within our bodies, many not as noticeable as saliva flowing, in response to thoughts. We’ve all felt the jolt of adrenaline flowing through us, with heart quickening and muscles tensing, when we realize we’ve forgotten something important. These are physical responses related to a thought.

Some of our practiced thoughts support our health, and others, when overused, create health challenges.

Affirmations aren’t one-size-fits-all; the ones you choose have to fit for you. They should be brief and easy to remember.

Affirmations can be repeated several times a day to reinforce positive beliefs. I have certain affirmations I make when challenging situations arise, and they calm my mind and allow me to think more clearly. 

Writing affirmations down and posting them where you’ll see them can help to remind you, as you form a new habit.

While not a panacea, or a replacement for therapy when needed, positive affirmations can be helpful in improving our experience of life. 

More New Thought articles

About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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