One of the reasons why we fail to create lasting changes in our lives is we tend to focus on what is not-yet ‘perfect’ and using that as an excuse to sabotage our progress. We tend to begin a process of change expecting to wake up one day with all our internal conflicts gone overnight. It’s called a “process” because it is an ongoing journey of healing parts of ourselves. But most of us expect our issues to disappear within a short time, and when we see that we’re still struggling, we consider ourselves to have failed. So we go back to our old habits or old structure – full on – because “it’s all or nothing”.
In our strive for perfection, we will never win. That destination we call ‘perfection’ is an illusion – as we move closer to our concept of what is perfect, our standard for the thing we strive for will change, again and again, making it increasingly more difficult to be achieved. As we strive for perfection, the distance to that which we consider perfect keeps increasing and our hope of becoming happier shrinks.
In our strive for perfection, we miss out on the gifts of the moment. We refuse to see that anything short of ‘perfection’ is worthy of us living it. And because what we consider to be ‘perfect’ is impossible to achieve, we’re stuck in a limbo of unhappiness.
The way out is to start by relaxing that childish refusal to consider a different option. It is not all-or-nothing. That space between “all” and “nothing” is where the greatest beauty and gifts can be found. All we need to do is to give ourselves a chance to discover those gifts.
People in recovery from addiction and other destructive habits often find the idea of abstinence a dreaded prospect. That period following some changes that have been put into place usually means no alcohol, drugs or other sources of dependency as they create a clean space in which they’re able to find their self-sufficiency. If you’ve been dependent on quick-albeit-destructive habits to cope with bad feelings, it can be difficult to see how you can possibly live a life of abstinence, even if it’s fairly short-term. You would tend to see it as a big sacrifice, an unfair compromise, something that would leave you with very little to go on.
Once you relax your refusal to accept that there might be something really worthwhile in the change, you’ll open up to the beauty of an alternative outcome. It is very much a matter of focus – if you focus on what you’re giving up, you’ll feel the deprivation; if, on the other hand, you focus on what positive things your new way of life may bring you, you’ll find the gifts.
Instead of striving for perfection to warrant a new lifestyle, see the perfection in the ‘imperfection’ of things. If you adopt this mentality every step of the way, your period of abstinence or apparent lack-of will become a rich experience for you. When you feel despondent as you focus on the negative, keep your attention on it until you see the beauty in it surface. Everything is a source of beauty; if you focus on something long enough, you will see beautiful aspects emerge from it.
Our mind is quick to judge, based on our previous experiences and the way we’ve learnt to categorise things under ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But when we give something a chance, by simply looking at it longer than usual, we’ll see aspects we never saw before. Look at the picture above. A sloppily-constructed stair that replaced a broken one. Depending on the context, it may be ugly or beautiful. In the context of someone’s home, we’d normally label it as ugly, but in the context of an art gallery, we may label it as something quite beautiful. So the potential of both exists. This stair, in the context of someone’s home, can be seen as beautiful if we focus on it long enough. As we keep our focus on it, we move past our automatic judgements and see a myriad other possibilities out of it, until we find perfection in it. This is the only way we can reach perfection, and what an enriching way that is.