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“I can’t believe I did that. How stupid can one person be? I should have known better.

What the heck was I thinking? What’s my problem? There are no excuses.”

If I had a boss who set impossible standards, I would not be a happy camper. However, sometimes, we are as unfair to ourselves as that boss. We set expectations for ourselves that are not achievable. Have you ever vilified yourself for not getting everything perfectly right? Have you ever gotten down on yourself for making a mistake, as if it was evidence of your complete failure?

We sometimes assume that perfection is an achievable and realistic goal, and that mistakes are to be avoided at all costs. This assumption can lead to a lot of stress, working round the clock in an attempt to achieve that elusive perfection, and assiduously avoiding opportunities that present the possibility that we might make mistakes.

If we look at mistakes as evidence of our failure and condemn ourselves for making them, we may avoid trying certain things. It can also lead to our giving up shortly after attempting something. This may be based on a response to an event in the past where we had tried something and didn’t do as well as we would have liked, or didn’t improve as quickly as we wanted to. This may have led to self-condemnation, and avoidance of trying again.

As I shared in my first video, I spent many years struggling with my presumed need for perfection. In high school, I avoided taking any classes with which I might struggle. Math was at the top of that list, leading me to take as few classes in that area as possible .

When I had to take a statistics class as an undergrad, certain I would do badly, I took it pass-fail. On the first day of class, the professor informed us that unless we did extra credit work, our highest grade in the class would be a B. I immediately dismissed that information.

On the third day of class, the professor asked why I wasn’t doing the extra work. I informed him that I wasn’t good at math, and was taking the class pass-fail. He suggested that I change the status to a grade, and to start the extra credit work right away. When I looked at him quizzically, he informed me that I was doing A work. I did as he suggested and ended up with a B+ in the class!

I wondered then, how much I might have missed out on for fear of not succeeding. I considered the possibility that I had a choice about whether or not to buy into perfection as a goal, and mistake avoidance. We all have that choice. I am not saying that we should go in the opposite direction and not set any standards for ourselves. However, we can set ones that are achievable and fair.

We can operate from the understanding that all we can really do is the best that we can do. Knowing that mistakes are not evidence of our failure, we can let go of our fear of making them. It’s helpful to remember that we can’t know what we know before we know it. We can accept the necessity of making mistakes as a positive opportunity to learn about what we can do differently. Mistakes are a helpful part of the process of doing anything, and how we grow, and we can embrace rather than avoid them.

In order to choose fact-based and supportive self-talk, it is helpful to remember that we all have different learning curves. It can take time to learn and improve, and we can be patient with ourselves and the process and allow ourselves that time. We can note and give ourselves kudos for the effort we are putting in and the steps forward we are making. Rather than stressing, overworking and avoiding, we can build more ease and pride as we work towards being the best that we can be.

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