The Awkward Mix of Self-help and Perfectionism

I’ve been reading self-help books since I was about 13. This began when I was given a copy of Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People,’ and then my reading path went via Brain Tracy, Jack Black, Tony Robbins and Marianne Williamson to favourites such as Elizabeth Gilbert, Martha Beck, Jeannette Maw and Jess Lively.

As a book-worm, I love to cosy on the sofa with the latest Hay House book or some other self-help book with all the promise of a better life that it affords.

I sometimes have my note-pad with me and follow through the exercises. Sometimes I promise myself that the first time is just a read through and that I will go back and read again and do all the exercises and then somehow I move on to read the next book without going back and doing the exercises. It is the self-help equivalent of accidentally eating a frosted doughnut. It feels good in the moment, but you know it’s not going to do you any good in the long run.

I’ve had a pattern in the past of believing that if I search hard enough there will be this one book that tells me all the answers.

Now I know that there is never one book, one last piece of information. Being a reader of self-help is not an Indiana Jones quest where at the end of it all there is a priceless relic that is found and is the answer to all that has gone before.

The only real answers are the ones that are inside you that your intuition has to tell you. These are the ones I now listen to more and encourage my clients to listen to.

This weekend we were home on Saturday and I had Brendon Burchard’s new book ‘High-Performance Habits’ loaded on my kindle. As usual, I was sucked in with the promise of better and better is something that humans have a huge thirst for as we seek to expand what is possible for us in this lifetime.

Brendon sets out six factors that help you to perform at a high level in life and these have been extrapolated from a huge amount of interviews and data collection from high performers.

I caught myself back in my pattern of ‘if this book is the answer, and maybe it is, then I need to follow every step in it and then my life will be rainbows and unicorns.’

I must be making progress because I managed to catch myself.

‘Hey Mrs Perfectionism, isn’t that holding yourself to an unrealistic standard? You don’t need to follow every step in this book to have a wonderful life and this is not specifically tailored to you. If you go through this in a mechanistic way you will run yourself into the ground.’

I nearly returned the book, a bit afraid that it would entice me back into my old patterns of perfectionism. Then I realised that there needs to be a balance in this. I can let go of my perfectionism and need to do everything perfectly and still seek to be the best that I can be.

The difference is making the best I can be enough.

So I didn’t return the book and I am going to explore the concepts in it more and apply them with gentleness and grace to my own life.

I’m learning not to let a self-help be the judge of how I am performing in life. Just because a particular self-help programme says you should be taking certain steps does not make you a failure if you don’t take all of those steps.

You can still strive to be great, you can still get help from self-help if alongside this you realise that you are in charge of your own life and ultimately you know your own best practices and habits.

‘High-Performance Habits’ is a great read. I think it’s well researched and well written and the stories of individuals in it are enlightening. I find just reading it makes me aware of more possibility. At the same time I know I need to balance this with trusting myself as no self-help book can be the answer to everything, no matter how wonderful it is. This book does ask you to search inside for your own answers and for what works for you in amongst the wider framework of what high-performing people do.

While learning about these high-performing people I think it’s important not to beat yourself up about all the ways that you don’t match up to what they do. You are of value even if you are not high-performing in the way that our society defines it. That doesn’t mean you need to settle with your current state of performance, it is instead a way of viewing yourself as a perpetual work in progress rather than something that is broken and needs to be fixed.