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Paradox of Perfectionism

This summer, I walked in a beautiful labyrinth in the Berkshire Mountains.Surrounded by hills, a lake, and vibrant sunflowers, I journeyed to the center and back … concentrating on mind, body, and soul. As I walked toward the middle, I focused on what I’d like to let go of; on the way out, I dwelled on what I want.

This experience was part of a wonderful workshop I attended called “Bootcamp for Goddesses™.” This modern goddess asked to let go of perfectionism. I admit to you that I’m a “straight A student” still trying to make perfect grades in life. Unfortunately, the results are hard on the body and spirit.

As successful dentists, “perfectionism-itis” may afflict you as well. Professor Stephen Palmer of the Center for Stress Management in London, England, said, “Most of the clients I see for occupational stress and burnout are perfectionists.” In my quest to overcome perfectionism, I have found these methods that may bring more joy and satisfaction to your workplace as well:

Make the distinction between what is achievable and what isn’t.

Do you set goals that are impossible? Do you give your team an incentive based on revenue, but the numbers are wishful thinking? Goals are great, and I’d like for you to review them thoughtfully. Retain those that can be reached. According to an article in Psychology Today, one major company nearly engineered its own demise by setting sales goals so high that it failed to meet them for 16 consecutive years.

Work within your limitations.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to do your best. The trick is knowing when enough is enough. Chris Dunkerley wrote in an article, “The Paradox of Perfectionism,” that the flexible thinker aims for the best and can accept it when the outcome is not perfect. However, the perfectionist strives for 110 percent and feels like a failure when every duck does not line up in pristine formation. Try to flow like the ducks.

Listen to your self-talk.

Are you saying positive or negative things to yourself? Are you even aware of your inner messages? Here are just a few examples of frequently used, negative self-talk:

• “I get sick just thinking about it.”

• “No matter what I eat, I still gain weight.”

• “With my luck, I don’t have a chance.”

• “X makes more money than me.”

• “That patient will drive me nuts.”

The cure is “situational self-talk” suggested by Shad Helmstetter, author of “What To Say When You Talk to Yourself.” He says, “It can be accomplished in a moment, out loud, or silently to yourself. It can be a single thought, or a few chosen words.” You must become aware of the negativity and make an instant adjustment. Stare at your inner critic and choose present tense verbiage to reverse the emotion.

Challenge your thinking.

I loved watching the Olympics, and yet I found it difficult. We’d see a beautiful gymnastics routine followed by a three-second clip of the gymnast slightly bobbling on the beam. Perfectionism is a prerequisite for these games. A nanosecond or “nanoinch” discerns the winner from the loser. But life can’t work like that.

Think of the times you’ve been less than perfect and you survived! Replace your Olympic perfectionist thoughts with: “It’s strongly preferable to do a great job, but realistically, life will go on anyway.”

Lighten up on your team and family.

Perfectionists often expect everyone around them to be perfect, and they become impatient or angry when others are not. How often do you rearrange the dishes in the dishwasher?

I am not asking you to compromise on your expectations of your team. However, to combat the emotions of anger and disappointment when others can’t meet your level of perfection requires you to make a conscious decision, not to force your perfectionist ways on others. Try it and see what happens.

Find the humor in the situation.

Sometimes the only thing we can change in a situation is our attitude. One time I stood up to give a speech, and my skirt did not. Everyone began laughing and pointing at my feet. Slowly and painfully I looked down and saw my plaid, pleated, red and gray skirt hovering over my pumps.

Can anyone relate to a tight waistband? The button and buttonhole struggled to reach each other that morning. This union was tenuous at best, until I sneezed during the introduction of my presentation. That button was history.

You give three speeches every time you open your mouth: the one you prepared, the one you give, and the perfect one going home in the car. The perfect comment at this miserable moment, said to my steering wheel much later, was, “You certainly got more than you paid for!”

Before you say, “But I am NOT funny,” think about all of the “tragedies” that have befallen you, those that you now tell others while laughing. In my workshops, I ask people to tell their humorous stories. A hygienist once tilted the dental chair so far back that the patient lost his toupee. It landed on the dentist’s arm. He jerked his arm forward and the toupee hopped right back into its proper place. That patient and team are still laughing many years later.

The paradox of perfectionism is that perfectionists may underperform due to the added stress and pressure. Follow these six principles to become a more flexible thinker and doer.

Traditions and Communication – A Fusion

By Rachel Schwarz

Last week, Jewish families all over the world celebrated Pesach, or Passover. In my house, my dad leads the service and story that accompanies dinner. He has taken on this role not only because he enjoys it, but also because it’s a tradition. Everyone in my family has happily allowed him to assume this responsibility.

Not only does he share the Passover story with us, but he has also developed his own interpretation of the service that involves a facilitated discussion about a current issue in the lives of Jews around the world.

No matter what other changes happen each year, I can always count on Passover as a time when my dad will take the reigns, share a piece of my family’s religious history with us, and remind us that the world is a lot bigger than our home in Dallas, Texas. It’s also a time that I look forward to in which my family always communicates and interacts positively. We don’t argue or disagree; we simply enjoy the holiday and each other’s company,

Tradition is intimately related to communication. Whatever traditions you have with your family, think about the unspoken words that are transferred during these occasions. Moods improve, discussions are plentiful, and experiences are special.

Passover is one of my favorite family traditions. What are some of yours?

A Health Crisis – The Child’s Point of View

I was 15 when both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer – within the span of one week. My dog, Freckles, also died that same week from cancer.

You know that magic trick where there’s a beautiful dinner table set for a bunch of people – with a tablecloth and all the china, crystal, and lit candles? Then the magician somehow rips out the tablecloth and all the tableware stays put?

Well that’s just a show. The way I felt at the end of that week was that the tablecloth had been pulled out from under my life and nothing ever remained the same.

My father succumbed to a short and valiant struggle with colon cancer. He died, at the age of 62, three months later, just after my 16th birthday. My mom survived breast cancer and lived another blessed 20 years.

During the first month of this ordeal, both parents were in the hospital – they were next-door neighbors, room 5401 and 5403. My sister and I would come to the hospital every morning and stay all day. After they left the hospital, my sister returned to college and I became the caregiver at home for two very sick parents – all while I was a junior in high school.

This drama and trauma happened in 1971 – exactly 40 years ago, and I remember the details as if it was yesterday (and I hate clichés). As lucky as I was to have a loving sister and many close family friends, this journey was a tremendous challenge. I felt alone and helpless, even as I tried to keep a smile on my face each day.

In fact, during the three months between my parents’ diagnoses and my father’s death, I began to have severe breast pain. The pain was so strong I could not sleep. I knew I was also dying, but felt that I should just keep this information to myself. There was enough craziness. I could not tell anyone, I was not yet able to drive, and how could I burden anyone with this knowledge that wasn’t already also distraught? It was an era when seeking therapy was not only taboo, but also cost prohibitive.

I strongly urge medical teams to have someone on their team that can talk to the involved children. I wish I had had the benefit of a counselor, social worker, or a nurse to share my fear, psychosomatic pain, concerns, and loss.

When families deal with health crises, the children need help as well. All the plates, glasses, and silverware end up on the floor, on the ceiling, on the sidewalk. It’s a really messy time.

NOTE TO MY BLOG READERS: This is not my usual type of blog. The Chair of the Palliative Care Department at Baylor Hospital asked me to write about this personal experience. This forward-thinking department has just hired a counselor to work with families that face medical challenges.

One thing to note from a communication perspective about a medical issue such as the one I faced when I was a teenager – is the power of listening. Rachel, my Marketing Assistant, is doing a 6-part series on listening skills. I wish someone had given an opportunity to vent when I was going through this most difficult time.

Anger is not Attractive

I just finished reading Jonathan Tropper’s NYT bestseller This Is Where I Leave You. A family is forced together under one roof for 7 days to “sit Shiva” – a custom in the Jewish faith to honor the death of a loved one by saying special prayers and receiving condolence calls for a full week after the funeral.  In Tropper’s book, this family comes together with all their baggage, anger, resentment, and love to observe this ritual for their deceased father.

Two of the sons in this family harbor deep anger towards the other due to a terrible event that occurred 10 years prior.

Paul says to Judd, towards the end of the Shiva week, “I’ve been pissed at you for a very long time and that didn’t do either of us any good. I wasted a lot of time being angry, time I can’t get back…. At some point it doesn’t matter who was right and who was wrong. At some point, being angry is just another habit, like smoking, and you keep poisoning yourself without thinking about it.”

Anger is not attractive. Literally.

Have you ever noticed what people look like when they are yelling at each other? If you live in a blissed-out world, just watch any drama filled movie or TV show and see the twisted, piercing, and contorted faces of those in conflict.

Anger is not attractive. Physically.

Like Paul revealed in Tropper’s book, suppressed anger festers and nobody wins. According to the University of Cambridge’s Counseling Center, the long term effects of frequent or chronic anger are hypertension (high blood pressure), increased cholesterol levels, damaged or blocked arteries, increased susceptibility to infection, and a longer time to recover from major traumas such as operations or accidents.

Suggestions on resolving anger-filled moments or even long term anger induced situations include:

Find the humor. Reframe the issue. Disengage. Solve the issue rather than affixing blame or figuring out who’s right and who’s wrong. Listen to the other person without judgment. Forgive.

In Tropper’s book, Judd responds to Paul’s admonishment, “I hear you. Thanks.” Paul slaps Judd’s back and says, “Do as I say, and not as I do, right?”

Same applies to me, dear Blog readers. Do as I say, and as I try to do.

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