I overslept this morning. A quick look at the clock told me I should already be headed to the pool. I waffled, knowing I wouldn’t be able to complete my one-mile workout. Then a tiny voice reminded me: “Any exercise is better than none.” I donned my suit and went for a swim.
The French philosopher, Voltaire, was right when he wrote, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Most of us set unrealistic standards for ourselves, then feel like failures when we don’t measure up.
We want to lose 30 pounds and are disappointed when the scale says we’re only down 12. We wanted an A in Organic Chemistry but have to settle for a B. We fantasized about a husband who was intelligent, gorgeous and funny, then feel cheated because he’s merely hard-working and devoted.
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Everywhere we turn we’re encouraged to chase outsized dreams. Coaches tell their players to give 110 percent on the field. Schools reward pupils with perfect attendance.
Perfection, meanwhile, is vastly overrated. It’s synonymous with rigidity and implies a one-size-fits all approach to getting things done. Perfection is subjective. When do we know we’ve actually reached the pinnacle of excellence?
Perfection is also elusive. We practice the violin for 20 years, knowing we can always get better.
I’m all for motivation. And I believe in striving to reach new goals.
But we should view those expectations as guidelines, not reasons to beat ourselves up. The emotional states of disappointment, anxiety, chronic emptiness and self-loathing are far more damaging than falling short of a fictional standard.
In reality, any movement in the right direction is positive. Eating 5 percent healthier is a great first step. Decreasing yelling at your kids by any amount is a reason to cheer.
Let’s strive to treat ourselves with compassion, knowing we’re all doing the best that we can.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.
How to stop creating unrealistic expectations:
▪ Understand your history. Note if you’ve been a perfectionist, are highly competitive or routinely push yourself to do more than you can comfortably do. Don’t judge your actions. Just become aware of them.
▪ Tune in to your feelings. Are you regularly anxious? Do you tell yourself that you’re a failure? Do you worry that you’ve let others down? These negative feelings can act as guideposts and let you know when you’re expecting too much from yourself.
▪ Catch yourself in the act. Recognize when you’re doing too much or feeling stressed by your behavior. Stand back, say, “Oops! I’m doing it again!” Try a different tactic.
▪ Ask yourself, “Is this expectation helpful?” Decide which ones create unnecessary stress and which encourage emotional balance.
▪ Solicit input. Friends and family members can give helpful feedback about your style. Because they frequently bear the brunt of your unrealistic actions they’ll be happy to help tone them down.
▪ Relax and let go. Shrug your shoulders. Laugh at your over-enthusiastic tendencies. Take a deep breath, then exhale with an audible sigh. You don’t have to try so hard.