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We live in perfectionism when we have an interpretation that we need to be living high, often unattainable, standards. Standards are rules we live by that are often unexamined and adopted unconsciously.

In order to break perfectionism, the first step is to identify standards.

Let’s take an example of a teenager in school who is most often anxious, always striving to get straight As.

There are two main stories driving the standard:

Scenario 1. If we, as parents or teachers are telling this student that she is smart and ought to be producing As all the time, that is the story that this student will adopt.

Scenario 2. If this teenager has a particular worldview that in order to succeed in life, she needs to strive for straight As, this is what this student will strive for.

We are shaped by our environment, each of us has a filter that we interpret based on what we observe and sense for safety, acceptance, and belonging.

Both scenarios are stories. The story becomes our reality and how we live our lives. We often live from a background that is not obvious to us, yet is our lived, perceived experience. As parents, as educators, and as students, we often live out of unexamined and in-explicit biases and standards and live our lives as if the way we are living is the best or the right way.

If we are feeling drained, frustrated, or not good enough, the question I would ask is “is this really the best or right way?”

If we each desire to live a life that brings us vitality, meaning, and satisfaction, yet are mostly feeling anxious, alone, or drained. This points to a missing conversation. That missing conversation: what are my standards for living a life of meaning, vitality, and satisfaction?

Is getting all As going to do that? If I do get all As, at what cost? If I do get all As, what is the benefit? What is the time I invest in trying for all As? How often do I feel relaxed, open, and feel I have runway to fail?

The question here becomes, “what is enough?”. We have a sense of what is enough based on how our bodies feel. If we are more often drained and on high alert, this indicates that the standards we are living may need some re-evaluating. We often live standards from what we learned was “right”.

I was once living a standard that my house “needs” to be at a certain level of neatness. I will share that experience and the illumination of setting an intentional and conscious standard in an upcoming post.

In the meantime, what does this provoke? What are some ways you are living, or that you see your kids, partner, boss, or parents are living that point to a missing standard(s)? What questions come up?

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