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How to Deal with Our Fears?

This lesson is a part of an audio course How to Overcome Perfectionism and Fear of Failure by Nar Mina

The perfectionist has this idea that work that is not done perfectly is not worth doing at all.

To do something perfectly (assuming perfection is even possible) often requires extraordinary effort. So perfectionism comes at a high price.

Not all tasks are equally important, and not all require equal attention. For instance, making sure that everything is correct before launching a spacecraft is clearly critical, and nothing short of perfect work should be tolerated. However, it may be less appropriate for you to fuss for a long time over the colors of a chart on an internal memo.

Part of what bothers perfectionists most about potential layoffs is the lack of control. It's disturbing to know that at any time, despite your performance, you could be laid off because of events that are outside of your control, such as your company's merger with another company. When this anxiety flares up, think of it this way: Although you don't always have the power to control life events, you do have the power to control how you react to them. You can't control whether you are laid off, but you can control your response to a layoff. You can decide right now – don't wait until you're fired – that if you lose your job, you will make the best of the situation, consider it an opportunity for positive change, and refuse to let it ruin your life. Make up your mind that although losing your job might cause financial and career-related difficulties, you firmly believe that you will find ways to get some benefits from it (even if you have no idea right now what the benefits might be). If you focus on what you can control – your reaction – you can reduce the anxiety produced by events like this.

Whenever you lose control over the situation, remind yourself that you always have a choice, and there is always a way out. Take a break and breathe deeply. Although we can't always control what happens, we need to realize that we can always choose how to react to the situation.

Most of our time is spent either thinking about the future or the past, and we forget to enjoy the moments that make up the journey. Yesterday is gone, and tomorrow has yet to arrive. This moment is the only one that is real. So resolve to take time to appreciate the simple things in life …enjoy the changing seasons, the smell of hot coffee, snuggling down in a warm bed.

Take pleasure from those things that appeal to the senses. Tune in to the wonders around you.

Life is fraught with struggles, difficulties, and disappointments. Are you able to find pleasure in the journey without losing focus on your goal? Can you learn and grow from adversity, can you savor and take pleasure in adventures while keeping an eye on your eventual aim? Do you take your success for granted, do you dismiss your accomplishment as insignificant?

While other people see them as an astounding success, perfectionists mostly see themselves as a failure. They reject success, banish it from their life, either before it is attained, by setting excessively high standards, or after it is attained by failing to appreciate it.

The desire to improve is part of human nature, and it is not a bad thing. Taken to the extreme, however, it can harm more than it helps.

Sometimes we are too obsessed with improving everything around us: beginning with our house and ending with ourselves. Regardless of talent, looks, or money, we feel inadequate and in need of some extra genius. Our constant dissatisfaction condemns us to constant displeasure, for as long as we are human, there is always room for improvement. Even a perfect result only satisfies us temporarily, until the next competition.

Whenever the perfectionist performs well, the sense of satisfaction is brief, and she immediately sets her sights on the next achievement. Nothing is ever enough.

If we are ambitious, if we constantly and relentlessly increase our expectations of ourselves, we are doomed to low self-esteem and negative feelings.

For example, if you aspire to win Olympic gold and actually take home the silver, your self-esteem will drop. But if all you aspire to is participating in the Olympics and you end up winning a silver medal, your self-esteem will rise.

For happiness and success – we need to engage in activities that are neither too easy nor too difficult. If we are not challenged enough, we become bored; if our aspirations are overly ambitious, we become stressed.

While stretching ourselves, pushing ourselves to greater heights, can be a good thing, there is a point beyond which it becomes a bad thing. We need to accept that our limits are real.

We need to find that balance between high hopes and harsh reality. The Perfectionist has high expectations of himself and sets himself goals that cannot be met; we can set high goals that are difficult but attainable.

Usually, Perfectionists have a work-life imbalance. They try to attain perfection in every area of life – which inevitably leads to compromise and frustration: given the real constraints of time, it is really impossible to do it all or to have it all.

Many Perfectionists, despite being wealthy, healthy, famous, and gorgeous, are unhappy. Wealth, prestige and other measures of success have very little to do with our levels of well-being. Happiness is mainly in our state of mind rather than in our status or the state of our bank account. Once our basic needs are met – needs such as food, shelter, and education – our level of well-being is determined by what we choose to focus on and by our interpretation of external events. Do we view failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity? Do we see the glass as half empty or half full? Do we appreciate and enjoy what we have, or do we take it for granted and dismiss it?

For example, if you are giving a speech and one person in the audience is asleep, focusing your attention exclusively on the sleeping person, to the exclusion of all the other people in the room, is tunnel vision. If all of them are asleep and only one is listening to what you have to say, concluding that your lecture was a success because one student was intellectually engaged, is also a form of tunnel vision.

Perfectionists engage in negative tunnel vision: they dismiss the good in their lives while giving attention to the bad.

The Perfectionist's negative tunnel vision leads her to dismiss her accomplishments, to take them for granted, and then to resume the drudgery of hard work.

Try to appreciate life as a whole – yourself, your successes, and even your failures. Try to perceive failures as opportunities for learning and growing. Enjoy what you have.

There are no easy formulas for finding the optimal balance. Moreover, our needs and wants change over time, as we change and as our situation changes. Be attentive to your inner needs and wants, as well as to the external constraints.

It's OK to let go of traditions that don't make sense anymore. You don't have to wait for a major tragedy or life event to give yourself permission. It's also OK to put your own needs first sometimes, even if doing so disappoints 100 people. They'll get over it. Changing habits, traditions, and routines is not a sign of weakness or imperfection.

This is the end of lesson 12. In the next lesson, you learn about dealing with failures.

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Nar Mina

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