“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” Salvador Dali
According to mindfulness experts, the flaw of perfectionism can be our biggest obstacle in the development of mindfulness and self-compassion. As we age, it can be especially corrosive to our emotional health if we cannot accept our aging body or mind. A perfectionist believes they are an exception: They can defy aging or disease by eating right, exercising and having surgeries. I am a personal trainer, so yes, I know the power of good health, but while it can delay the aging process, it can’t stop it – and we all know people who do all the right things and still get sick. Many of us have perfectionist tendencies towards our appearance or our career. Because we live in a highly competitive society where youth and beauty and go-getters rule, it can be a challenge to resist these tendencies.
4 characteristics many of us may be reluctant to admit to:
You have a hard time forgetting mistakes or you blame or berate yourself for making them.
You try to hide your weaknesses from others and are reluctant to ask for help.
You put excessive demands on yourself to be extremely successful or the best parent and you feel driven to do everything right.
You have an unrealistic view of yourself that causes you to aspire to live up to a certain image that is perfect and will not settle for mediocrity.
Perfectionism causes suffering.
When we observe others acting in imperfect ways it can remind us of our own flaws. Instead of reacting with the conditioned tendency to judge others for the very things we hate about ourselves, we can use mindfulness to understand that it is a human quality, and feel more compassion for them and ourselves.
Why is it so hard to love ourselves and all our flaws?
Adopt Wabi Sabi mind.
Wabi sabi is a way of seeing the world that is at the heart of the Japanese culture. It finds beauty in the spiritual truth of what is simple, imperfect, natural, and mysterious, for what they express about the cycle of nature and life. The classical arts of Japan celebrate this through Raku pottery, Ikebana flower arrangements and Haiku poetry. The Zen way of looking at things is through a different lens than perfectionism. All things can be regarded as aesthetically pleasing just as they are – subject to change, incomplete and less than ideal. The nature photographs in Twelve Mindful Months are intended to call your attention to the less obvious beauty of nature: dried grasses, the end stage of a dandelion, a gnarly old tree trunk, a brown leaf. By appreciating the beauty in the imperfection of nature we are able to see the beauty in our own imperfections and in our own self worth.
Flaws and defects can enhance beauty.
Over the past 10 years I have found hawk feathers of every kind on trails I have hiked, and have collected some prize specimens, but it wasn’t until I retrieved a battered, imperfect feather that resembled a comb that was missing many of it’s teeth did I understand the message the hawk was gifting to me. I was able to appreciate the beauty in the feather’s flaws, for the symbolism of the battle with a branch or another predator it endured and for the strength this hawk had for survival. I keep it in sight to remind me to let go of striving for perfection. It’s helpful to have objects in our home or office as reminders of the beauty in the imperfect. You may already have treasures like this in your life, like a faded comfy pair of blue jeans or a soft shirt with a frayed collar you just can’t part with.
Our biggest challenge may be to learn to accept flaws in our own appearances. In a popular song’s lyrics, Willie Nelson sings “Worn and lived in,” about the beauty of the lines on your face. If we can look at our aging body in that way we can better accept it as a cycle of life and embrace the beauty of each wrinkle for the wisdom it’s brought us and for the blessing of years of life it represents.
We are all perfectly imperfect – and that’s okay.
Keep in mind that the goal of mindfulness practice is not to strive for perfection. The chief purpose is awareness, so whatever else comes from it is an added benefit. We don’t want our mindfulness practice to be another disappointment or a goal yet to be attained.
3 Tips To Help Us Accept Imperfectionism:
Stay aware of your tendencies to be perfect, allowing the feelings to rise and fall, and remember that the need to be perfect is just a thought. Send compassion to that thought.
Adopt the wabi sabi mindset: Accept conditions or beings just as they are – subject to change, incomplete and less than ideal.
You are human and it’s easy to become obsessed with doing everything right. Instead, revise your views and let go of the need or desire to be perfect, and just find joy in the journey.
No one deserves compassion more than you.
P.S. I’m still working on all this (like you, maybe). Life is a work in progress, right?
…And that’s okay!
For more on embracing imperfection and developing self-compassion, read the February chapter of “Twelve Mindful Months: Cultivating a Balanced & Fit Body, Mind, & Spirit” by Carol Tibbetts. Stay on the mindful path with me by signing up to get future blog posts delivered directly to your inbox.