Does it feel like life is rushing past without you?
You are an intelligent, competent, compassionate woman. You work hard, you have big dreams for yourself, your family, your work & career.
But…and it’s a big monster of a BUT…you can’t seem to get where you want to go. It’s always just out of reach. You don’t feel as fulfilled and successful as you thought you would be by this time in your life. Sometimes it feels like you are making progress, and looking objectively at your life you know you’ve achieved a lot and have much to be thankful for….BUT…a lot of the time it just doesn’t feel like success. It feels like a hard slog.
You feel tired, you are constantly juggling demands. You often feel like a failure and you desperately want to know that the life you envisaged will be here soon. Perhaps then the hard work of juggling children and progressing at work would be worth it. Sometimes, secretly, in moments of quiet, you daydream about living alone on a deserted island so you can leave all your responsibilities behind, or is that just me?
If this sounds like you, then I am guessing (and it’s an educated, experienced-based guess) that you have three habits that are not helping. In fact they are contributing to you staying stuck and unable to progress to where you want to go.
1. EXPECTING TOO MUCH OF YOURSELF
Contrary to what most perfectionists seem to believe, you are not, actually, a machine. You are not a binary computer inside a perfectly functioning robot body. You are, if you remember from science classes, an animal.
Yes, we’ve evolved into pretty intelligent creatures but we’re still wired for survival in a dangerous world. We still have flesh, blood, hormones, emotions, instincts, intuition, cycles and brains that learn on the go.
My point is that we are human yet we expect superhuman results from ourselves.
Humans are not perfect, we are complex beings living and surviving in a complex world. Yet we expect of ourselves results that only superhumans could achieve. These superhumans would have no illness, no fatigue, no complex interelated mind-body connections which are affected by social, spiritual, physical and intellectual factors. They would definitely not have emotions, or monthly mood swings, or be able to hold two opposing beliefs at the same time.
Every morning we imagine that today is the day that our perfect super-human alter-egos really will take the reigns and be in charge. We tell ourselves ‘I’m going to go to the gym tonight/only eat fresh salmon and veggies/be patient and loving during the bedtime routine/go to bed early’. But we get home from a pressured day at work to a household of mess and fighting children, and instead walk straight to the fridge, pour a large glass of wine, and grab a family sized bag of sweet chilli crisps.
Then because we’ve acted in this totally human manner (willpower is finite by the way, and runs out after busy, challenging days, and can only be replaced by glucose or sleep) we tell ourselves we’ve failed and proceed to beat ourselves up all night, drinking or eating food we wish we hadn’t, and watching ‘just one more’ episode on Netflix. Then we get up the next day and expect to be superhuman again.
Seriously, why do we do this to ourselves?
I believe that as perfectionists we don’t realise that the expectations we have of ourselves are too high. Because, lets be honest, sometimes we do have fantastic, wind-in-our-hair days (or even weeks) when we feel like we can conquer the world, we have an unlimited supply of patience and problem solving abilities, and everything runs smoothly.
As perfectionists we believe because we can do this sometimes we should be able to do it every single day of our lives. Not only do we think it’s possible to be robotically consistent like this (it’s not – because as I’ve said we have hormones, emotions and a physical body that is out of our control) but also that we are not worthy human beings if we can’t do this.
While it’s ok and often productive to aim high if we wear those expectations lightly, most perfectionists are far too attached and identified with them – and use them to measure their worth on a minute-to minute, day-to-day basis. They don’t use high expectations as something to aim for to motivate themselves. Perfectionists use them as a stick to beat and bully themselves with which means they become counterproductive.
When we learn to change our bullying self-talk and the belief that we should be able to achieve everything perfectly, all the time, every single day, we can change our relationship to our expectations and use them to motivate rather than punish ourselves.
2. NOT TRUSTING YOURSELF
As a perfectionist you’ve probably spent a lifetime second-guessing yourself because at some point you learnt that you have to get each decision absolutely right. Or perhaps you’ve grown up without being taught a process with which to make important decisions. Or you’ve been belittled and shamed when you’ve made the wrong decision and so now you avoid making them or defer to someone else.
In Western culture, logic is king. We are told to think a solution into being and not take any notice of emotions, gut instincts or feelings that might provide some wisdom to the process, because they are not ‘reliable’ enough. We are taught to ignore anything except the rational, reasoned argument to make all decisions, from small daily choices to serious long term commitments.
But we all know that our thinking is rarely objective. It is based on our beliefs, experience, moods, and current influences like tiredness, hunger or jealousy. Thinking on it’s own, doesn’t always work, and usually makes us more confused because there are so many options that could be right. How do we choose which one is the right one?
We spend so much time in our heads striving desperately to make sense of what’s going on, what we need to change and what we could have done better. But the water just gets muddier. We end up going round and round in circles in our heads trying to decipher the solution, only to end up more confused. It’s exhausting, draining and just fuels our self-doubt.
Thinking alone is not going to solve our problems or make us happy. We need to rest, recharge, nourish our bodies, souls and minds before we can find a way out of a particularly stressful situation, dilemma or challenge. Sometimes stopping, stepping out of the problem, focussing on other things can be what allows the answer to emerge. But how often do we give ourselves the time and space to do that.?
When we learn to tune into ourselves, when we quieten that inner critic, put aside the expectations of society and family, we can make decisions with our inner wisdom. But few of us trust ourselves enough to do this.
Another habit that Western culture imposes on us, especially on women, from an early age is that of not putting ourselves forward. Don’t boast, don’t be proud, don’t expect too much, don’t show off. Keep yourself quiet and dignified, do your best diligently and don’t complain or make a fuss about anything. Many of us have had critical experiences growing up where we have been judged harshly for being ourselves freely, for speaking up, for letting ourselves be seen and so (as our brains have evolved to do) we learnt that hiding ourselves kept us safer than being all out there authentically. We learnt to keep ourselves to ourselves and only project to the world what we think the world will accept about us. It is so engrained that we don’t know it’s happening.
I’ve lost count of the number of women I’ve heard say that they don’t know who they are anymore – all because they’ve been trying to keep themselves hidden and safe all these years. They are realising it’s not making them happy, but how do you get yourself out there, start expressing the real you, if you don’t know which parts of you are real and which are contrived to keep you safe in a world that constantly judges you.
It’s not a case of being fake, or inauthentic, it’s just that we don’t show all the wonderful quirky parts of our true selves. And that’s appropriate sometimes. When we meet new people we have to gauge their trustworthiness before we ‘expose’ our vulnerable selves to them. That’s a useful survival instinct that is not going to go away anytime soon.
Our culture, especially at work, doesn’t celebrate difference, creativity and self-expression as much as it does conformity, competition and following the rules. So we squash ourselves to fit in. We don’t show or talk about parts of ourselves that we think will make us stand out as different. And years later we realise we’ve morphed into this vanilla version of ourselves. Still a amazing and brilliant woman, but perhaps bored, unfilfilled and not contributing to the world in the way it needs her to, because she’s living a life that doesn’t tick all the boxes of her soul.
These three habits ensure that we go about our days full of self-doubt, feeling unfulfilled and unhappy without really understanding why. In truth it’s because you’ve been squashed and molded into a version of yourself that isn’t the real you.
As I’ve said, it’s not a bad you, it’s a blander, more timid version of the strong lioness inside. Isn’t it time the authentic you came out and let go of the self-doubt, unrealistic expectatins, and constant hiding?
How confident and happy could you become if you changed your internal dialogue and nurtured a deep trust of yourself?
What if the way you thought and talked to yourself every single day empowered you rather than hindered you?
Maybe then, you’d feel like you were living the right life for you now, rather than chasing something that is always just out of reach.