Community//

Your Brain Needs to Know What Did Work Not What Didn’t

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

For years this quote by Thomas Edison hung on the cabinet next to my desk. We often hear this in reference to perseverance, which it fits admirably. But let’s re-frame it, if Edison wasted time beating himself up after each of 10,000 “attempts that didn’t work” would he have lived long enough to create the electric light bulb? Or anything else for that matter?

The last time you put all your energy and time into an innovation only to have it not work how long was it before you got back on the proverbial horse to try again? Perseverance is critical to move forward, it is our brain firing “full steam ahead! damn the torpedoes!”. But if the other little voice in the judgment area of your head is constantly saying “FAILURE!!” it is impossible for your creative brain to light up “nice try, let’s give it another go”.

This time of year it is crucial for us to listen to the part of the brain that is cheering you on to give it another go. We are in the final fiscal quarter, approaching a review of our yearly personal and professional goals, not to mention hearing your not so favorite aunt at a holiday dinner ask why you have not married yet or bought the house you hoped for last year. Just to be clear, we would be hard-pressed to find the married, happy homeowner who has achieved all the goals they wrote down last January 1st. Being human gets in our way, but we’ll talk about that in a moment.

It is most evident in our personal failures, have you ever listened to or consoled a friend who was forced to end a relationship or marriage? “What if I would have…? I should have… Why didn’t I see it? What was I thinking? Why didn’t I try harder?” They might have run that loop of beating themselves up for days, weeks or even months. It is always easier to see in others; have they ever seen it in you?

This leads us to Self-compassion, the ability to be kind to yourself. According to Kristen Neff PhD at the University of Texas Austin, one of the critical components to manifesting self-compassion is understanding that WE ARE HUMAN. Humans are not perfect, we make mistakes.

Many of us are perfectionists, but think, honestly when was the last day you were perfect? According to Frost, Marten, Lahart, & Rosenblate perfectionism is broadly defined as a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations.

I may say I made the almost perfect dinner, but being a perfectionist in recovery, I can find something wrong when I look deep enough. Perhaps the candles didn’t burn evenly, the rolls were too brown, or “why didn’t I remember that Jeff can’t eat gluten?” The guests laughed, ate and had a fabulous time. They said it “was the perfect evening”. Why can’t we treat ourselves like our good friends do?

A meta-analysis of 41,641 American, Canadian, and British college students, who completed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale in 1989–2016 was done in 2017. It revealed that levels of self-oriented perfectionism have continually increased over those years. (Curran & Hill, 2017) Isn’t this more a trait we want to curtail rather than grow? So what can you do to take one step toward being kind to yourself?

Before you pull out those lists of goals next month, sit down for 30 minutes and write down all the amazing things you have accomplished no matter how small. Put an asterisk next to the ones that really meant something to someone else. Perhaps you drove your sister who is expecting to a doctor’s appointment, spent an hour on the phone with a sick friend or helped your mom buy a new car. Maybe you used 5 hours each week, over 250 hours the past year listening, helping and making others feel valuable. That would be something to be proud of, worthy of even your praise and perhaps you’ll be just a little more perfect in your own eyes.

Written by Debbie Vyskocil, President of Optimal Edge Performance

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