One of the things that keeps people stuck in failure is a principle called “Moving Goalposts”. Anytime we succeed, our mind does a flip, and turns a success into a failure.
We might feel like a failure because we’re out of shape, we don’t wake up on time, we cannot follow through with our intentions, etc. So we set goals for ourselves. But our mind does something really tricky when we try to make a change.
If you feel out of shape, you might eat something healthy on one day. But instead of accepting that success, your mind might tell you “Oh, I should have done this a while ago. Why didn’t I start sooner?” It might even set the goal, “We’re going to start eating healthy EVERY day now.”
Our mind takes one success and turns it into a failure. We beat ourselves for not taking action earlier.
Even though we are taking a step in the right direction, instead of being inspired and motivated by it, we beat ourselves up over it. We transform the success into a failure about the past. It might say, “Oh, I should have been eating healthy my entire life.”
The second thing our mind does is that it takes a success and moves the goalpost. “Oh, I ate healthy today, now I will eat healthy tomorrow.” The goal that you woke up with today was to eat healthy TODAY. The goal was not to eat healthy for the next week or the next month, or the next year. It was a small goal that you can accomplish. You can take one step at a time. But our mind takes success and moves the goalpost, which destines us for failure.
For example, if you eat healthy for one day, your mind will tell you “I am going to eat healthy for the entire week now”. But you may not be capable of doing that. You can eat one healthy meal a day, and you have done that — it was a success. You take one step forward and then suddenly expect so much more from yourself. You change the way you define success.
As a result, you start believing that you are a failure everyday. However, you are not a failure everyday. You actually succeed on many days. The problem is that you don’t let yourself sit with that success. You don’t pat yourself on the back for it. You move the goalposts on yourself and then expect so much more from yourself than you are capable of.
When you inevitably fail, you feel shameful. You feel lazy and undisciplined. You compare yourself to people who are further along than you. That’s not what you should wish. You should wish for exactly what you have accomplished.
For example, instead of hoping to eat a salad every day, you should wish that every now and then, you could eat a salad. That is the goalpost that you originally set for yourself and if you don’t let yourself move it, you can succeed.
As you do this, you become a different person. Instead of being someone who fails all the time, and thus, “is” a failure, you become a person who succeeds sometimes and fails sometimes. That is wildly different from being someone who fails ALL the time, as a result of moving your goalposts.
Its because of our negative perception of ourselves. If you view myself as a complete failure, the only success that will balance that is a HUGE one.
For example, if you are 300 lbs overweight, you might not think that it is good enough for you to eat a salad one day a week. You might have this perception that you are so overweight, that you are so much of a failure, that you have to balance that with a big success. It is the only way to make up for that deficit. If you have dropped out of college, you might feel that the only way to redeem yourself is to go to a prestigious institution like Harvard — community college just isn’t good enough for you.
You feel like such a failure, that there is no way a small success can make up for that failure. You have to make up for lost time. You move the goalposts because you view yourself as a failure.
But once you start to see yourself as someone who fails sometimes and succeeds sometimes, then suddenly you don’t have to move the goalposts as much. You don’t have to be an absolute success. You’re a success about half the time, so you only have to move the goalpost a tiny bit, not a huge amount.
The less you start moving goalposts, the more successful you become. The more successful you become, the less you feel like a failure, and the less you have to move goalposts. It turns from a cycle of failure into a cycle of success.
When you start to expect yourself to be perfect every day, that is when you doom yourself to failure. Acknowledge where you are and do the best you can. Expect less from yourself and let yourself be a little bit worse than you actually are.
Perfectionism is not a diagnosis and there is no explicit way to deal with perfectionism
falling behind is a common feeling
to overcome you need to explore where it comes from, how it manifests, how we cope and how we actually overcome the feeling of falling
we often deal with escalating possibility, which is when you have a goal and in order to meet the goal you have a set expectation of acting and working toward the goal. However, as the deadline comes closer and closer, the more you try to build up the amount of work that you need to do to meet that goal.
For example, we see this often when we have a final and we set out plan to study 1 hr per day. However, we often procrastinate and try to compensate for the lost time procrastinating by planning to study 2.5 hours a day. Then we continue to procrastiante and then the panic starts setting in. As the panic grows continues to grow, the harder it is to study and the harder it is to distract ourselves from the panic. Finally, the panic becomes so overwhelming that we create this samskara of regret, and fighting with yourself because of what you have done.
The problem with catching up is that we based our actions on an expectation of results. When the expecation is high, our actions begin to feel insignficiant and we require higher expectations to catch up based on our worry or fear. And this worry and fear also counterinuitively holds us back from acting.
To start acting, we need to let go of the idea of catching up and let go of the idea of falling behind. Catching up and falling behind is a mental construction. It is hard to let go of falling behind and catching up because we are raised on a culture of triumph. We love creating stories of being stacked up against the odds, how hard we could fall, and how more magnificent we could become. We have dormant emotional energy sitting in us that wants an emotional outcome where we overcome the negative feelings of falling behind and that is the problem. Letting go of catching up is letting go of this fantasy of the triumph. Let go of all these mental constructions of catching up, falling behind, triumph and redemption and recognize that what you really need is to take action now.
Perfectionism creates a mental marker of where you should be, which is the expectation. If it is not met even with all your effort, then there is is no feeling of progress. We do not give ourselves positive reinforcement, we do not take steps forward, and we do not focus on what you can do in the moment. Instead, we take on negative reinforcement by striving for perfectionism, all our actions is never enough, and we become paralyze because we are not perfect when we are striving to be.
Progress and Perfection are two ends of a spectrum.
If you let go of perfectionism, what are you left with
Perfectionism is your mind making up things that you didn't do right
Your pursuit of perfectionism can even take on more subtle forms that can lead to similar problems. People can leave their perfectionism and choose to chase after progress instead. Although progression is good to have, you run into the same problem where set goals and standards for yourself as you did with your perfectionist mindset. You could even start setting deadlines and measure your rate of progress and you end up with the same problem you had before. Instead of focusing progress, focus on taking it slow, not progressing, and notice your perfectionism asking how slow you need to be, and when to start progressing after.
Ask yourself "How can I be compassionate to myself, while not progressing my goals" and "Do I deserve kindness when I do not progress?" Whether people struggle with progression or perfection, your kindness to yourself is independant from all of it, so be kind to yourself no matter what and progress. But if progression gets in the way of your self-compassion, then you need to stop progressing and relearn how to progress without revoking your kindness.
Falling short is not meeting your expectations
Separate the action from the expectation of what you "need to do"
What are we using as a compass for your life? Are we letting our feelings dictate what we want to do? Although emotion are valid, remember it is just an emotion and not reality. The stronger the emotions is the stronger the distortion of reality we experience, and the more we believe our reality is true
Sometimes people believe that results are more important than the work needed to succeed, which can prevent people from trying because there is a fear of failure. That's true that results matter but that is the fear of failure rationalizing that only results matter.
Look at how you define success and satisfaction - if success is an outcome, then results will matter. If success is based on results, then results matter. you are playing a rigged game. So instead of setting up success based on results and set up success based on acting in the now.
Look at how your need to be "enough" paralyzes you - if you are climbing a mountain and you take one step and you look at the top again, you will never feel like you are progressing because you are not at the top still. Every step you take will feel insufficient if you keep looking towards your end goal. Instead shift from performance oriented mindset to a growth oriented mindset. This has been popularized by carol dweck, and it also comes the yogic perspective of karma. It is the perspective that you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions; you are only entitled to is action. You cannot control results, you can only control your actions. The people that succeeds are the people that roll the dice over and over again