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Is Trying to Be Perfect Ruining Your Life?

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Andrew
I make a mean omelet, but it’s never going to win a Michelin star. I can string a sentence together, but I’m no Shakespeare. And my singing voice sounds great in the shower, but would have customers demanding their money back if I did a solo gig at the Royal Albert Hall.

I do have high standards though. Standing on a really tall ladder and touching the moon high.

But I gave up on perfection a long time ago. You know perfection, right? It’s the thing that keeps you awake at night; the thing that makes you feel like you’ll never be good enough; the oppressor who never lets you be yourself.

Up there with using your own feet to flavour a home-made soup or watching 24-hour rolling news, chasing perfection is a spectacular way to ruin your life

Pursuing perfection in a task, project or behaviour is pursuing the impossible out of fear that your best might not be good enough or that others will see you’re not good enough, and it challenges you to always do better, to be perfect.

Like breeding cattle with the sole aim of birthing a unicorn, perfection is an unattainable target that puts “feeling good enough” always out of your reach.

Perfection robs you of any chance to have a sweet, dumb, beautiful life. Pursue it and you’ll never be free.

Perfect is fiction

Or perhaps it’s more a choice of perception. After all, there’s the perfect song for your mood. The perfect time to call a friend. The perfect meal with people you love.

Perfect is a sense that things are fine, right now, just as they are. It’s choosing to soften into the moment and to stop needing things to be a certain, impossible way.

It’s having confidence in who you are rather than feeding a sense of lack by trying to be something you’re not.

Bollocks to chasing perfection. You’re already there.

Explore Vastly

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Cape Cod 2012 (Explore #492)
People say that life’s a journey, and I think they’re probably right.

You start at point A, and end up at point Dead, and the journey between is pretty much up to you. It’s interesting to note that while that journey is a straight line in terms of time, it’s never a straight line in terms of action or thought.

It feels like you meander and swerve, pivot and refocus, adjust and steer all the time. All of those verbs are about exploration, which, I think, is what the journey’s about too.

There’s an expanse of life ahead of you that remains to be explored. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Your future is pregnant with possibility.

It’s a vastness that can only be explored once you accept your role as explorer, as the leader of the expedition of your life.

Explorers have a sense of compelling curiosity, a sense of wanting to see what’s out there and to drink in the journey. Every step is embraced in the same spirit as the fruits of that journey, no matter how tough or joyous the moment is.

Explorers have confidence in their ability to explore vastly.

How about you?

Gratitude, Confidence and Why You Should Give a Damn

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gratitude & joy
I’m grateful for a lot of things. Sunshine. Fresh, crisp sheets. Laughing ’til I cry. The first sip of coffee. Netflix binges.

There’s something magical about gratitude that takes you out of your head and into your body. It’s gets you out of trying to plan and control everything and slap-bang into the right now.

But I wonder if it’s possible to experience gratitude if you’re surrounded by walls built to protect you from the loss of control and certainty?

You might be able to intellectually appreciate that you’re grateful for your lot, but that rationalisation is just another means of control. So the question I’d like to put to you is this.

Are the walls you’ve built preventing you from experiencing the gratitude and joy that’s here, right now?

See, gratitude is an honest expression of thanks towards something in your life, without needing it to be a certain way. It requires that you let go of your ego, your expectations and your craving for certainty, and embrace how things are right now, however they are.

Gratitude requires that you make yourself vulnerable

Letting go of “you” and giving yourself over to the moment renders you open and capable of being hurt, but it also does three things:

  1. Allows you to express gratitude.
  2. Allows you to experience joy.
  3. Gives you greater confidence in your ability to let go.

I don’t know about you, but gratitude and joy seem a hell of a lot more appealing than control and certainty, and confidence is really just your capacity for letting go of certainty and being vulnerable.

The more naturally confident you are, the easier it becomes to open to vulnerability. Which leads to gratitude. Which leads to joy. It’s a circle.

So I’ll ask it again.

Are the walls you’ve built preventing you from experiencing the gratitude and joy that’s here, right now?

Get Off Your Butt And Get Some Focus

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The Lounge
A human being without action isn’t really a human being at all.

They might look like one and walk like one, they might even talk like one. But they’re not really alive.

Unfortunately, inaction is natural.

We’re wired to stay in the place we feel safe and comfortable. But inaction leads to procrastination and atrophy, and this cycle of safety, comfort, procrastination and atrophy continues.

Until, that is, it’s interrupted by something. An intention is a good start, but is pointless without following through. An idea is amazing, but valueless unless it’s explored. And a desire to do something that matters it phenomenal, but wasted without action.

You don’t need to be ready. You don’t need to know what’s going to happen. You don’t need to feel confident enough.

Sometimes, you just need to get off your butt and get some damn focus

This, perhaps, is what I need to remind myself of most often. My body and my illness want to pull me into slumber relentlessly, and I have an inclination towards rest and relaxation that some would call a talent.

The temptation not to act can be as tempting and delicious as resting your head on a pillow made of marshmallow and kitten fluff, but will engulf you in its warmth if you let it.

First then, comes awareness. Awareness of who you are. Awareness of when you’re idling. Awareness of your wants. Awareness of what could be.

Then, comes the translation of thought into action; the place where an awareness threaded with confidence and worthiness is most essential.

So, if *you* were to get off your butt today, what would happen?

You Have The Right to Lose Everything

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i'm losing my grip, but i'd lose it all for you
What do you have in your pockets or in your bag right now?

Some loose change? A set of keys? A receipt or two? Your wallet? Maybe your phone?

What if you lost that stuff? What would happen?

You’d probably worry about it, fret about it or maybe curse like a drunk dock-worker. You might be upset that you lost some of your stuff. You’d sigh as you realise you have to get going replacing it all.

But what about you? What impact does this have on you, other than some momentary frustration?

None whatsoever.

When it gets to the bigger stuff, like a car, a friend, a house, a job, a partner or your health, the stakes get a little higher and the frustration, anger and hurt can grow to match.

But there you are, in the middle of it all, going through it one second at a time.

Hurt when you hurt and miss what you miss, but don’t for any one of those seconds think that you’re any less or any worse as a result.

Instinct will urge you to cling to the hurt of what you’ve lost as a way to keep it close and keep the past alive, but the only thing that brings is the diminishing of your self and the growth of fear.

You have the right to make mistakes, lose everything and start again

It’s actually kind of a miracle if you think about it; a right that lets you experiment and a right as essential as breathing or free speech, but a right that’s pulled back from out of fear.

I hope you flourish and I want the best for you. But the only thing to be afraid of—with genuine, heart-stopping fear—is that you go through your life as if this right wasn’t yours, as if losing everything would see life standing over you, pressing its boot down onto your beaten chest, and that it would be that way forever.

You have the right to make mistakes, lose everything and start again.

How does that feel?

How to Do The Thing You Never Thought You Could Do

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Snow wall
I never thought I could give a keynote speech. I never thought I could write a novel. I never thought I could complete a marathon. But I have done those things, and there’s a heap more stuff that I never thought I could do that I’m working on.

That’s the thing with doing the thing you never thought you could do.

You think you could never do it, until you do.

Then it’s real

I’m willing to bet you’ve done things you never thought you could do. And I’ll put money on the fact that there’s something right now that you think you could never do.

So if the evidence supports anything, it’s that you can do it. And who knows, you just might.

Of course, it’s easier said than done, and there are a 3 walls you might have to push through on your way. I call them the 3 walls of doing the thing you never thought you could do. Yeah, I should work on a catchier name, but in the meantime, here they are.

Wall of identity

I’m not known for my sporting prowess or extreme fitness challenges. I’ve never been into that stuff, and always shudder a little when someone says I should try bunjee-jumping, kayaking or sky-diving. That stuff isn’t who I am.

Or rather, they haven’t been. As demonstrated by my fund-raising marathon, I do have a body and I can do stuff with it. The belief of that’s not who I am, could have been enough to stop me, simply because the action didn’t align with my beliefs about my identity.

Don’t be precious about your identity. Your identity isn’t you, it’s just a set of thoughts about who you are, what you do and how you deal with life. If you’re confronted with the wall of identity, just say, “Oh hey identity. I know you want to keep me safe, but remember, you don’t define me, I define you.”

Wall of capability

Identity is one thing, but you also have a heap of stuff in your head about your capability. These are the thoughts that tell you can’t do it, you’re not ready or you’ll screw it up.

And to be brutally frank, some or all of those things might be true. We just don’t know yet.

But should you let your beliefs (which are just sticky thoughts) dictate what you give your energy to or what you give your best to? I’d suggest that if something matters to you—if it rings true, resonates or sounds like fun—that thoughts about your capability are somewhat irrelevant.

You’re not born being able to do everything. You have to learn stuff. Whatever your thing is, you can learn, practice and try it out. You can test and learn as you go. You can develop strategies for getting better. You can pivot and refocus your energy.

Your capability is never fixed unless you think it is.

Wall of worth

So that’s identity and capability looked at, and you might think that’s enough. But the final wall is perhaps the most pernicious and complex—the wall of worth.

This wall is built from thoughts like “I’m not good enough“, “I don’t deserve it” and “other people are so much better than me”.

Holding those thoughts fuels a belief that you’re somehow insufficient and drives behaviour that keeps you small; neither of which are helpful to doing the thing you never thought you could do.

What’s key in pushing through the wall of worth is acknowledging the fact that you’re not broken. You are already a complete human being. There’s no “thing” that others have and you lack. You’re already worthy of the best in life.

You don’t need the thought “I’m not good enough” any more than you need a friend who says that to you every day. That wouldn’t be a friend at all, it would be someone who wants to keep you small and control you.

So take a breath, feel how whole you are and how pregnant you are with possibility.

Then…

After you’ve pushed through those walls, you’re all set.

You’re on your way

And magically, your confidence will have grown the next time you want to do something you never thought you could do.

Confidence is nifty like that.

10 Great Insights About Confidence (but not from me)

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Spark
Sometimes I can be really dumb.

I know a lot of stuff about confidence, what stops it and what fuels it, but I’m a gazillion miles away from having all the answers. So I like to take a look around the Interwebs to learn what other people think about confidence and how they see it.

Some of what I see is, in my humble opinion, horseair (that’s a cross between horseshit and hot air), but some of it is gold. There’s some great wisdom out there among the weeds, and here are 10 perfect examples and links to where you can see each piece.

Seth Godin
Effective confidence comes from within, it’s not the result of external events.

(http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2014/03/confidence-is-a-choice-not-a-symptom.html)

Chris Brogan
I’m not confident about everything I do. I’m just confident about enough different little bits of my life that it sometimes lines up with a moment of achievement. Once you believe in yourself, magic starts happening.

(http://chrisbrogan.com/selfconfidencecourse)

Danielle La Porte
You need blind faith to build confidence.

(http://www.daniellelaporte.com/confidence-vs-blind-faith-rock-em-both)

Zen Habits
If you start to build confidence that you’ll be OK, you can let go of the worries.

(http://zenhabits.net/ok)

The Talent Code
Negative emotions are “hot” — they cause the brain to spark and short-circuit, they cause performance and confidence to dissolve in a cascade of doubt and judgement.

(http://thetalentcode.com/2012/05/29/how-to-build-resilience)

Steven Pressfeld
There’s stuff “down there” in all of us. It’s vast and deep and limitless. That’s the vein we need to mine as artists and as entrepreneurs.

(http://www.stevenpressfield.com/2010/06/writing-wednesdays-6-write-what-you-dont-kow/)

Karen Walrond
In the off-chance you lack confidence in what your conscience is telling you: if you’re leading with kindness, you’re more that halfway there

(http://www.chookooloonks.com/blog/how-to-live-a-perfect-life-in-three-easy-steps)

Chris Guillebeau
Your confidence from overcoming earlier challenges has given rise to two new belief structures:
1. That wasn’t so hard, was it?
2. What’s next?

(http://chrisguillebeau.com/your-goals-are-too-small/)

Marie Forleo
Training yourself to come back to the moment and re-engage in the task at hand is the secret to breaking the self-doubt pattern.

(http://www.marieforleo.com/2012/03/feeling-not-good-enough/)

Brene Brown
Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.

(http://brenebrown.com/2011/08/09/201188courage-is-a-heart-word-html/)

Those all get a massive thumbs up from me, and hopefully you get value from them too.

Let me know if there’s something out there you think I should take a look at. I’m always learning!

Launching October: Get Your Backbone Back

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anguish
Recently I wrote some thoughts about backbone.

I also mentioned that I was thinking about running a short course to help people find theirs (and then trust it) and invited people to share a comment or drop me an email to signal their interest.

The interesting thing is the flurry of emails I received from people saying they’re interested and would love to take part in something like that, while at the same time nobody commented on the post itself to signal their interest.

Which tells me a couple of things. First, people are afraid to be the first to speak up or to admit to a lack of backbone in a public forum. That’s okay. That makes total sense. No finger pointing or judgement here. But it also tells me that with a little more of this thing we’ll call “backbone”, people may be more willing or perhaps even more lassez-faire about being the first to speak up or to admit to a perceived weakness in a public forum.

Those two things made up my mind. Let’s do it. Let’s get some backbone back this October.

Read more and enrol here.

Be sure to enrol soon - the doors close on October 1st!

ActionPoint: Try a Little Mindfulness

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Meditation
You will have done mightily well to not come across this thing called mindfulness, as it’s been talked about and written about for a while now. It’s the not-so-new big thing, having been around for thousands of years, and the benefits of mindfulness are many.

I’ve been practising mindfulness meditation daily for the last 5 years to help manage chronic fatigue syndrome, and I can say without doubt that it’s been fundamental in helping me live with this chronic illness.

It’s taught me that the state of my body (which, right now, is aching like a building’s landed on me) doesn’t need to dictate my experience, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s also reduced stress, helped me appreciate the small things and fixed a leaky tap in the bathroom.

Kidding about that last one, but I would love you to dip your toe in the water of mindfulness and I’ve written this ActionPoint to do just that.

ActionPoint

  1. Read through these steps slowly and non-judgementally. Don’t skim; breathe them in. You’re going to close your eyes in a moment, so you’ll need to know what to do ; )
  2. Sit up in your chair so that you’re sitting “tall”. Straighten your back, ease into the position and gently close your eyes.
  3. Bring your attention to the sounds around you, whatever they happen to be. You don’t need to go out searching for sounds, hunting them down like looking for a friend in a crowd, because they’re already right here. They already arrive at your ears without you doing anything, so simply let them come to you, and be aware of them when they do.
  4. Don’t judge the sounds for being too quiet, too loud or too dissonant. They are what they are, and you have the ability to hear them all. Just hear what’s already there, without wanting them to be a certain way.
  5. Your mind will wander, that’s what minds do after all. As soon as you notice that your mind has wandered away from hearing, note that it’s been wandering and gently bring your attention back to the sounds that are arriving at your ears. Don’t turn it into a problem or tell yourself off for letting your mind wander, just move your attention back to hearing what’s already there.
  6. Keep this going for 15 minutes.
  7. If you care to, and if practising this feels like it could be a good idea, feel free to repeat this exercise daily. Find 15 minutes when you’re awake and alert, and go for it.

Tough, right? We’re not used to focusing our attention this way, and the trick isn’t to force your mind to be a certain way but to let your mind be however it is and yet aim your focus on just the area you’re interested in.

It takes practice, and it’s practice that’s never “done”.

But why bother with mindfulness in the first place? The science is in its infancy, but I’ve seen first hand that it offers a sense of accepting the present moment—and your place in it—just as it is. It’s a sense that knows you’re whole and allows you to choose based on that wholeness.

It’s a direct route to natural confidence. I’d love to hear how you get on with this, so add a comment to let me know how you get on!

9 Ways to Deal With The Fear of Putting Yourself “Out There”

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Nervous?
Hitting ‘Publish’ on my very first blog post back in 2007 was terrifying.

It was the point where the stuff in my head was about to be made public for the very first time, I had no clue what would happen or what people would think, and amid my excitement there was a very real fear of putting my stuff out there for the world to see. Somewhat ironically, I was launching myself as a confidence coach.

My point is that putting your ideas out there for other people to gawk at and judge is just about as terrifying as it gets. It’s the point at which your thoughts, ideas and opinions are exposed, and that’s the point where shit gets real. They’re no longer just your thoughts, ideas or opinions; they’re parts of you that you’ve made public.

It’s this feeling of exposure and vulnerability that keeps people back from the brink of putting themselves out there, and it’s something of a tragedy.

So many ideas are held back because people fear what might happen when they’re in the spotlight. You might be afraid that your work will be judged, or worse, that you’ll be judged. Maybe you fear failure should your idea sink without trace, or maybe you fear success should it soar. Perhaps the idea of promoting yourself fills you with dread, or maybe you just don’t trust your voice or even think you have one.

This fear is natural and understandable, so here are 9 ways to help you overcome it.

1. You’re allowed to have an opinion.
It’s not a crime to have an opinion, but that doesn’t stop people from thinking that they’re not allowed to have one, let alone voice it. You’re an individual with valid thoughts, views and opinions, and thinking that having a strong sense about something might be wrong or might fly in the face of what others think will only serve to dampen your voice. Your opinions are all yours, and that’s plenty good enough.

2. It’s Never Too Late.
Some people hold back from putting themselves out there because they convince themselves that the moment’s passed or that it’s too late. That’s like thinking that you might as well not bother walking down the street because you just saw someone through the window who’s already gone that way, or thinking that it’s pointless to start eating the delicious meal you just paid a fortune for because it’s already getting cold and way past its best.

“It’s too late” is just an excuse designed to protect yourself, and one that’s only true once you’re in that casket.

3. You don’t have an Achilles Heel.
I’ve spoken with people who have resisted putting themselves out there because they believe they have a fundamental flaw that will be exposed to the whole world and his wife as soon as they publish, send or launch. This sense of being vulnerable and having the whole world see your fatal flaw is a compelling and terrifying one, and while you’re as fallible as the next guy or girl, you don’t need to go looking for or create an Achilles Heel. You don’t have one. All you have is a fear that you might. Big difference.

4. Shape your environment.
You won’t put yourself out there if your environment doesn’t support you doing in your endeavour. Not working at the times or in the places that allow you to create and think at your best, being surrounded by the kind of clutter that makes you feel heavy and slow, not having the right kind of support when you need it or not even having your favourite music nearby to give you a boost of energy. An environment that flies in the face of what you want to create is only ever going to turn things into a struggle and hold you back. Instead, shape a congruent environment that brings to life what matters to you.

5. Find your voice.
There’s a moment in the much-derided M. Night Shyamalan movie “Lady in the Water” that’s among my favourite movie scenes ever. The titular lady in the water (played by the amazing Bryce Dallas Howard) is coming to grips with her place in the world and trying to explain the nature of things to Paul Giamatti. Softly asking if she can say just one thing, she says, “The moment a person finds their voice, is the moment their life takes on grace.”

The grace that comes when you find and trust your voice is breathtaking, but the sense that you don’t know what your voice is or that you don’t trust what it could be is enough to stop you from putting your stuff out there. Truth is, you only get to find that voice through exploration and hearing what’s there to be heard. In the meantime, it comes down to trust.

6. Don’t wait until an idea is perfect.
Perfectionism is a damaging fantasy. As author Oliver Burkeman puts it, it’s a “fear-driven striving to avoid the experience of failure at all costs”.

Perfectionists associate their identity with a perfect picture of how something will turn out so they can maintain the illusion of being in control and keeping fear at bay, when in fact that control is an illusion and the fear of failure is real.

Waiting for a time when your idea achieves a deific level of perfection that makes everyone weep tears made from starlight will see you waiting a really long time. And as you wait and procrastinate, you’ll be getting mightily frustrated at reality’s apparent lack of co-operation. Don’t wait for perfect. There is no perfect. Instead, ship something that’s plenty good enough.

7. Build a layer of what matters.
Putting yourself out there is a lot easier if you have a foundation of values. That is to say, you know deep down in your bones what matters to you most in yourself, in others and out there in the world. You know what stirs you and moves you. You know what drives you and compels you. And you know what mattered most about the times you’ve felt most alive.

Without that layer of what matters, you’re untethered and shifting, with no core or foundation to come back to and no real sense of which thing to try or which thing is “you”. It’s this layer of what matters that will help you find your voice, inform your expression, and will give you a not-going-anywhere sense of confidence that helps you put your stuff out there, knowing that you’ll be okay regardless of what happens.

8. Practice expression.
You’ve probably encountered the meme of mastery, that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to really master a skill. I prefer to think that it takes “some hours” to get good at stuff; I don’t think the specific number matters a whole lot. The point is that expressing yourself and putting yourself out there takes practice. Whether painting, journalling, tweeting, blogging or singing, at first it feels awkward, clumsy or uncomfortable and the temptation is to stop because you clearly don’t have it down.

But writing an article, building a business, knitting a bonnet or getting to Carnegie Hall all require practice, and the stretch and discomfort inherent in that practice should be welcomed in the same spirit as the fruits that practice brings.

9. Being brave is just letting go.
When it comes to putting your stuff out there, there’s a point where you need to cross the threshold between what’s been in your head and what’s real. That moment takes courage and is where most people turn back, but this notion of courage and being brave isn’t as ethereal or mythical as you might think. As a confidence coach it’s something I’m asked about a lot, and I’ve seen that being brave is simply a letting go.

If the point of putting your stuff out there is expression and creating value (and I’d suggest that it is), let go of the need to have people validate your expression and the expectation that you’ll receive recognition or status from the value you create. Let go of your need to prove yourself to anyone. Let go of your craving for approval. Let go of your intent to be seen as successful.

This letting go is a skill that can be learned just as you practice any other, and the freedom that comes from letting go partners beautifully with expressing yourself and putting yourself out there.

And that’s perhaps a good spot to finish up. Despite any doubts, fears and second-guessing, you’ve always been free to put yourself out there. Now you just need to let go.

Over to you. Are you putting your stuff out there and struggling? What’s worked for you in the past?

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