The Road to Perfection Can Be an Unhappy Place

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You may have heard a friend or even yourself say, "I am a perfectionist.”  It is even a common answer to the job interview question, "what is your greatest weakness?" However, what really defines perfectionism? What is it really about? Researchers state that perfectionism can be both adaptive and maladaptive. The difference may lie in whether there is a personal desire to excel and have high standards or a desire to be perfect. The mere fact that being perfect is unattainable and does not exist makes its pursuit unfulfilling.  The desire to be perfect can become obsessive because there is an erroneous belief that we can affect others perceptions and doing so will bring us happiness. Thus failing to meet the unrealistic standard of perfection may generate stress.

It seems that considering the reasons and precursors of perfectionism can help understand its function in the human mind. The interpersonal needs fulfilled by perfectionist behavior can range from feeling accepted and belonging with others.  Sociologist Dr. Brene Brown defines perfectionism as, "a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame (Brown, 2010). " According to her research, people protect themselves from feeling emotionally hurt by striving to be perfect.

Feeling scared, shamed, judged and blamed are normal emotional responses that are part of the human experience. However, when we try to be or act perfect there is an increased chance we will feel these emotions even more. Mainly because perfectionist thinking often leads to self-blame and a faulty belief that we are being judged, shamed, or blamed because we are failing and are not good enough (Brown, 2010). Often people will have a difficulty admitting the pain associated with being judged, blamed or shamed but feel comfortable stating that they are a perfectionist. There is a difference between trying to be our best selves for positive reasons and being perfectionist in order to avoid feeling hurt.  In order to overcome perfectionism and create deeper connections with others we should practice acknowledging our authenticity and vulnerabilities to the universal experiences of shame judgment, and blame (Brown, 2010).  Developing shame resilience and practicing self-compassion canbetter motivates us to be our best selves.

Ernestina Perez, LPC

Therapist

Clarity Clinic

 

Reference

Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you're supposed to be and embrace who you are.

 

 

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Increasing Motivation When You Feel Depressed

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Clinical depression can change your brain in a way that makes it difficult to experience a sense of pleasure or reward. When you feel depressed, sad, numb or simply exhausted, you might feel that there is no purpose to anything. You might think "What's the point? It's not going to change how I feel."

A common misconception is that we need to feel motivated in order to do something, so you wait for the day you will wake up feeling more motivated, to start engaging in life, and to start feeling more like yourself again. Motivation doesn't magically arise out of nowhere, it has to be cultivated. We have to do something to spark motivation. 

Ways to Increase Motivation

Here are some strategies that are proven to be effective in improving depression and increasing motivation:

Identify Pleasurable Behaviors

A good place to start is by making a list of things you enjoyed doing in the past or things you would like to start doing. Ask yourself: "What do I feel like I can do in this moment?" "What has inspired me in the past?" "What is something I've always wanted to do?" There is no right or wrong place to start. The first step of identifying pleasurable or meaningful activities, to get moving and do something different than what you have been doing, is the most important. 

Set Realistic Goals

The second step is to set realistic goals and expectations. Think about what you can do in that moment and scale it back. For example, if you think you can take a 20 minute walk, start with 15 minutes. You do not want to push yourself and overdo it. If your goal is too large and you're unable to do it, you will get disappointed in yourself, experience negative thoughts and feel like you don't want to try again. So rather than setting yourself up for failure, focus on setting small, achievable goals -- reaching these will promote positive thoughts and feelings about yourself and thereby increase your motivation to do more. 

Once you've managed to be successful in reaching your goals and begin to feel better, steadily increase the difficulty of the goal (I.e. duration, intensity, frequency). For example, if you've been able to go for a run 2x/week for 20 minutes, try 3x/week for 30 minutes. Then think about how you can integrate these activities into your daily life.

Don't forget to reward yourself for your accomplishments!

Become Aware of Negative Self-Talk

Self-talk is an inner monologue that we all have which helps us process our feelings and reactions to different situations. When we're feeling depressed, that self talk can become harsh and self-critical and that voice may tell you there is no point to doing anything. Negative self -talk is often irrational and unsupported by facts, and yet we believe these thoughts about ourselves, which greatly limits us. The first step is awareness of these negative thoughts. Once you've identified your negative self-talk you can start to gradually challenge and reframe these thoughts with positive, rational facts and beliefs. How we talk to ourselves is important in creating a positive relationship with ourselves!

Look at External Factors

Sometimes there are external factors that effect our level of motivation. Maybe you suffer from a chronic health issue, or feel you are stuck in a dead-end job, or have a stressful work environment. Or perhaps your significant other or family members put you down. All of these things can effect motivation. But thinking about what's within your control and what changes you can make, may help you to feel more in charge of your life.

You can try these strategies on your own or with support of your therapist. Keep in mind that it takes time to make lasting changes and be patient with yourself in the process. 


Rajwinder Khurana, PsyD

Therapist

Clarity Clinic

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Overcoming Perfectionism

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For perfectionists, everyday can be a struggle that involves self-judgement and criticism.  The smallest task can cause anxiety and feel more important than it is.  Having this mentality can be toxic for some people, considering a good portion of their mindset is focused on avoiding failure, often giving them a pessimistic thought process.  Part of overcoming this involves awareness of what perfectionism is and assessing your desire to change its behaviors.

What is Perfectionism?

There is not one definition that succinctly describes perfectionism.  However, the Center for Clinical Interventions describes it using the following components: relentless striving for extremely high standards; judging your self-worth based largely on your ability to strive for and achieve such unrelenting standards; and experiencing negative consequences for setting such demanding standards yet continuing to go for them despite the huge cost to you.  One of the biggest commonalities between all of the definitions of perfectionism is setting unachievable goals, or goals that can only be achieved through great measures, and criticizing your abilities based off of those achievements.  With the help of a professional you can assess whether you are or are not a perfectionist; in what areas you are a perfectionist (work, school, relationships etc.);  what keeps you going, and so on.

Changing Perfectionism

One of the best ways to create change in your life in regards to being a perfectionist is to weigh out the different aspects of your standards and behaviors.  It helps to look at the negative consequences of perfectionism behaviors, positive consequences of perfectionism behaviors, personal benefit, as well as personal cost of loosening these high standards. A great way to start this journey is by allowing yourself to become aware of what your standards and measures for reaching these standards are.  Be honest with yourself in terms of which goals are realistic and which ones are not.  After doing this, you can start to fill out the categories previously mentioned.  Visually seeing the different criteria in each category on paper can often be eye opening.

Support

Part of changing your perfectionism will include behaving in ways that you are not used to.  This can involve allowing yourself to make mistakes and focusing more on learning different ways to relax and de-stress.  It will require time, effort and commitment.  Generally speaking, a change like this requires support from other people.  Whether it is friends or family, sharing with others that you are trying to change some of your behaviors can help with accountability.  The help of a therapist can be very beneficial in helping you see certain situations from an unbiased, outsider’s perspective.  Regardless of what behaviors or standards you would like to modify, it helps to start assessing your own desire to change and the reasons behind it.

 

Bianca Marcu, LPC

Therapist

Clarity Clinic

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The Lost Act of Kindness

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In society’s turbulent climate, the act of kindness seems to be a lost art.  Kindness take work.  Being kind also takes a strong sense of self and a vulnerability to give something of yourself to others without need for attention, acknowledgement or reciprocity.   

Studies have indicated that practicing kindness has been linked to greater life satisfaction, deeper, meaningful relationships and better mental and physical health.

Many times we interchange the word kind for nice, but they are in fact two opposite adjectives to describe people.  Kindness involves the essence of one’s character, whereas nice can be used to describe someone who is good-natured or outwardly friendly.   However, extreme niceness can mask a personal inadequacy or a need for acceptance and validation and may not encompass compassion or generosity.

According to the dictionary, the definition of “kind” is having or showing a friendly, generous, and considerate nature.  The synonyms of kind is kindly, good-natured, kindhearted, warmhearted, caring, loving, warm.  

On the other hand, the definition of nice is pleasant in manner or good natured and synonyms include likable, agreeable, personable, congenial, amiable, affable, genial, friendly, charming, 

Deep Vs. Superficial

Kindness runs deep – it is the core of one’s self, a personality trait that manifests itself in empathy, understanding and compassion.  On the other hand, niceness is superficial, doesn’t require much effort – although, unfortunately, some don’t even have the capacity for niceness, and tends to be rooted in a need for something from others.   

Don’t get me wrong, niceness is needed for basic human decency, but to really build a connection with others, kindness must be the foundation.

Ways to Cultivate Kindness

While it may take effort to be kind, your kindness factor can be learned and cultivated.  Below are suggestions for doing that:

  1. Kindness starts with yourself.  If you have limited self-compassion for yourself, or you are constantly seeped in self-judgement or criticism it is hard to experience self-compassion for others.  One suggestion to strengthen your self-compassion is to begin to think about how you would respond to a friend if they were struggling with their self or are overly critical of themselves.    Think about the comforting words you would use and the tone.  The next time you put yourself down or are hard on yourself, think about how you would to treat a friend, turning inward, using the same comforting words and tone and begin to practice kindness to yourself.
  2. Create connections.  Whether it’s a smile at someone on the train, opening the door for someone or buying a coffee for the person behind you in the drive-thru, you are creating a connection that is making the other person feel better without expectation or reciprocity. 
  3. Listen Mindfully.  We all tend to go into conversations with preconceived notions, biases or judgments on how the conversation will go.  Many times, we are already formulating a response before the other person has completed their sentence, which does bode well for cultivating respect and empathy for the other person.  Practice being fully present in conversations by listening mindfully,  and the moment your emotions start to bubble up or your mind wanders to prepping for a response, return to the present moment and just “be” with the other person.  This type of listening breeds empathy, compassion and kindness.
  4. Start at home.  Leading by example is the best way to cultivate kindness in your children.  But you can also encourage your children to think about and practice being kind in their own life.  Instead of asking your children who they played with at recess, ask your child who they were kind to today to begin to learn and recognize kindness in themselves and others.

Today, where internet trolling is rampant, bullying is a problem at many schools and mean girls are commonplace, random acts of kindness, as well as treating others with empathy and compassion can literally change the world. 

Erin Swinson, LPC, LMHCA, NCC

Therapist

Clarity Clinic

Dixon, A. (2011).  Kindness Makes You Happy…..and Happiness Makes you Kind.  Retrieved on August 18, 2017 from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/kindness_makes_you_happy_and_happiness_makes_you_kind

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Improving Productivity: How to Add Structure to Your Day

Whether you are a student who will be starting classes again in a few weeks; someone who will be swapping out summer hours for a regular schedule again; a parent who has kids starting school again and will have a change of routine yourself; or just someone who needs an organizational boost to their weekdays, this blog gives some ideas of what you can change to add efficiency to your days. 

For most people, our daily lives seem to be very go, go, go.  We build a routine and stick to it -- something usually involving waking up, going to work, coming home, getting stuff done around the house, and then finally relaxing.  However, all of us have days where we feel tired, out of it and overwhelmed.  Adding some change and different structure to your daily routine can be beneficial for working more efficiently and being more productive. 

How to Get Up Early/What to do Before Going to Sleep at Night

One of the things many people tend to struggle with is getting up early.  There are few different things that can help make your morning routine something to look forward to.  One helpful tip includes planning an exciting breakfast.  Whether this is a new healthy meal you want to try or a favorite childhood recipe, planning a good breakfast can make you more eager to get out of bed and start your day. 

Also, planning your important tasks for the day the night before can increase productivity.  Setting goals  before you go to bed can get you more excited about waking up and adds more purpose to your morning. 

Another idea is to set your alarm and place it across the room from you.  We all have those mornings where we press snooze more than we should.  Placing your alarm in a spot where you have to physically get out of bed to turn it off, forces you to get up and get going.

How to Start the Day

Now that you have had a good night of sleep and are up, what should you focus on doing?  As mentioned, planning your most important tasks for the morning can be a great motivator, so tackling your most important task at the beginning of your day can leave you feeling productive and can set the pace for the rest of the day. 

Also, some people find working out in the morning a very effective method for increasing productivity throughout the day.  This can help increase energy levels and decrease any stress you might have about the day. 

Additionally, starting your work day by doing real work, and not checking your email has shown to be effective for work productivity.  We all have those mornings where we get to work, check our emails, and then notice that an hour has gone by before we even start doing real work.  Set time aside for your email, but start the day by working on actual tasks. 

Lastly, make a general plan for what you would like your day to look like and what you want to accomplish today. Focusing on the list of goals your set for your day every morning will keep you focused on what is most important that day.

Ending the Day

Having a productive day at work is not the only thing that will make your life easier.  It is equally as important to end the day on a positive note at home.  Make a plan for how you will relax once you get home.  This can include things like watching your favorite show, eating dinner with friends or family, going for a walk, reading a book, etc.  Having something to look forward to when you get home can help you work harder throughout the day at work. 

Also, make a list of the things that you need to get done at home and do those first.  Tackling these things first, while you still have some energy from the work day, will allow you to finish them in a timely manner and end the night relaxing. 

Lastly, creating a bedtime routine can improve sleep patterns, and allow you to wake up early and start tomorrow just as productive as today was!

Bianca Marcu, LPC

Therapist

Clarity Clinic

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Finding Purpose

One of the main questions that people ask themselves is:  what is my purpose?  It is a commonly pondered question, especially when someone is feeling particularly down and not themselves.  While this is not an easy question to answer, it takes self-discovery, with no right or wrong answer.  However, taking some time to ask yourself some of the following questions can help lead you towards the right path and can get you closer to gaining more self-awareness.

What Makes Me Happy?

The first question you can ask yourself is “what genuinely makes me happy?”  Taking some time to be honest with yourself about this question can get you far in your journey of self-discovery.  A good way to approach this question is to try and think back to times in which you were enjoying your day so much that you lost track of time and did not pay attention to what your worries were.  Those times, in which you noticed yourself practicing mindfulness -- being completely present and in the moment -- can be good indications of moments or experiences in which you were genuinely happy without trying.

What Am I Proud Of?

 Another important question that can be asked is “what am I proud of?”  When you think about your life and your accomplishments, what is it that sticks out the most to you?  Often times, the things that we feel pride about are things that we are passionate about.  These kinds of situations can lead us to figure out what we would like more of in our lives.  Take some time to write a list of moments, events, personal strengths or accomplishments that have made you feel proud.

The Miracle Question

One question that you might have heard a psychologist or therapist ask in the past is “if a miracle happens overnight and you wake up tomorrow and everything in your life is perfect, what would that look like?”  Thinking seriously about this question and being honest with yourself can lead you to making positive changes in your life.  This question has a way of identifying the most important and valuable things in your life.  The things you value can be very closely linked to finding purpose in your life. 

How Do I Want to be Viewed by Others?

The final question on this list that can lead to answering some of your questions about purpose is, “how do I want to be viewed by others?”  How would you like people to remember you and what kinds of things would you like to hear them say about you?  Thinking about how others view your place in the world and what you would like them to see in you, has some meaning regarding what you would like your purpose to be.  It shows the kind of impact you would like to have on others and helps you brainstorm ways of achieving this.

These few questions are a good place to start.  They may not be the answer to all of your struggles, but they can be essential in helping you become more self-aware and can help you navigate your way through discovering your purpose.  After all, finding your purpose in life is going to take knowing a lot about yourself and what you are capable of.

 

Bianca Marcu, LPC

Therapist

Clarity Clinic

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