In this supercharged social media fuelled world where overachievement is valued above most things the words “you are are allowed to fail” are not often heard. They are, however, very necessary.
In our private practice a lot of our clients come to us with the “last chance” shadow hanging over them and the idea that “failure is not an option this time.”
True, for many of them, they have been behaving so badly, promising to change and not changing for so long that their spouses or their employers are expressing themselves as”at the end of their tether.” The challenge we have in personal change is that as soon as we aspire for black and white, success or failure, perfect or rubbish, then we are setting ourselves up for failure from the start.
It is rare that anything, especially personal change, goes perfectly yet we still set ourselves unrealistic targets. The problem with these is that we are often not prepared for failure and the exercise becomes an all or nothing event. It is also possible that the pressure we put on ourselves to appear to be perfect and successful simply means that we fail in secret and we develop shameful practices and pretend everything’s ok which is worse.
“If we truly love ourselves, in spite of our flaws, then we can love others in spite of theirs.”
This is the time of year when trying to become a better person really gets put under the spotlight. The time of year when people set goals and make resolutions.
Here at Calm People we have no issue with targets, goals and aspiration. In fact we encourage stretch goals and pushing ourselves further. What we do discourage, however, is the aspiration for perfection.
Our view is that if you really want to succeed then you need to allow yourself permission to fail.
Here’s how it works
Last year I decided I would try a dry January. A perfect dry January would start at one minute past midnight on January the 1st and continue, alcohol free, until midnight on the 1st February.
By being literal and aiming for perfection there is an instant flaw as many of us will not put a drink down at midnight when we are surrounded by fellow party enthusiasts. Instead we carry on drinking and immediately fail the perfection measure.
Last year I wanted to make a difference to my drinking and my health. I decided to have a “dryish” January. What that meant was that I intended to have the vast majority of the month without alcohol at all. It also recognised that I already had social commitments planned in such as a meal with the family and a big night out with my friends.
Rather than make those moments of pain and abstinence I gave myself permission to fail and have a drink on these nights out. Afterwards I went straight back to a dryish January. It worked. I drastically cut my drinking down and enjoyed it.
This works for any behaviour change be it weight loss, exercise or anger management.
When we work with our clients one of the crucial conversations we have is about managing our own expectation and those of the people who need us to change. The reality of most situations is that if those that need us to change see us changing and making the effort to change they will forgive us the odd relapse. That’s ok. As long as the direction is going where it needs to relapses can happen.
To look at it the opposite way. If you set yourself unrealistic perfection as the goal the the moment you step away from that then you may as well give up and continue to be the sshame-based unhealthy person you have been telling yourself you don’t want to be.
Good enough is the new perfect so get out there and set yourself up for 99% success rather than 100% failure.