I like to use my Sunday morning to peruse the media outpourings of the week and gather some thoughts over a coffee. This week was no different and got me to thinking… when did we get so obsessed with perfection?
The spark of ignition for my thoughts, observations and questions actually came from an article in The Independent on the latest ‘new’ eating ‘disorder’ (Orthorexia Nervosa).
Although discussed in a similar vein to anorexia or bulimia by the National Centre for Eating Disorders UK, this “disease disguised as a virtue” (as some describe it), is not yet fully recognised as an eating disorder per se. But should adopting a diet focussed on natural foods actual really be considered as a ‘bad’ thing? The simple answer is YES, especially if, the person making that particular lifestyle choice, is becoming ill because of it.
Issues around so-called ‘eating disorders’ actually fit well with my particular area of professional interest i.e. Recovery from addiction. The actual part of this particular article which grates on me is: like much else in our lives today, we now seem to posses an inherent need to label anything and everything. A process that appears even more prevalent when we can’t/won’t endeavour to understand the many and varied underlying behaviours and issues behind the personal issue at hand. Label it, box it, throw a few pills in… job done now move on!
OK, so perhaps I’m taking a somewhat simplistic and/or flippant viewpoint? Irrespective of that fact, and in no way wishing to deride the undoubted professionalism of many working in this field, helping those who are suffering, things often boil down to the matter of time availability and/or hard cash considerations.
It’s a sad factor of our society today but almost everything has a time and monetary value (and constraint) attached to it today. We must also remember the prevalent personal, social and business drive or desire for the ‘quick fix’ to every problem, perceived or actual. And all this before you even start to consider the health care impacts (and profit needs) of the massive and powerful pharmaceutical industry. Undoubtedly a major factor also at play here however; it’s also an issue for a different time.
Many of the behaviours which drive our compulsive and impetuous actions are often simply the result of personal choice; whether or not that choice was arrived at intentionally / unintentionally or even unconsciously, is mostly immaterial. It’s when those ‘choices’ become so obsessive that they’re damaging to our health that is of concern. It’s also the time when we immediately rush to ‘label’ it and define it as a ‘disease’ to ‘suffer’ from. But the label is often little more than a convenient excuse; one that we can easily hide behind and one that camouflages many of the true reasons for our actions/inactions.
It is my belief that; many of our addictive and compulsive behaviours find their roots in our almost relentless drive for personal perfection. Ingrained beliefs which are misconceptions resulting from decades of social programming. Materialistic thoughts and desires gleaned from learned behaviour and/or overt commercialism and overt/covert marketing. It’s all about those stupid ideas of only being perceived to be ‘successful’ once you reach the top of your career ladder. You’re no good unless you’re the best in your game. Until you achieve massive wealth or gain ‘celebrity’ status, you probably haven’t actually achieved anything, at least not something that is worthwhile and wanted by everyone.
But why do we succumb to all this constant pressure? Whey are we jealous about the achievements of others? Indeed, do all your peers actually want the same things? Are you any less of a person because they do and you don’t want the same things? The simple answer is no!
As individuals we allow ourselves to be driven by many of these common misconceptions… mostly due to greed and/or the desire for materialistic wealth. But was it ever really so wrong to be comfortable and happy being John/Jane Average? Why does there have to be the extremes of polarity in success and failure? Acceptance of your position on the mediocrity shelf isn’t actually such a bad thing… it’s a peaceful place to live, one that is usually full of peace and contentment. Getting to this place requires both a modicum of self-belief and some mental strength. The latter is sadly where many of us seem to fail. Too often we either don’t (or believe we don’t) possess sufficient mental strength to buck a social perceptions and/or trend(s).
The sad part of all this is; whilst we are constantly striving to achieve and realise all those things we are programmed to believe we need, we often succumb to the use substances during our personal quest for greatness. We use substances to; (1) help us celebrate or heighten our elation, (2) disguise or numb our failures (actual or perceived), (3) provide a crutch for our inadequacies (actual or perceived) or (4) simply just as a hiding place when stuff gets too hard.
The virtual space where we can retreat from reality and take respite from all the ‘voices’ of confusion in our thoughts and emotions. Our mental battleground of self-worth in a self-righteous and self-promotional world. That world where a large proportion of us are likely to be suffering from Perfection Obsessive Disorder (POD)… see how easy it is to invent a new label?
Mental strength is the commodity which provides us with the ability to not follow all the accepted social norms. We become more able to combat peer pressures, to choose which socially accepted paths we want to explore. It gives us far greater control over our thoughts, behaviours, emotions and expectations.
In her book (13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do), Amy Morin a renowned psychotherapist writes that “an individual’s level of ‘mental strength’ is reflected in how good they are at controlling their thoughts, behaviours, and emotions.”
“Mental strength isn’t often reflected in what you do. It’s usually seen in what you don’t do” (Amy Morin)
Many of those who praise the work of Morin, actually follow her teachings (or therapy) for overtly commercial reasons. They hang on her every word with a desire that total adherence will provide them with business success and achievement of wealth. Ironic? Yes, but the real irony here is; much of what Morin has espoused is also relevant to those wishing to escape the straight jackets of our materialistic world.
Morin’s 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do
- They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves: Mentally strong people don’t sit around feeling sorry about their circumstances or how others have treated them. Instead, they take responsibility for their role in life and understand that life isn’t always easy or fair.
- They Don’t Give Away Their Power: They don’t allow others to control them, and they don’t give someone else power over them. They don’t say things like, “My boss makes me feel bad,” because they understand that they are in control over their own emotions and they have a choice in how they respond.
- They Don’t Shy Away from Change: Mentally strong people don’t try to avoid change. Instead, they welcome positive change and are willing to be flexible. They understand that change is inevitable and believe in their abilities to adapt.
- They Don’t Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control: You won’t hear a mentally strong person complaining over lost luggage or traffic jams. Instead, they focus on what they can control in their lives. They recognize that sometimes, the only thing they can control is their attitude.
- They Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone: Mentally strong people recognize that they don’t need to please everyone all the time. They’re not afraid to say no or speak up when necessary. They strive to be kind and fair, but can handle other people being upset if they didn’t make them happy.
- They Don’t Fear Taking Calculated Risks: They don’t take reckless or foolish risks, but don’t mind taking calculated risks. Mentally strong people spend time weighing the risks and benefits before making a big decision, and they’re fully informed of the potential downsides before they take action.
- They Don’t Dwell on the Past: Mentally strong people don’t waste time dwelling on the past and wishing things could be different. They acknowledge their past and can say what they’ve learned from it. However, they don’t constantly relive bad experiences or fantasize about the glory days. Instead, they live for the present and plan for the future.
- They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over: Mentally strong people accept responsibility for their behaviour and learn from their past mistakes. As a result, they don’t keep repeating those mistakes over and over. Instead, they move on and make better decisions in the future.
- They Don’t Resent Other People’s Success: Mentally strong people can appreciate and celebrate other people’s success in life. They don’t grow jealous or feel cheated when others surpass them. Instead, they recognize that success comes with hard work, and they are willing to work hard for their own chance at success.
- They Don’t Give Up After the First Failure: Mentally strong people don’t view failure as a reason to give up. Instead, they use failure as an opportunity to grow and improve. They are willing to keep trying until they get it right.
- They Don’t Fear Alone Time: Mentally strong people can tolerate being alone and they don’t fear silence. They aren’t afraid to be alone with their thoughts and they can use downtime to be productive. They enjoy their own company and aren’t dependent on others for companionship and entertainment all the time but instead can be happy alone.
- They Don’t Feel the World Owes Them Anything: Mentally strong people don’t feel entitled to things in life. They weren’t born with a mentality that others would take care of them or that the world must give them something. Instead, they look for opportunities based on their own merits.
- They Don’t Expect Immediate Results: Whether they are working on improving their health or getting a new business off the ground, mentally strong people don’t expect immediate results. Instead, they apply their skills and time to the best of their ability and understand that real change takes time.
Perhaps its time for more of us try walking these ‘Thirteen Steps’ and hopefully, consign our POD to the trash can?
 As a licensed clinical social worker, college psychology instructor, and psychotherapist, Amy Morin has seen countless people choose to succeed despite facing enormous challenges. That resilience along with her own personal history dealing with tragedy inspired her to write “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” a web post that instantly went viral, and was picked up by the Forbes website where it has reached over 9.5 million people. Morin’s post focused on the concept of mental strength, how mentally strong people avoid negative behaviours—feeling sorry for themselves, resenting other people’s success, and dwelling on the past. Instead, they focus on the positive to help them overcome challenges and become their best.