Thursday, November 22, 2012

Removing the burden of perfection

No one likes making mistakes. Our culture emphasizes perfection, so mistakes are seen as failures, not as learning experiences. Nervous people go a step further by fearing the possibility of making mistakes. Just the idea of forgetting to sign a check, accidentally offending someone, buying the wrong gift, and so on can make our hearts race, our palms sweat, and our minds whirl.

Great thinkers have long recognized that making mistakes is key to learning. We should not fear what is human nature. Of course, mistakes make us uncomfortable—that’s only human. But Dr. Low advises us to have the courage to make mistakes. Notice in my list of mistakes we fear that I did not mention anything major. Anxious people, much to our surprise, usually perform with rational thought and calm intent when making life’s big decisions. Instead, it’s the daily trivialities that throw us into a tizzy. Yet Dr. Low (1997) notes, “Mistakes made in trivial performances are trivial themselves, and their possible consequences are just as trivial and not to be feared” (p. 249).   

Removing the burden of perfection is incredibly freeing. The next time you feel yourself tightening up over the need to be perfect, take a deep breath and remind yourself that it is indeed OK to make mistakes, that you have the courage to make mistakes. This realization has helped me in all aspects of my life. And when you “lower your standards” for yourself your performance will actually rise. Yes, making occasional mistakes actually leads to better results over time!

1. Low, AA. (1997). Mental health through will-training (3rd ed.). Glencoe, IL: Willett.