The Prison of Perfectionsim and the Shackles of Should-ing

The problem with perfectionism is that you never get there. The whole premise is flawed in that a perfectionist reacts to, and thus narrows in on flaws. According to Law of Attraction, what you focus on, you generate more of. When you focus on flaws, lack, problems, and imperfections, you align with the ego. This part of our being is NEVER satisfied with what is. It is said that the dictate of the ego is to seek but never to find. The ego feeds on lack and when we turn our attention from what’s missing to what’s working, the ego loses its power over us.

The word ‘should’, is a major driver of the perfectionist mentality. Following each accomplishment, a little voice creeps in and casually mentions something like ‘Hey, you should have paid attention to X and then you would have gotten even more Y’ or ‘Great job, but now you should try to be better at X so that you can surpass Y’. Like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole, the perfectionist constantly strives to fix the flaws. This way of seeing the world hinges on comparison and judgement. With perfectionism, the second ‘perfection’ is achieved, another flaw magically appears. Perfect is a moving target.

One of the major defects in this widely accepted way of thinking and talking to ourselves is the perception that someone or something outside of us has the final say in whether or not we are good enough. Because the ego will always measure worth by comparing the ever-changing physical forms it perceives, there can be no end to this game. There will always be someone lagging behind as well as someone who is further ahead. We constantly oscillate between better than and worse than, never feeling like we finish.

Perfectionists tend to feel more at home in pursuit of perfection than they would ever feel resting in satisfaction. Without realizing it, many have become so comfortable in a state of not good enough, that the inner dialogue is programmed to maintain this status quo, or ‘comfort zone’ of feeling inadequate.

In a number of spiritual traditions, the antidote to perfectionism and constantly ‘shoulding’ ourselves the ego - is to shift our inner narrative. In this shift, the core belief is that we are ultimately good, worthy, entitled to love, that we are enough. This perspective allows us to see that some of our behaviours and perceptions may have been flawed without becoming completely identified with the ‘failure’. We come to know that the ‘problem’ is nothing more than a surface level error and not a true flaw and this allows us to internally validate ourselves.

It is often said that our suffering arises not so much out of our circumstances but what we think and consequently feel about these circumstances. When we can move from flaw seeking to choosing the most favorable perspective of ourselves or a situation, we let go of perfectionism and move into alignment with our higher selves. This is how we can pursue excellence in everything we do without locking into the losing game of perfectionism. The root of excellence is the willingness to forgive our own errors and mistakes, to overcome the temptation of the ego to berate, shame, guilt, and scold; to begin with an attitude of perfect acceptance of ourselves, no matter what the current reality looks like. When we can begin to see everything as an opportunity to recover our inner perfection or inherent wholeness, the ‘should-game’ loses its appeal.

The trick to getting out of this vortex is to notice when the perfectionist takes the wheel. Upon noticing the word should, or a feeling of struggling, reaching, or grasping – we must consider what it is we are wanting to feel in that moment. The ego will have us believe that we should do X based on the problem (imperfection) with Y, and that if we ‘fix’ this flaw, we will feel Z. However, this logic - and not your circumstance, is where the error lies. When you think you will feel really good once you get there, you are broadcasting to the Universe that you are not yet there (lack). The Universe will continue to give you more of whatever you are broadcasting. The antidote then, is to feel perfect acceptance or satisfaction, independent of the current circumstance.  This is how you break the cycle of endless chasing. When we can understand and make this kind of a shift, the things we really desire begin to chase us!

Here is a practice you can try in moments you catch yourself shoulding or chasing that illusive ‘perfect’ circumstance. The next time you hear yourself say the word should, pause and ask yourself: ‘what is the feeling I want to feel in relation to this pursuit?’. It is likely your answer is something like: peaceful, content, at ease, happy, satisfied, fulfilled, etc. Once you have an answer, you have a mantra; put I am in front of the feeling you want to feel and repeat this phrase to yourself 15 times. See if you can continue to catch yourself in moments of chasing and shoulding and use this mantra to disrupt the cycle.

I am energized, I am confident, I am content, I am whole, I am vibrant, I am satisfied, I am clear, I am relaxed…