Saturday, February 25, 2012

Progressing Towards Perfection

I have this crazy hope and plan to one day become perfect.  Not in this life and not without an immense amount of divine assistance but, someday.  I know that sounds a little crazy but I also know I’m not the only person with this plan.  I’ve learned that the quest for perfection can help me fulfill my less-than-perfect potential here and now. I’ve also learned that a realistic approach and attitude can help me guard against the plague of perfectionism, which is antithetical to my goal.  Here’s what I’ve learned about the process so far:

1.     The Process Won’t Make Me Perfect Anytime Soon but it Makes Me Better Today.  I wish I wouldn’t make any more mistakes.  Especially as a parent, I wish I could give my kids a perfect mother.  But I have accepted that having imperfect parents was God’s plan for all of us.  He also intended us to have imperfect spouses, siblings, children, friends, teachers, coworkers, etc.  We are all part of the imperfect mass of humanity and I believe God expects us to deal with it and do our best in less than perfect circumstances.  Even though I know I am going to keep making mistakes and messing things up, I believe the process of trying to perfect myself makes me better every single day.  Some days are better than others but knowing this is the path I’m on gives me hope and helps me be patient with myself.  Because I’m working on this daily, I experience little victories almost every day.  Yes, some days are total losses but I try to learn from those, “pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again.”  I try to recognize the little victories as they happen.
2.     I Can Remake Who I Am.  I am by nature, an 11th hour girl, who is way too comfortable with mess and chaos. I used to leave everything to the last minute; show up late, if at all, to everything; be totally unreliable; always have a messy kitchen; never make my bed; never have a plan for anything and fly by the seat of my pants.  I remember deciding one day, many years ago, that I didn’t like these parts of who I was.  I was very depressed and overwhelmed by these weaknesses.  I decided that no matter what it took, I was going to change.  I started with being on time to things.  It took a lot of trial and effort and years, yes, years, to figure it out.  But with persistent effort I did.  Over time, I have conquered all of those weaknesses.  Now, I am almost always on time, most people consider me reliable, I plan my days and weeks pretty well, my kitchen is rarely messy, I make my bed almost every day, and I rarely leave anything for the last minute.  For some people, these habits come naturally and don’t sound impressive.  For me, they represent a tremendous personal triumph over many of my natural weaknesses.  I still have a looooooong list of things I want to change but I know that I can change them and I will.  I’m not stuck with who I am today.  I totally reject the idea behind the phrase, “this is just the way I am.”  I am who I work at becoming and if I don’t like something about who I am today, I can change it. 
3.     One Thing at a Time.  Leo Babauta has this figured out and I have learned a lot from him.  I think his thoughts on this are dead –on.  He says it so much better than me.  Read his post on The Single Changing Method.   If you want to make real lasting change, you should focus on one small change at a time.  You can do something really dramatic and different for a day, week, or month but lasting change that sticks only comes as you create new habits and I don’t know anyone who has had a lot of success creating several new habits at once.  I am always working on one new habit at a time and I define the success of each day by how I did on that new habit.  Right now I’m working on the habit of reading my Core Book every morning, first thing.  This is something I’ve wanted to conquer all my life.  I’ve finally accepted that I need to focus on making it a habit.  So at the end of every day I ask myself how I did on this.  If I did well, I tell myself it was a successful day.  If not, I tell myself to do better tomorrow.  This is such a simple approach but it really works and the results are dramatic.  When I’ve mastered a new habit, meaning it happens most days without me thinking about, I’m ready to begin working on a new habit.  It usually takes me 4-6 weeks to master a new habit.
4.     Focus on Habits, Rather Than Results.  I think it is important to put my effort into things I can control and not worry about what I can’t.  I can control what I do.  I can’t control anything else.  If I’m working on being on time, I can control how much time I give myself to get somewhere and the speed I drive.  I can’t control traffic, lights, or road accidents.  I try to plan buffer time to cover some of these possibilities.   If I have planned well and done what I think I should to help myself be on time but I’m late because of a messy road accident I don’t consider myself having failed.  The habit of planning and leaving early is what I’m going for and most of the time that habit will get me places on time.  If I’m working on losing weight and being healthier I can control what I eat and what kind of exercise I do.  I can’t control how fast pounds come off or how quickly my health improves.  I know that if I create healthy habits, my health will improve and I will lose weight.  So if I’ve done a good job on my healthy habits, I count myself successful.  If, after I’ve mastered some healthy habits, I am not seeing the changes I wanted to (weight loss and healthier body), I reexamine the habits and try to figure out what else needs to change and then give myself time to work on the new changes.  As I mentioned before, this process can take years.  I just keep learning more, trying new habits, and trying again until I have success – but I don’t make myself crazy focusing on things I can’t control. 
5.    Don’t Reinvent the Wheel  - Get a Mentor.  With almost everything I’ve ever tried to do, there is someone else out there who has already done it.  Usually there are tons of people who have done it.  I search them out and find one that resonates with me and then learn from them.  Most of my mentors are authors, presenters, artists and others I’ve never met.  I study their work over and over, squeezing out every drop of wisdom I can until I’ve figured out how to do what they’ve done.  Sometimes a personal mentor is what I need.  I’ve heard that “When the student is ready, the mentor will appear” and in my experience that is true.  If you need a mentor for something, start looking and asking around.  If you are truly ready for it, you will find the mentor you need.
6.    I Am Where I Am Right Now, and That is OK.  Even though perfection is my goal, it’s not going to happen anytime soon.  I have to be able to be happy and enjoy my life right now, based on who I am today.  That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on progressing.  It means I’m being realistic and patient with myself.  I don’t need to feel bad about not being perfect.  I should feel good about my efforts to improve.  Whenever negative, self-destructive thoughts come to my mind I treat them like evil thoughts and kick them out.  They just aren’t allowed in my mind.  At the end of everyday I try to think about the progress I made and look forward to the progress I will make tomorrow.

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