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6 Questions to Ask Yourself to Avoid the Web of Perfectionism (And Why You’re Doing the Best That You Can)

Last week I nearly got sideswiped by a car changing lanes. It took me a split second, that felt like eons, before I could find my horn and alert the other driver to my presence. They were able to swerve back into their own lane and we both proceeded down the road unscathed.

Several minutes later I noticed the same car was parked across the pump from me at the gas station. I tried to covertly observe the driver (okay, I stared) looking for any signs of recklessness or irresponsibility. But honestly, there weren’t any. She looked a lot like me. It had me realize, I’ve made that same mistake. Perhaps she was distracted, her mind on other things. Nearly hitting me wasn’t intentional and her heart rate appeared to be back to normal — no sign of concern was etched in her face.

I’m a huge fan of Brené Brown. In her new book, Rising Strong, Brené explores a question, Are people doing the best that they can?

Are People Doing the Best that They Can?

At first, she doesn’t want to believe it. She struggles and rails against it. It becomes such a burning question she starts asking everyone in her life and even incorporates it into her research. She learns:

Every participant who answered “yes” was in the group of people who I had identified as wholehearted— people who are willing to be vulnerable and who believe in their self-worth. They, too, offered examples of situations where they made mistakes or didn’t show up as their best selves, but rather than pointing out how they could and should have done better, they explained that, while falling short, their intentions were good and they were trying.

I’ve been conducting my own informal research, asking friends, family, and my coaching clients. Their answers are varied but interesting and the question always promotes a lively discussion. But my favorite answer is from Brené’s husband: 

“I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” His answer felt like truth to me. Not an easy truth, but truth.

In the months that I’ve been pondering this question, I’ve come to agree. My life is better when I believe people are doing the best that they can.

I can hear already hear the counter argument. What about the bad people in the world? What about terrorism? The answer lies in the wording Brene’s husband gives: Assume that people are doing their best. 

What he doesn’t say is that they are doing their best. Can we really ever be the judge of that? Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t but like Brené’s husband, my life is better when I assume that they are.

What if you believed everyone was doing the best that they could?

If I look at the world through this lens, my perspective is different.

  • Anger falls away.
  • Resentment fades.
  • Forgiveness becomes possible.

This brings up an even more difficult question: Are you doing the best that you can? 

What if you believed you were doing the best that you can?

This question is harder for me. I don’t always think I’ve done the best that I can. I can point out areas in my life where I should have done this or that differently or where I didn’t try as hard as I could have.

Why is it easier to assume other people are doing they best that they can but I find it harder to agree with this myself?

Brené’s research participants who answered “no” to the question were also people who struggled with perfectionism. These people, “Were quick to point out how they’re not always doing the best they could and offered examples of situations when they weren’t their perfect selves.”

I struggle with perfectionism and often disguise perfectionism behind busyness.

Last week I caught myself vacuuming underneath my refrigerator. Really? Vacuuming under the fridge is more urgent than putting the work out there I believe will help others achieve their dreams?

If I dig into my perfectionism, there is always fear lurking in the background. Fear that people won’t like my work, that I’ll get teased, that it isn’t good enough yet. Perfectionism is a way of hiding and staying safe. Since I’m “busy”, I can’t possibly be hiding.

What’s the Difference Between Good Intentions and Consistent Results?

Recently, I’ve been studying what the difference is between those people who have the best of intentions but never really take action and those that produce consistent results, people I define as “goal achievers”. In order to craft a business and life you love, you’ll need to be a goal achiever.

I’ve realized goal achievers have a plan for when things get difficult.

6 Questions to Ask Yourself to Avoid the Web of Perfectionism

Since many of us struggle with perfectionism, I’ve created 6 Question to Ask Yourself to Avoid the Web of Perfectionism. You can download the cheat sheet here.

But I’m not Operating at 100%…

Besides perfectionism, another reason I have trouble believing I’m doing the best I can is because I know I’m not operating at 100% all the time. I know I’m not giving it my all in all situations. There are times in my job as a medevac helicopter pilot where I need to operate at 100%. I can manage witnessing the trauma of the patient on the verge of death next to me and navigate challenging flying conditions, all while flying a complex machine. I’m able to do this, but after an extended period, I pay for it. After a really busy day at work, I’ll come home so wiped out from the intense mental focus that all I can manage is to lay on the couch, drool and watch bad television. The hours of recovery needed after that much mental expenditure isn’t practical or feasible on a daily basis. So no, I’m not operating at 100% all the time. Most helicopters have a five-minute take-off rating, a maximum power setting you can use for five minutes. It’s as if on my busiest days, I exceed my personal max power setting and I need a full shutdown before I can spool up again. Once I made this analogy, I was able to see that operating at 80% is enough. This allows a reserve of power when you really need it without paying the costs of operating at 100% all the time. Operating at 100% all the time isn’t possible or realistic. You’re doing the best that you can if you’re operating at 80%.  If we’re able to give the people in our lives the benefit of the doubt and make the assumption they are doing the best that they can, then we deserve the same amount of compassion. Treat yourself as if you are doing the best that you can. You may or may not agree, so try this on as an experiment. What happens in your life if you believe people are doing the best that they can? What happens to you if you believe you are doing the best that you can? Share in the comments.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Rosanne Feneley December 3, 2015, 9:28 am

    Thank you, Lorena, for your v. thoughtful article.

    Since completing EFT sessions on the “Inner Critic”, I have found I’m far less judgmental of myself. Alleluia!

    Wrt others, I tend to accept them fully as they are, without judgment, UNLESS they take a hit at me; then, I come home, on my own, & have a one-sided bitch session (in prayer!) to Lord Jesus about that hurtful/critical person. It’s not an attractive trait & I’m “doing the best I can” to eliminate it, because it’s a weakness in me I’d rather not own. However, I realise that for the moment I’m “doing the best I can” & just need to accept, for the moment (requesting change within me in prayer), I don’t do so well when I’m feeling hurt or insulted by someone.

    In truth, for the average human being on our planet, it’s probably quite true to say we’re all doing the best we can: when we “stuff up”, we just need to embrace our humanity & the humanity of others; the “done wrongs & gone wrongs of human nature”; we’re “perfectly imperfect” & need acceptance of that in ourselves & others.

    However, I certainly don’t agree that the terrorist or other violent human being are doing “the best they can”; intentional harm of another can not be seen as doing one’s best.

    • Lorena December 4, 2015, 3:11 am

      I hear you Rosanne. Do you know Tara Brach? She is a meditation teacher that has a podcast. She shared in a episode about a dog that was sitting by a tree. A person came up and tried to pet the dog and it bit them. The person was angry. Then they realized the dog’s paw was in a trap. Then the person felt compassionate. Perhaps terrorists are caught in a trap as well.

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