Perfection is okay, isn’t it? If we aim for perfection we are bound to bring about some improvement. That’s the logic and it’s difficult to argue against it. But is striving for it really the best thing to do? Or can it cause more harm than good?
Perfection is illusory – you’d do better looking for a herd of unicorns
What is perfection, anyway? When we look for it, we can’t actually find it. In spite of what many self-styled, self-improvement gurus might tell you, there is no end product that is the perfect you. If you think there is, do please define it and let me know.
When we labour under the illusion that there is such a thing as perfection, we carry a burden of believing that we are less than. Less than what? Less than what we “should be” and that inevitably creates a feeling, no matter how slight, of self-dissatisfaction. Could do better may be an echo from old school reports but we often apply it to ourselves as adults.
So let me be good at something
As a boost to self-esteem, which is of course important, some people pursue an interest and seek perfection in that. Or they want to be the best at work. Many recognisable achievements result from this approach. Striving for the ultimate in a given field, though, doesn’t necessarily create a better human being. In fact, it can make us a pain in the bum so far as other people are concerned. Just ask your friends. Wanting to be perfect can often turn into an ego-trip and we have to be really honest with ourselves to avoid that.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t change
I love to play tai chi. Apart from being very good for mental and physical health, it can be very fulfilling. A key principle to tai chi is balance – neither too much nor too little of anything. If we gently try to improve our practice, we are most likely to enjoy it and will reap great benefit. Trying too hard, though, results in strain and creates tension – too yang. But by doing too little, we become sloppy – too yin. That’s one reason why teachers tell their students that it takes at least thirty years to master the art. There’s no rush.
The same applies, I think, to life in general. Gradual improvement is good and healthy. But if we try to be perfect human beings, we won’t make it and certainly won’t enjoy life. We’ll just rush through everything in our vain attempt to be the best.
How pursuing perfection can seriously harm your health
- Striving to be the best, or to be perfect, necessarily results in mental and emotional tension. Instead of our awareness being relaxed and expansive, it focuses on one or a number of points to the exclusion of others.
- Maintaining mental and emotional tension builds up hypertension, which is harmful for cardiovascular health.
- The flow of qi or vital energy through the body becomes restricted and chaotic. Instead of being settled and free-flowing, it tends to rise into the chest and head.
- The internal organs are vital for good health and, according to oriental medicine, are directly affected by the flow of qi. When there is tension, the organs do not get their full supply of qi.
- As the blood is influenced by qi, that can be constricted, too, resulting in congestion.
- Amongst other things, the digestion is often affected. If the power of the digestion, digestive fire, as it is sometimes called in the oriental systems, is weak, we fail to extract all the nutrients from our food. Toxins are said to build up from the incomplete process, and that affects our vitality and wellbeing.
Be happy instead
On the other hand, being happy is said to be good for health. That sounds a far better option to me. That doesn’t mean we just wander through life but we can, and ought to, reduce the intensity sometimes. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, we are not going somewhere else – we are already here. We have arrived but just don’t realise it.
If you like this, you may also like my books on happiness and mindfulness.