Hi from Sophie,
One of the hardest lessons to learn is that to be your authentic self and embrace vulnerability, you need to let go of your quest for perfection.
Yes, as hard as that sounds :)
Most of us are striving to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.
But what I've realised through analysing the research on vulnerability, is that you need to give up that desire that everything will fall smoothly into place, that you can easily have the perfect body, career, home, family, friendship group etc.
Because being vulnerable means admitting you are imperfect and being okay with that.
When you strive for perfection, often it can mean you're not comfortable with negative emotions.
In other words, when we don't allow ourselves to experience painful emotions, we also lose our capacity for happiness.
When I lived in the United States, I remember a friend going through a difficult pregnancy and I wanted to help out in someway.
I wanted to make her a three course gourmet meal using all the ingredients she really liked.
I researched recipes, looked for the correct ingredients, and became so hung up on the idea it had to be the perfect meal, in the end I didn't even end up taking her any food anything at all.
Now, when I think about that example my life, I realise how much better it would have been for me and for my friend if I had whipped up something quick and easy and taken it over.
Because it was the gesture of friendship and support that really mattered in the end, not the perfection of the food.
THE PURSUIT OF PERFECT
Tal Ben-Shahar is an Israeli born American author and happiness researcher.
He says the pursuit of 'perfect' may actually be the number one obstacle to finding happiness.
He describes three important aspects of perfectionism: The rejection of failure (win at all costs or give up), the rejection of success, (the failure to stop and appreciate how far you have come and what you have achieved) and the rejection of painful emotions such as fear.
Perfectionists also tend to use words like 'should' 'ought to' and 'must'.
I never really understood the power of words, that choosing one word over another could really change how you feel and how much pressure you put on yourself.
For me, that word is 'should'.
The phrase 'you should' looks harmless but think about how you would feel or have felt if someone you admired or looked up to said to you:
"You should be ..thinner, married by now, more successful, etc"
How did it make you feel?
For me and many others I suspect, it evokes the fear of not being okay and not being good enough.
A therapist taught me the value of listening to the words that play in your head and particularly watching out for words like "should" and "ought to'.
Instead, replacing them with "I'd like to..
"It would be great if ...."
By making those changes, it takes the emotion, the guilt and the negative associations out of those thoughts.
Perfectionists tend to be very fixed in their thinking and views.
In other words, there is a straight line in their thinking from the start to the end with no deviations.
Tal Ben-Shahar writes in his book, 'the Pursuit of Perfect" (McGraw Hill) that perfectionists are driven by fear of failing, so their primary that concern is to avoid falling down, deviating or stumbling.
So to overcome perfection, the research suggests you need to be okay with failure.
How often do you see people posting on Facebook and social media saying 'Hey I failed today.'
But this is why we need to fail sometimes and be ok with it.
"When we put ourselves on the line, when we fall down and get up again, we become resilient," Tal Ben-Shahar says.
And if you learn from a loss, then you have not really lost, he says.
If we avoid taking risks, or avoid rising to the challenges we face, whether it's in relationships, work or family, you're sending a message to yourself "I can't really do this."
The reality is probably completely the opposite.
And by embracing those challenges, you will give your self-esteem a major boost.
To me, the opposite of perfection is the feeling that 'I am enough. I am okay.'
And being vulnerable and living an authentic life means being okay with your imperfections.
Love to hear your thoughts.
Until next time,
Sophie Scott is the Medical Reporter for ABC. Subscribe to her blog here www.sophiescott.com.au
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