The idea of perfectionism is fairly easy to understand; striving to do everything in a way which is perfect, flawless, without error. And I’m sure we all know people who are perfectionists, for whom second-best simply will not do. It all seems harmless enough and, is there anything wrong with wanting everything to be just right? Research published in 2017, carried out by Thomas Curren and Andrew P. Hill, shows that from 1989 to 2016 there was a significant increase in self-orientated, socially prescribed and other-orientated perfectionism. In other words, we are demanding more of ourselves, peer pressure demands more of us, and factors external to us are also expecting more. Again, is there anything wrong with wanting ever better?
The answer, it would seem, is that there is a lot wrong with this perpetually increasing push for perfection. There is a year-on-year increase in the number of people experiencing and reporting negative mental health issues, something which appears to be disproportionately affecting young people, although the rest of us are far from immune. Advertising, the media, social media; all seem to be promoting an increasingly glossy view of the world to which many of use simply cannot aspire. This surely has to take its toll, which the work of Curren and Hill confirms.
It is time to stop. Time to reflect. Time to work out who we really want to be. And all we really need to ask, no, demand, is for each of us to be the very best version of ourselves. Nothing more and nothing less. I know I can do that. And you know that you can too, don’t you?
In May 2018 the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported a further increase in the number of people going to work when unwell. It also noted a similar increase in the number of people using annual leave to work. This is a far cry from John Maynard Keynes’ view that we would all be working a 15-hour week by 2030. Where did that seemingly utopian dream go?
If indeed we are all working more, I am left wondering what we are sacrificing. Family? Friends? Hobbies? Our health? And for what reasons? There is a growing body of evidence that working less, rather than more, makes us more productive, healthier and, as a result, happier.
Stop and take stock. Do you really need to work all of those hours? And ask yourself what you are not doing by doing so much work. Is this what you really want for yourself and those around you? You already know the answer, don’t you?
Ben Grant is an author and responsible for the Daily Overview, an Instagram account which started by showing aerial photographs of different places around the planet. The pictures are stunning on so many levels, and above all else because of the perspective from which the pictures are taken, shedding new light on, and new understanding of, our world.
And perspective can play such an important role in each of our lives. It is easy to get caught up in our own models of the world, dividing life and experiences up into good, bad and indifferent, and a whole other range of terms and classifications. And, how often do we take the time to consider how that world looks through the eyes of another? What are we missing by only considering our own perspective? What might we want to do differently if we could take ourselves out of our own shoes and stand in someone else’s?
Just for a moment, then, take a step back. Think about a decision you recently made. Review that decision and ask yourself what others would have made of it. Put yourself in their shoes. Be bold. Challenge the decision from the perspectives of your best friend and your worst enemy. From your favourite superhero and your lifelong hero. From yourself ten years ago and ten years from now. What would you do the same? And what would you do differently? And deep down, had you done this prior to making the decision, you know that you would have done something differently, wouldn’t you?
The kilogram was redefined in 2019; no longer a platinum-based ingot stored in a safe in Paris, defined instead in terms of an electric current. This, I’m told, will make it a more accurate measurement and more reliable in a world which increasingly needs extreme precision.
I guess most of us will have assumed that a kilo is just that, a kilo. 1000 grams. 2.20462 lbs. 0.157473 stone. And, of course, it will continue to be just that. We’ll notice no change as we buy a kilo of rice, or stand on the bathroom scales (sorry, folks!), or worry about our packed suitcases before we check-in for a flight. So, on many levels, the changes will make no difference.
That said, underneath it all, the science, technology and engineering which need the precision to make our new, modern world go around will be more reliable using a measure which is as accurate as we can make it at this time. The experts have reviewed the models, weighed up the benefits, and made the changes. And this means a kilogram is still a kilogram, still recognisable as such. Just more reliable, more useful, and more effective. In one word, better. It’s all about being redefined, isn’t it?
It seems that llamas, yes, really, could hold the key to a universal vaccine against all strains of flu. OK, it’s early days yet and there appears to be real excitement in the scientific and medical communities about this potential breakthrough, with a flurry of articles on the subject. And given that globally over 600,000 people die each year as a result of complications from flu, as well as the millions around the world who become sick each year and all the associated costs of that, it will be something to celebrate if the research leads to the desired outcome, a universal vaccine.
And who thought of looking at llamas? Of all the animals, what was it about the llama that someone, somewhere, thought “Let’s see what the llama can offer in this field”? A real leap of faith. I’m no expert and I suspect that there was other information about the llama out there, and someone made a connection which led to all the excitement we are seeing today.
Our unconscious minds are full of all sorts of information, analysed, categorised and stored, and all done in ways which we are only beginning to understand. And if we trust our unconscious mind, really trust it to do what it does best, it can make so many connections for us and lead us to being better, to being more, to being differently. Allow yourself to remember and know all of the times that your unconscious mind pointed you in the right direction, and you know that you can do that whenever you want, don’t you?
I recently read two articles, one about millennials, and the other about one of Jennifer Lopez’s Instagram posts. Millennials, for those of you who don’t know, are defined as those who reached adulthood in the early 21st century, so at the point of me writing this a millennial is any adult under the age of 40. Millennials do seem to get some bad press, possibly justified and possibly not, and definitely not a help to those adults under 40 who are just getting on with life, much like the rest of us are.
Jennifer Lopez was praised for posting about her sister’s child, Brendan, using gender-neutral pronouns and focussing on Brendan’s achievements. I don’t know how Brendan chooses to self-label; what matters is that the labels, once chosen, are respected.
So how are the two linked? All too often we self-label or allow others to label us without really thinking about what that means. Do the labels we acquire properly define who we are, or do we simply accept them because that is what we do? And does it matter? In short, it does. It matters a lot. Labels can and do limit us, just as they can liberate and redefine us.
Think about your own labels. What do they mean to you? And what do they mean to others? Is the label defining you, or are you defining the label? And remember, only you can write your own labels, and you know that you can change them and yourself at any time, don’t you?
There seems to be a lot of talk at the moment about “social prescribing”. Instead of, or perhaps as well as, prescribing medication and medical interventions, doctors will start to prescribe social activities, from visiting galleries to playing the drums. And, from my perspective, this could not happen sooner.
There is an abundance of research and evidence about the benefits of doing something which has no purpose other than allowing us simply to be. Something into which we can submerge ourselves, losing track of time, and something outside of or other than the material and the physical. Something which Émile Durkheim referred to as “sacred time”, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explores as “flow”; being so engrossed in an activity that one loses a sense of time, and the reward is the activity itself.
Assuming that prevention is better than cure, what could you be doing to improve your well-being? How will you have sacred time, and find flow? Whatever you find which takes you away from the material and the physical, make sure it becomes a part of your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly life, one step at a time. And you know that it makes sense, don’t you?
In November 2018, the Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index was published and, with 10 years of data, was able to show the relative state of 42 cities across the United Kingdom. And in 2018, Preston was the city with the biggest improvement.
A more detailed look at Preston shows a number of factors played a part. Preston was struggling badly after the economic crash of 2007 and with no plans, something had to change. There was real leadership, plans were drawn up, decisions were made, and action happened. There was external support, motivating and encouraging the local leaders. And finally, in addition to support, the local authority invested in external support, bringing in new knowledge and evidence-based practice. The results now speak for themselves, and it’s always rewarding when any hard work is externally and independently acknowledged.
This is an excellent example of the Satir Change Model in action. It is also an excellent example of personal change. There is first the recognition that the current model of the world is no longer viable or wanted. Secondly, for there to be change, we have to make plans and implement them. Without action, nothing changes. Getting external support is always good; it provides motivation and is a useful check on progress. And finally, being resourceful is about knowing where to get help and support, and modelling excellence is always a good way forward. The motto, then, is simple. Be like Preston. Because you know you can change, don’t you?
I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t get a little bit anxious from time to time, and I guess that most of us would see as normal the varying degrees of anxiety that we experience as we go through life. Much like eustress, that positive stress which motivates us, anxiety can force us to do better, overcoming that fear of the unknown. Anxiety can also become so overwhelming that it becomes an impossibility, a paralysing fear which stops all action. Some recent research from Liverpool John Moores University would suggest that in some cases the fear of the unknown, that anxiety, can lead to significant mental health issues.
Where do you find yourself on the anxiety scale? A laid-back 1 or 2? Occasionally a 5 or 6, yet still functioning and able to push past the fear? Or do you hit an 8, 9 or 10, changing plans and not doing things because the fear is just to great? And are there patterns? Many people find that most of the time they’re in control and can manage the anxiety, and it only gets out of control in certain situations. Some are anxious about everything. Who, then, are you?
Anxiety is, though, a decision. Just as you can decide to be anxious, you can decide to be calm and unconcerned. It may be a real, anxiety-raising challenge to make that decision. And just imagine, right now that you are calm, you are in control and you are unconcerned. Think about all the things you are doing by being calm, in control and unconcerned. Imagine the richness of life. Create the opportunities and choices you now have. It will be life-changing, won’t it?
Age is a strange thing. As children the quarters and halves really matter, as teenagers we sometimes pretend to be older than we are, and then we reach that age when suddenly we wish we were younger. And there is also that time when are chronological age does not seem to match the age we feel; 40, we are told, is the new 20, and old age seems to start later and later.
Age, though, is just a number, and what we do is surely more important that how old we are. There is growing research which suggests that maintaining a positive attitude and continuing to take on new challenges, big or small, has a beneficial effect on our physical and mental well-being, keeping us “younger” and staving off some of the decline that can come as we get older.
What are you doing differently? Are you stuck in a rut of the same thing day in and day out? Or are you continuing to explore and undertake new challenges? Is your inner child still coming out to play? Whatever you do, make the changes, focus on the positive, and be younger. You know it makes sense, don’t you?