Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pexels.com
Last Sunday, a friend told me about when she was painting her ceiling and how she, at one point, found herself in a far corner with several pieces of tape on the wall trying to get that line just perfectly straight. As she was fidgeting with it, she suddenly realised: ‘No one is ever going to see this corner!’
We set high standards for ourselves. As we start the new school year here, I find resolutions creeping in, way more sneakily than they do on January 1st. There’s a voice in my head upping the pressure with every passing task:
“This year I’m going to make sure my kids have healthy lunches every day.”
“This year I’m going to set aside daily time for my writing.”
“This year I’ll teach classes that are perfectly planned out to the minute.”
“This year I’ll finally be running that marathon” (this example is NOT drawn from my life. I’ll be happy if I can run 5 km).
Perfectionism is not the positive trait it pretends to be. It likes to cloak itself in feelings of superiority, but in fact it’s nothing more than fear with fancy manners. Why do you need things to be perfect? Because you’re afraid they won’t be good enough. It’s as simple as that.
There’s a ton of self-help books out there that tell you to strive for excellence; make the most of every moment; give it your all (and then some). They are really great at motivating you, raising your energy and creating amazing dreams…, but they only work for a moment.
I would like to propose a more gentle strategy, for you and for myself. I don’t want to keep striving for the ‘perfect’ scenario and keep failing at it. It makes me feel powerless and frustrated, and it puts undue stress on me and my family.
I suggest, instead, we take a look at each and every part of our lives where we don’t feel ‘good enough’ and start defining what that ‘good enough’ bar really is.
For me, this is good enough:
- My children like the food I put in their lunch box and eat some vegetables with their lunch at least twice a week.
- I make room to write once a week, even if it’s only 10 minutes when life gets hectic.
- I’ll exercise 3 days a week, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. And if I don’t, I know that my bike rides to and from work keep me moving as well.
- A class where we laughed and my students felt good themselves and about learning Dutch is a succesful class.
Lowering the bar doesn’t mean that you don’t reach for improvements once it’s reached. The thing is, you can now finally choose in which areas you want to go the extra mile instead of trying to get EVERYTHING perfect. I like to reread blog posts 2 to 3 times to make sure the pacing is right and the tone fits the subject. But I know that a post that is honest and true to how I feel is ‘good enough’ when I don’t have time or energy to strive for excellence.
Setting your bar at a realistic height, with criteria which you yourself believe in and not ones that you pick up from others, is a great way to ease the pressure of our daily lives.
So the next time you find yourself stressing over a project or a situation, ask yourself: ‘What result here would qualify as ‘good enough’ for me?’ and ‘Who is really putting pressure on me to make things ‘perfect’?
What are you really afraid of that will happen if you lower that bar just a tiny bit?
It might be worth finding out.