Perfectionists make themselves unhappy.

By David Joel Miller.

Trying to be perfect causes pain.

Unhappiness

Unhappiness
Photo courtesy of Flickr (Family O’Abé)

Some people believe that the way to achieve happiness is to be perfect at everything. Unfortunately trying to be perfect leaves you chasing an unattainable goal. The closer you get to your goal the larger the gap between what you have accomplished and perfection will appear. Often perfection seekers become so focused on their errors that they become blind to their accomplishments. In students, we often find the B student is far happier than straight A student. These perfectionist habits can follow people the rest of their lives and create a lot of unhappiness.

Here are some of the reasons why people who aim for good enough may be happier and enjoy life more.

They focus on learning the big idea stuff, not every detail.

Students who attempt to get straight A’s often try to memorize large masses of data. The average student is more likely to try to grasp the concepts and may be better applying those ideas to other novel situations.

Outside of school perfectionists can’t let go of that focus on detail. Some parents are so busy trying to create the perfect birthday party for their child, the right napkins, the right gifts, the right guests; they forget to include some fun things for the child.

They enjoy what they have.

The B average student who occasionally gets in A is likely to be delighted. The student with an all A’s record gets one B, is likely to consider themselves a failure. Their effort to be perfect interferes with their ability to be happy with what they have.

Many adults are unable to enjoy their successes. The matter how much you accomplish someone else may have done more. Perfection is a yardstick that keeps stretching. When you focus on an imperfection, it grows to you can’t see anything else.

They can take the time to enjoy the process.

All A students frequently sacrifice their friends, family, and social relationships because they feel they must study constantly. Students with lower GPA’s often can enjoy a better school life balance.

When you focus only on getting everything right, the stress can become unbearable. The matter what you do you’re likely to be miserable. People who enjoy the process can cut themselves some slack.

They don’t need to always be right. Fewer conflicts.

Students who are driven to get every answer right find themselves arguing when they get a question wrong. Students who are less grade motivated more easily entertain other possibilities. They are better at developing learning relationships rather than conflicted, I am right, you are wrong, relationships.

In the workplace, perfectionists find it difficult to admit their errors, to themselves and to others. There are likely to develop resentments and blame others when things don’t go right.

They see possibilities, not rules.

Students who attempt to get all A’s are likely to seek for absolute rules. Other students are more capable kicking around alternative possibilities. They may better grasp how to apply principles to varying situations.

Perfectionists tend to have lots of rules for themselves and others. They live in the land of tyranny, of the must’s and the should’s. This inflexibility creates conflict. People who attempt to live life on the “good enough” basis are more open to change and new experience.

They can think for themselves.

Creative students can see how to take what they’ve learned and applied it to other areas and other situations. Students are motivated to be perfect are likely to look for the page number on which the correct answer appears.

At the heart of creativity is an openness for novelty and new things. When you continue to do things the way they “should be done” nothing can ever change.

They can apply information from other disciplines.

B students may know a little about many things. They often are motivated by trying to see how the past knowledge applies to the current issue. It may also look for ways to take what they are currently learning and apply that new knowledge to the things they already do.

Allow yourself to be open to new possibilities. You may well discover that trying something new will bring you a lot of happiness.

They get to know themselves.

Learners who seek internal validation learn because it makes them happy to do so. They’re able to test new knowledge against what they already know and see how this connects with their values and goals. Students who are highly motivated to find the “correct answer” may lose who they are in their effort to think like the master.

When you stop trying to come up with the right answer for others you may find the right answer for you.

They see things as they are.

Students who are motivated by high grades often believe that their self-worth is measured by their GPA. Students who are more internally motivated, avoid the delusion of thinking that a particular score on a test in any way measures their worth as a person.

As an adult, being open to possibilities, allows you to enjoy the process of life by avoiding focusing on who or what is not perfect.

They know when to keep at things and when to cut their losses.

B students tend to put the effort to get big picture ideas. They know that beyond a certain putting in more time studying results in ever decreasing returns. Spending large numbers of hours trying to memorize every fact in a book made increase their final grade by a point or two, but memorized facts are likely to be soon forgotten.

Throughout life knowing when to stick to something until it’s finished and when to give up on something that will never be possible is an important skill. Far too many people stay stuck in an unhappy situation because the only option they know is to keep working harder trying to get everything perfect.

One key to happiness is to strive for your very best while accepting that your best is good enough.

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Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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17 Habits of unhappy people.

By David Joel Mille.r

Are these habits keeping you miserable?

1. Keeping Secrets – covering up your mistakes.

Unhappiness

Unhappiness
Photo courtesy of Flickr (Family O’Abé)

Happy people learn to admit mistakes when they make them and then try to stop making the same ones over and over. It takes way more work to cover up your faults than to admit them and change your actions.

Keeping secrets isolates you from others and can damage relationships.

2. Trying to please others – be someone else.

Spending your life trying to please others is a sure prescription for unhappiness. Trying to be someone or something you are not will keep you stuck in your misery. Learn to accept who you are and move towards who you chose to be. Make yourself happy and others will find it easier to like you. Try to please everyone and you will please no one, especially not yourself.

3. Trying to find someone who will fix you.

No one can make you happy. Happiness is an inside job. Happy people attract other happy people and miserable people draw misery to them.  You do not find the perfect friend or lover and then become happy. You become a happy person and then you can be with others or alone and still be happy.

4. Holding on to regrets over past mistakes keeps you unhappy.

Regrets keep you stuck in the past. Happy people are happy in the now. Let the regrets go and move towards the what you can be.

5. Putting off till tomorrow – Procrastination perpetuates unhappiness.

Unhappy people expect the worst. As a result, they never do today what they can put off until tomorrow. Happy people make the effort. If only part of what they try to do works out they have accomplished a lot.

6. Waiting for something else to happen first delays happiness.

Do not wait for a good time to go back to school or a better time to find a job you will love. Start the process now and things will begin to happen.  Do not put off doing things that will improve your happiness until some other day, month or year.

7. Letting fear keep you from trying again keeps you unhappy.

Learn from your mistakes. Try to do things better, smarter and safer. If you have been in a bad relationship check the next one out carefully before you commit. If you are unhappy in your job, take a look at why. Consider that if you can change you, then any job can be a happy one. If you stay in unhappiness all work settings will keep you miserable.

8. Comparing yourself to everyone else emphasizes what you do not have.

You are you, others are others. Unhappy people keep comparing themselves to others. If you look long enough you will always find someone who has accomplished more than you.

The State Senior could compare himself to the governor, he didn’t get elected Governor. The Governor might compare himself to the President. Each and every President could compare themselves to Washington or Lincoln. How many politicians can be the founders of their country?

Just how many other people do you need to be better than to feel OK about yourself?

Stop making comparisons and accept you for you.

9. Feeling sorry for yourself keeps you in misery.

Feeling sorry can provide excuses for your failures. Too much time on the reason why can take the focus off what could be.

Do not stay stuck in self-pity. Get into action and see where a few steps can take you.

10. Trying to get even perpetuates the hurts.

Revenge is a fire that can consume you and everything in your life. The best revenge is a successful life. Unhappy people plot revenge. Happy people plan for their own successful life.

11. Mistreating yourself guarantees unhappiness.

Others may have been unfair to you; they may even have abused you. Do not keep up the abuse. Unhappy people do not take care of themselves, they self-abuse. Engaging in good self-care is the first step to happiness.

12. Staying too busy to have fun prevents happiness.

Day after day of obligation can melt into a life lived for others. Carve out time to do things just because you like them. Do more that you enjoy and you become happier and the rest of your life is happier.

13. Trying to be perfect keeps happiness moving away.

Perfectionism is the great enemy of happiness. It is an unobtainable goal that keeps moving farther away. Aim high but cut yourself slack when you do not reach all the way to the top.

Nature knows there is no such thing as perfection. One sunset does not try to outdo another; each is there for us to savor. The most beautiful of flowers often have a small imperfection if you look closely. Do not let your inner beauty be obscured by a few imperfections.

Those flaws and scars you have accumulated are the facets that make you the gem you are.

14. Taking the easy way out does not lead to happiness.

Doing only the easy things never lets you stretch and grow to your full potential. In recovery, you need to learn to crawl. Eventually, you need to get up and take a few steps. Those first efforts may result in some falls. Do not let this deter you from walking and eventually running.

Avoiding challenges are a guaranteed way to stay stuck in your unhappiness.

15. If you spend all your efforts avoiding the negative – you are creating it.

You can’t solve problems by running from them. Turn towards your challenges, approach them and they often get smaller.

A life lived in fear, avoiding the negative in your life, will leave those things a part of your life. Face your defects down, fix what you can and accept the ones you can’t.

16. Ignoring your unmet needs prevents happiness.

No good parent would leave their child unfed. If you have a pet in your life you feed it and sometimes you have to clean up after it. But when it comes to your needs, the unhappy person will leave their inner person unfed.

It is not selfish to take care of yourself. Make getting your needs met a priority. Those needs include safety and new challenges. Do not go overboard and create a diet of only meeting one need.

A happy person feels free to tell others about their needs and to ask for support in meeting those needs. If those around you are not taking your needs seriously make sure you work harder at expressing those needs. Set a good example of meeting these needs yourself. If those around you still do not recognize your legitimate needs consider if these relationships are healthy.

17.  Letting Fear of failure paralyze you stops the creation of happiness.

When under stress the brain reverts to the most primitive mechanisms. Fear can set you into a freeze, flight or fight response.

Be very careful to avoid the stuck-in-fear response. Freezing will keep you stuck. Flight will leave your problems to grow. Taking positive action can get those issues in your life you have been hiding from back under control.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended books.

If you would like to stay connected to the posts on counselors soapbox, hear about the progress of my book in progress or the flow of the conversation about mental health and substance abuse issues – please subscribe or follow counselorssoapbox.com

12 ways you are self-sabotaging.

By David Joel Miller.

How many of these self-sabotaging things do you do?

1. Hold onto the past.

Bad Neighborhood

Demolition and self-sabotaging.
Photo courtesy of Flickr (dystopos)

Most people know they have baggage, resentments left over from the past. You can choose to hold onto those resentments as a justification for your failures or you can decide to toss those bags, unpack that baggage and lighten your load. You can’t change the past but you can stop letting it dictate the future. Put those old hurts in the coffin and bury them.

2. Unfinished business.

You should have been something, you were supposed to get something but it never happened. You can stay hung up on those failures or you can finish off that leftover business. Didn’t get to finish that schooling you wanted, go back no matter what the age and finish up. That or decide that even if you had that education you never finished it would not be helping you today.

Those first loves that got away, those were fairy tales. Those people who bullied you or rejected you are long gone. Resolve what you can and let the rest go. Continuing to brood over the unfinished business of the past keeps you from living the life of today.

3. Lie to yourself.

Do you have lies you tell yourself so often that you have started to believe them? You have to do this and you can’t do that. If you tell yourself so you make it true. You can make up excuses for your setbacks and failures that only you believe. Blaming others for your troubles may feel good now but it does not change anything. Blaming others keeps you stuck. Take responsibility for what you can do and move forward.

Of all the people you need to get honest with, getting honest with yourself is the most important one.

4. Wreckage – Clean up your messes.

If you have wreckage get it cleaned up. People often have unpaid fines or tickets. Bills that are still due and relationships that ended in disaster. Whenever possible clean up that wreckage. Do what you can to get those old debts, financial and emotional cleaned up so that you do not have to continue to pay on them well into your recovered life.

5. Hold on to harmful and hurtful people.

Are there people in your life that are harmful or hurtful but you just can’t seem to give them up? Just because they were there when you were down, does not mean you need to stay down with them. True friends will want to see you succeed. If you have to hold yourself back and be less than the person you were meant to be because of someone in your life these are not healthy relationships and they are not true friends.

6. Try to be perfect.

Perfectionism is the enemy of getting things done. You can tell yourself you never will be perfect and that excuses not trying at all. You miss out on all the things you never try. Students find that the pursuit of all A’s may keep them from graduating. If you insist on being perfect or not doing things at all you will keep quitting things that could have benefited you.

Do your best and call that good enough.

7. Doing nothing.

Doing nothing is a sure way to fail. Trying to be perfect is one way of alibiing your lack of effort. There are lots of other ways you can talk yourself out of ever trying.

The process of building the happy life begins with those first small steps. Get moving and the momentum will build.

8. Looking for happiness in all the wrong places – drugs – sex.

In the beginning, these crutches seem like ways to get by. You use drugs, alcohol or other addictions to try to be enough. Eventually, those addictions become all you can be. Do not get fooled into an illusion that more of an addiction will cure the emptiness inside.

9. Thinking money will buy happiness.

Money buys things. Having some things is better than having nothing. Things alone will never make you happy. Too many things will bury you. Make sure that in your pursuit of money your do not leave family, friends and your true self behind.

10. Beat yourself up.

There is no evidence, that I have seen, that beating yourself up makes you try harder. Love yourself and do your best. Be kind to yourself. Find the good in you and in others. Constantly reliving your failures keeps you stuck in failure.

11. Thinking you can control everything – worrying about things outside your control.

Most things in life are out of your control. You can’t make it rain. We have little control of the weather, who will get sick and a host of other things. Rather than fussing and worrying about things that are far beyond your control put your efforts into the things that you may be able to influence, that will mostly be your actions and your attitude. Catch your children and yourself doing things right and give yourself credit for the things you do well.

12. Do not accept credit for things done well.

Is it hard to accept a compliment? Do you find you can’t please yourself? Learn to give yourself credit for things well done. Be ready to give and receive compliments.

Compliments are an antidote for that feeling of failure that can creep in when all you ever hear and think is the things that you have been able to do in a less than perfect way.

How many of these 12 self-sabotaging practice do you use? Creating that happy recovered life may be largely a matter of discontinuing these self-defeating behaviors.

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Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended books.

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Success does not cure low self esteem

By David Joel Miller

Racking up the successes may make your low self-esteem worse, not better.

Success and Failure

Success and Failure.
FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You would think that people with a string of successes to their credit would feel good about themselves. Often this is not the case.

Olympic caliber athletes get depressed even suicidal; professionals in many fields suffer from low self-esteem.

The cause of this low self-esteem among high achievers is that ancient enemy – perfectionism.

Perfectionism destroys self-esteem.

The highly motivated student, the one with the all “A’s” on their record, if they were to just once get a B that would ruin their perfect record. Needing to be perfect is a way to overcompensate for feelings of inadequacy.

The way this works is one of the sneakiest of all possible manifestations of fear of failure. Set impossible high goals and then if you fail to achieve them this is not your fault. Who could possibly be expected to be perfect?

The consequence of this setting yourself up to fail but making the goal beyond anyone’s reach is to feel that having not achieved perfection, not being the best at everything, you are worthless and nothing.

We saw in a previous post, it is not the all A student that is the happiest. The good enough student, the B student, is far happier. So is the student who is self-motivated, who does things to satisfy themselves and learns for the sake of learning not the external motivation of grades.

Dr. Berry at U.C. Berkeley wrote an interesting paper on the causes of failure (Special Feature: Fear of Failure in the Student Experience, Personnel/ and Guidance Journal, 1975.) As I understand this article he understands perfectionists as being high in Fear of Failure.

Refusing compliments lowers self-esteem.

In my experience people who suffer from a strong case of perfectionism discount all compliments. They find it impossible to accept that any form of praise can be sincere and they find themselves unable to accept compliments. The inferences here is that for them to accept an accolade means they are in some way in control of and responsible for their success. If you accept success then you also assume responsibility for your failure and the one thing any good perfectionist does not want to do is set themselves up to have to acknowledge a failure.

Perfectionists do not hear praise, from themselves or others. What they do hear is the criticisms, real or implied. Since good is never good enough and nothing but perfect is acceptable any mention of a success risks being heard as a back-handed compliment. Yes you did well this time, but what did you expect, the task was easy. Or more importantly, what will you do next time? For the perfectionist, failure is nipping at their heels and success is a distant target off on the horizon.

They dismiss out of hand all compliments by hold onto and cherish the negative message that even they are not perfect and eventually will fail.

Dr. Berry tells the story of his experiences as a child, participating in a contest with friends to throw snowballs at a post. They picked a post that was an extremely far away. The consequence of setting this impossible target? If you hit it, then it was just luck. If you miss, it was so far away no one could be expected to hit it. Either way, you were expected to miss and therefore could not fail.

Perfectionists set up just such tests for themselves.

The purpose of aiming for perfection, so this theory of psychology and others goes, is to establish such unreasonably high standards that no one could be criticized for not meeting that goal. The perfectionist keeps on trying to reach perfection until one day they give up trying as impossible and drop out of school or other activities or they finally do fail and then ascribe their lack of success to the impossible expectations of others.

Do you fear failure? Are you setting yourself up with excuses that result in creating the failure you fear? What would it mean to you to set realistic goals and actually meet some of them?

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Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

Perfectionism – good thing or bad thing

By David Joel Miller

Is your perfectionism out of control?

Perfectionism

Perfectionism, that constant striving to do everything just right, has been connected with high accomplishment. Parents often believe the way to get the most out of their children is to push them for ever-increasing goals. Parents may feel their role is to point out their child’s failings to inspire them to do better.

People who aim for perfection set higher goals and may achieve grander things than those who have lower expectations. Does perfectionism really inspire more effort and accomplishment? Or does perfectionism have a dark side?

Perfectionism’s dark side.

Perfectionism has been linked to high worry, fear of failure, eating disorders, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and an increased risk of suicide. Perfectionists can suffer unmercifully and they can make those around them miserable also.

Perfectionism, Learned or Genetic?

In this conversation about perfectionism, I am talking about the learned variety. Anything which is learned can be unlearned. There are those whose perfectionist tendencies are a part of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. Those disorders appear to have a physical or genetic basis in addition to any learned component. If you have OCD or OCPD medication and therapy may be helpful in managing your disorder so can other recovery methods.

Perfectionism has mixed results.

Why does this striving for perfection sometimes result in champions and other times in learned hopelessness and failure? The key lies in how the perfectionist was raised and in how they are raising themselves. What were the messages the perfectionist received in childhood from whatever source and how have they gone on to adopt those “need to be perfect” themes?

One way in which setting high standards goes wrong and results in unhealthy perfectionism is when caregivers set high standards but are at the same time disapproving of the child. If the parent’s approval of the child is contingent on success, the only way a child can get that parents love is to always be perfect and win at everything.

After receiving this message for a while the perfectionist internalizes the message “I am what I accomplish, if I don’t do everything perfectly I am no good.” Not only do they believe this message but they repeatedly retell themselves this story.

No matter how hard this child tries it is never enough, a little league championship should have been a World Series win and gold medal should have been the most Gold Medals ever. The target keeps changing and the child internalizes this belief that they will never be good enough and that their self-worth is dependent on never making a mistake.

Homes that produce unhealthy perfectionists are high in control, the parent is in charge of most everything, but they are low in warmth and affection. To win is to be loved. To lose is to face rejection. Perfectionists go on to love or reject themselves based on their successes and failures.

Parental acceptance in children and presumably self-acceptance in adulthood appear to be the best antidotes to perfectionism, self-doubt and excessive worry about mistakes.

If you didn’t get acceptance in childhood or didn’t get as much as you feel you need, begin today to accept yourself. Whatever you do is good enough. This is tough medicine for the perfectionist to swallow. Something about that constant struggle to be perfect reduces anxiety and seems protective at the time until the perfectionist fails at something.

If how you feel about yourself or how others feel about you is dependent not on effort but upon results you are in for a rough ride. Smooth out the road ahead by cutting yourself some slack.

Self-esteem for perfectionists fluctuates widely. When they achieve their goals they feel good about themselves and when the fall short they are overly negative and pessimistic. You should not base your self-esteem on what you win or lose. You are not a better person for being a perfectionist and may, in fact, be a pain to be around.

Parents who over control children and do not allow their child to develop a sense of self-control do not prevent the child from making mistakes. These parents prevent their child from learning how to make choices.

If that happened to you, stop making the same mistake with yourself and start accepting that most things in life do not need to be perfect. The time used to make one thing perfect is time taken away from other things you should do, like being present with your children and not passing the perfectionist disorder on to them.

If you are plagued by perfectionism and it has made you or those around you miserable are you ready to seek help for your perfectionism?

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books