So many of us try to live our lives according to other people’s rules. We try our hardest to fit in: to do what we think we should do. We work hard at our job, because society expects us to; we don’t spend that much time having fun, because we think people would judge us as frivolous.
But what’s the result of all this? We end up leading anxious and unhappy lives.
The book, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, highlights the need for us to embrace our own uniqueness, our own little imperfections and quirks – the things that make us who we are. It is by following this path of authenticity and individualism that we can hope to become happy.
Most people would like to live a life that is true to who they are; in other words, we’d like to be as authentic as possible.
Unfortunately, a handful of factors stand in the way: for example, a lack of self-confidence or pressure to conform. As a result, we feel we are inauthentic people, too weak to live honestly. But this is simply untrue!
Authenticity isn’t a quality that you either have or don’t. Rather, it’s a choice, one that reflects how we want to live. It’s the daily decision to be honest, embrace our vulnerability and to not care what others think.
And because it’s a choice, we thus have the option to be authentic on some days and less authentic on those other days when we’re too tired.
If you do, however, choose to act with more authenticity, then you’ll need to practice courage and compassion.
You’ll need the courage to speak your mind and allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of others. To look at this in practice, think about the next time you really want something to happen, like winning a contest or nailing an interview. Try not to play down your hopes in these situations. Acting like failure is no big deal won’t make the pain of failure any easier. In contrast, being honest about your hopes makes it possible for you to find support when you need it.
Furthermore, exercising compassion allows you to recognize that you aren’t alone, and that, in fact, everyone around you struggles with the exact same issues as you.
Compassion, in contrast with sympathy, is a relationship between equals: in order to relate to the struggles of others, you have to acknowledge your own, as well. By understanding that everyone around you has likely gone through what you’re going through now, you’ll have an easier time opening up to them and finding support.
Are you a perfectionist? If you are, do you consider it to be a positive quality?
Perfectionism, despite maybe sounding positive, isn’t worth pursuing. It’s different than striving to be your best, and is unrelated to self-improvement. Rather, it revolves around the fundamental fear of shame.
Perfectionism, in short, is the belief that, if we look perfect and live and act perfectly, then we’ll be able to shield ourselves from criticism, judgment or blame. This shield, in other words, is supposed to protect us against shame.
However, life as a perfectionist is emotionally unhealthy, because it makes our own self-worth dependent on approval or acceptance from others. Not only is perfectionism unhealthy, but it’s also addictive and self-destructive. In fact, perfectionism is futile, as perfection itself is illusory!
The perfectionists’ mindset, however, doesn’t recognize these traps. Instead, whenever they inevitably fail to achieve perfection, perfectionists blame themselves for their inability, and tell themselves to “do better,” regardless of whether that’s actually possible.
They become, in effect, addicted to improvement.
Perfectionism can also lead to life paralysis, that is, the inability to put oneself out into the world, due to fear of imperfection. People suffering from life paralysis might, for instance, be unable to send that email to someone they admire out of fear it won’t be well received, or might leave their writings unpublished out of fear of criticism.
Luckily, we can avoid the constraints of perfectionism by simply being honest about our fear of shame and by reminding ourselves to do things for ourselves rather than for others.
So the next time you want to get fit, for example, don’t let others’ opinion of you and your body be your motivation. Instead, tell yourself that exercise and a healthy diet will make you feel better and healthier, and that your success or failure in getting fit won’t affect your worth as a person.
How many of us have tried to lose weight, but instead give up at the first sign of trouble? So many of us lack the resilience necessary to achieve our goals. Luckily, we can change that tendency. Let’s start by looking at where resilience originates:
Resilience comes from practicing hope. While hope is often considered an emotion based on circumstances outside of our control, researcher C.R. Snyder argues instead that hope is actually a cognitive process that can be both learned and practiced.
Hope comes from telling yourself where you want to go, recognizing how you can get there and telling yourself that you have what it takes to succeed. You can make the light at the end of the tunnel appear closer or brighter by dividing larger goals into smaller, more manageable ones.
Next time you face a daunting challenge, like giving up nicotine, make a conscious choice to take it one day at a time. Thinking about your efforts for a day is easier than thinking about it for a year or the rest of your life. And once the habit of not smoking sinks in, your resilience will build on itself.
Resilience can also be developed by adopting a critical, broadened perspective towards the adversity you face. It’s easy to feel terrible when the camera is zoomed in on you, and all you see are your “imperfections.” But if you pan out a bit, you’ll start to see that you are surrounded by people who share your struggle.
Many people who have issues with body image as a result of media pressure, for instance, could benefit from adopting a broader perspective.
They should ask themselves: are the images that I’m seeing real or fantasy? Am I the only person who feels dissatisfied with my body after seeing these images?
Answering these questions can help people remain critical, see that they aren’t alone in their struggle, and resist societal expectations, instead refocusing on self-worth.
It’s common sense that you’re happier when you’re grateful for the things you have, rather than when you’re lamenting that you don’t have enough. This gratitude, much like hope, is not an accidental emotion, but is a mindset that can be consciously trained.
While most people think of gratitude as the feeling that follows positive experiences, in reality it is a practice that fosters happiness. This has major implications for how we live our lives: it means that joy isn’t merely the accidental result of external conditions over which we have no control. Rather, we actively choose joy by practicing gratitude.
One way to actively choose gratitude is by telling yourself that what you have is enough – or more than enough – rather than seeing everything in terms of scarcity.
We often fall into the bad habit of faulting ourselves for not having enough: we’re not rich enough, not thin enough, we don’t have enough time and so on. Instead, we should focus on the things we already have, and understand that we could have less. With the grateful perspective, you’ll soon find yourself feeling more grateful no matter how prosperous you are.
But above all else, the key to gratitude is to find value in the ordinary moments that make up your life – things like tucking your child into bed, sharing a good meal or walking home on a sunny day.
That it is a choice to have a grateful perspective helps people who have experienced severe trauma or sadness. People who have undergone intense, traumatic experiences, such as the loss of a child, violence or genocide, attest that they tend to remember fondly the mundane aspects of daily life before the traumatic experience.
Check out my related post: How to develop luck aka be luckier!