A meaningful discussion of a topic ought to define the postulates: what are the underlying definitions and assumptions inherent in the subject? In keeping with this idea, how can we discuss imperfection without first defining what perfection is?
Merriam-Webster defines perfection as:
per·fec·tion | \ pər-ˈfek-shən \
1: the quality or state of being perfect: such as
a: freedom from fault or defect: FLAWLESSNESS
c: the quality or state of being saintly
2a: an exemplification of supreme excellence
b: an unsurpassable degree of accuracy or excellence
3: the act or process of perfecting
This definition reveals some inherent issue with claims to perfection, namely that they contain many assumptions and room for vastly different subjective interpretations. The very words used to define perfection are themselves open to divergent perspectives and hence to potential disagreement.
This same degree of ambivalence extends to imperfection. The point is, while you’re busily beating yourself up over your own perceived flaws, defects, or lack of excellence, someone else could be viewing you/your performance with awe and aspiring to your degree of success.
This brings me to the first of the top 10 ways to embrace your “imperfections.”
1. Own your personal definition of perfection
Whose voice do you hear when you decide that you’ve failed to attain perfection? Is it a useful and relevant voice, or a vestige from your past? Each of us experientially inhabits a world of our own construction based upon our unique circumstances (where, when and how we were born, sex, gender, family constellation, degree of fitness, nutrition, income level, education, etc.).
In other words, we don’t interact directly with the world, but rather with our own map, or model which represents the world. After all, our brains are located in the little dark room of our skulls and even our vision is merely a reflection bounced off of our retinas. With this in mind, why not take charge of how we construct our self-image by generating a personal definition of perfection that works for us?
Princeton researchers Bénabou, R. and J. Tirole demonstrated that external reward systems are limited in their benefit to a person’s performance and actually undermine their intrinsic motivation.1 Therefore, rather than looking to the world for validation we’ll gain more long term benefits from bolstering our internally derived motivation.
2. Beware when you compare
In other words, pay attention to how much time you spend comparing yourself to others, particularly online, where social media and other rabbit holes abound. The internet is an ad driven world and the very nature of advertising is to feed insecurity in order to drive people to buy products.
A meta-analysis of the use of social networking sites conducted by Saiphoo, A. N, et al, found that the use of those sites has a significant negative effect on self-esteem.2 It’s valuable to ensure that you’re not deeming yourself imperfect according to unrealistic and unattainable standards created by influencers and their sponsors.
3. Reframe Your View from Imperfection to a Work in Progress
What you deem as the height of excellence at five years of age is unlikely to be the same as when you’re fifty-five. Our standards change as we raise our personal bar, increasing our skillset and overall competence. This should serve as a reminder that we are not static beings. As a matter of fact, it’s vital to our wellbeing that we continue to grow and change as we move through life.
Multiple studies in the UK and Europe unanimously show that life-long learning has a positive effect on both psychological and overall health/wellness in adult learners.3 If we apply this understanding to the way we choose to perceive ourselves it enables us to employ an evolving view of personal perfection that is uniquely our own.
4. Enjoy the Journey
It takes a great deal of experience to gain mastery in any area of life. Choosing to view this process in positive terms can allow you to find joy in your increments of improvement.
Conversely, looking at yourself when you’re a novice at something and having the expectation that you should perform as an expert, is a guaranteed route to dissatisfaction. Furthermore, several studies have shown that perfectionism and self-criticism are linked with the reduced ability to achieve goals.4
Interestingly, the same study showed that positive self-oriented perfectionism improved a subject’s ability to reach their goals. Which leads to the next step in our journey.
5. Let your imperfections be your fuel
When you look at your performance, or some other aspect of your life and you don’t like what you see, ask yourself why. Use the answers you unearth to prompt your next steps and begin pursuing behaviors that better reflect where you’d like to be. When you engage in self-oriented reflection to generate improvement it can spring from an organic place that enables, rather than hinders you in your efforts. This promotes personal efficacy and can steadily lead you towards your goals.
6. Look to Cultures that Embrace Imperfection
The Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi can serve as a balm to the western mind after being mired in rigid cultural views of what constitutes perfection. From this perspective the inconstancy of life is not only acknowledged but celebrated.
The understanding that life is transient and inherently entails imperfection seeps into all corners of Wabi Sabi philosophy. For example, instead of seeing a chip in a favorite mug as a flaw, you can view it as a measure of its use and a reflection of its life as an object of value to you.
When you see new lines on your face you might view them as trophies of experience, rather than blemishes. It never hurts to practice a mindset that cultivates a vision attuned to beauty, especially when you consider the overall benefits to your well-being.
7. Check in with yourself
The clearer you are on what you want in your life, the more likely you will be to attain your goals. The unexamined life still unfolds, it’s just less likely to tell a story you want to hear.
If you find that you keep coming up against walls of perceived failure, or inadequacy, it might pay dividends to reevaluate if what you’ve been aiming for still suits your needs. Life is for living and it is a fleeting thing, choose your path with care. The more flexibility you can employ, the better.
8. Don’t take yourself too seriously
You’ll never get out alive. This sentiment of American author and philosopher Elbert Hubbard still holds weight. If you think about it, believing you can attain perfection in this life is a bit of an absurdity.
There are always circumstances beyond our control, if we can learn to foster levity and the accompanying traits of improved self-regulation, chances are we will live longer and healthier for our efforts.
9. Tune in to your life’s rhythms
You never want to look too closely at yourself after a night of poor sleep, bad dietary choices, or too many celebratory libations. It’s clear that the way we perceive ourselves when we’re less than our best, is not the most measured, or truthful. Before we decide that what we’re seeing through excrement stained glasses reflects what we actually are, we should pump the brakes.
Human bodies follow circadian and ultradian rhythms, amongst other repeating cycles. In other words, we’re attuned to patterns, evolved over millennia, that have ideal mechanisms for optimal function.
If we’re fighting them, as modern life so frequently endorses, we’re not going to be at our best. Until we sleep, eat and move in healthier ways, we may not be up to the task of making judgements about our worth.
So, if you feel murky about yourself, mind your sleep hygiene, what you put into your mind as well as your body, and any other major influence on your worldview. If you’re going to judge, do it from a solid place.
10. Talk to Yourself Like You Would to a Friend
You will be with yourself for the duration of your life. The more skilled you are at engaging in self-talk that fosters healthy thought patterns, the better prepared you will be for whatever life sets in your path. Thoughts and emotions can be a wonderful boon to our lives, or a source of endless misery.
When it comes to assessing your personal degree of excellence, try in earnest to see yourself as you would someone that you love unequivocally. This will take the edge off your judgments and allow for a fresh perspective.
Sometimes that’s the perfect thing to offer ourselves, a little gentleness and the breathing room to try and be a little better than we were yesterday.