The LearningMethods Library
What's The Opposite of Perfect?
by David Gorman
Copyright © 2010 David Gorman,
all rights reserved world-wide
I want to ramble a bit about the trying
to be perfect habit, that is, about those uncomfortable
moments when we are trying hard to be perfect, or at least trying
to be better than we are. The important thing here about
"trying hard to be perfect" is not the "perfect"
part, but the "trying hard" part. There is a
lot of effort in trying to be better than we are. After
all, if we really were perfect, there'd be nothing to do and
no effort at all.
Actually, there is also another relevant
issue here, which is the flip side of the trying to be perfect
habit, and that's the habit of doubting ourselves, and fearing
that we're not good enough. They are the two sides of each other
because they usually work together like this:
— I'm not managing to be perfect, therefore I must not be good
— so, in order to be good enough, I'll have to become just about
Notice how this whole habit is framed.
To be perfect, to make no mistakes, to get it right, would be
a good thing. To make mistakes, to get it wrong, to
not be good enough, is definitely a bad thing.
In other words, we have it framed so that the opposite of
perfect is imperfect. Perfect is good, imperfect
No wonder we hate being less-than-perfect,
and no wonder we want to strive for perfection. After
all, good really is GOOD, and who wants to be BAD?
But there's something a little fishy with
this. Can we suddenly become perfect just because it's
good? I mean, nice idea, but, unfortunately, it doesn't
seem to work that way. No matter how much we try, over
and over, to become "perfect", we very rarely succeed.
And no matter how bad we feel when we are "imperfect", we seem
to keep on ending up there. No wonder we can end up doubting
ourselves. And no wonder it's so easy to stay stuck in
the same framework and end up interpreting the fact that we
keep being imperfect as actual evidence that, in fact, we ARE
inadequate and not good enough.
In other words, the framework seduces us
into continually striving for an unobtainable "good" in order
to escape from our continually experienced failure, and the
problem is that we rarely question the framework itself.
We keep trying to get better at being more perfect and we keep
failing at it. But does that make us stop? Not on your
life! Most of the time we just try to find new and different
ways to get better at getting better. Again, what a lovely
idea if it worked, but decades can go by without us recognizing
that each time we find a new way to be perfect we're actually
still just doing the same old habit, in new clothes, and reinforcing
it more deeply. It's a bind and a vicious circle to be
Luckily for us, what we are doing here in
this work is honing a secret weapon — the tools to unravel and
escape from these sorts of binds by looking closely at what
is going on, by getting enough details out on the table so that
we can see past the specific content of the habit and actually
bring the framework itself into focus. Once we recognize
the framework, we can do something we could not do before. We
can call it into question.
This particular framework can be boiled down
to the simple phrase, "perfect is good, not being perfect
is bad." And what's fishy about this "striving for
perfection" habit is that we only have to look moderately closely
at our own experiences when we are caught in the habit to realize
that this trying to be perfect is NOT a good experience at all.
In fact, it's downright miserable. It's full of tension, effort
Well then, if striving for perfection is
bad for us, could it be that the opposite might be good for
us? The old habit would have us believe that the opposite
of perfect is imperfect and that being imperfect is a bad thing.
Does this mean that we should now try to see being imperfect
as a good thing? You could try that, but it doesn't sound
like much fun and it probably wouldn't be much fun if you did
try it. And the main reason it wouldn't be very effective is
that you would still be seeing the whole situation within the
terms of the old framework. You cannot escape from a habit
by operating within the same old framework.
What would it mean to entirely step out of
the old framework, where perfection is good, into a completely
new framework, where striving for perfection is not a good thing
to do? That is, from within this new framework, what would
be the opposite of striving for perfection?
One simple and direct way you can find out
is by putting yourself into the moment where you've recognized
that the striving for perfection is no fun at all and now you
are about to choose not to do it. What would you be doing
instead if you didn't get caught up in trying to be perfect?
If you stopped trying to be better? Well, of course, if
you weren't trying to change yourself, you'd just be the same
as you were before. You'd be just being yourself.
Thus the opposite of the habit of striving
for perfection is in fact, acceptance. Acceptance of
myself just the way I am. If I'm not reacting as if something
is wrong with me, as if I'm less than okay, I'd be operating
as if I'm already okay. I'd be operating as if just being myself
and doing what I can do, is enough.
To put it a bit differently, I'd be letting
fall away all those other universes where I should be more than
I am and where I'm not what I should be, and instead I'll be
choosing to inhabit just this one universe where I happen to
be exactly the unique person I am.
Notice a little something here. The
old framework is set up so that "perfect" and "imperfect" seem
to be properties of me. "I'm trying to BE perfect", "I
fear I AM imperfect." It makes me think that it's me and
my inadequacies that are being described. And, gradually, I
begin to identify with it — this IS ME. No wonder I react so
However, when I look a little more closely,
I can see that these are not properties of myself at all. They
are only things I am trying to do. "Trying to be perfect" is
an action. In fact, it is a very effortful and difficult activity
as my experience clearly shows me. I'm trying to be
perfect, and this makes me react when I'm not.
But wait, it gets more interesting…
Unlike the effort of the "trying to be more perfect" habit,
accepting that you are what you are takes no effort at all.
You're there already. It's the very definition of easy;
there's nothing to do… except maybe enjoy yourself. Furthermore,
no trying is needed because you'll always succeed at it; you
can't fail at being yourself — you already are!
The old framework tries to fool you into
thinking it's telling you something (bad) about youself, when
it's actually just getting you mistakenly caught up in doing.
But the new framework really is showing you something about
youself. When you accept yourself, YOU ARE just yourself;
no reaction is needed.
We got so deeply stuck in the old habit because
its framework gives us real experiences. The striving for perfection
seems so undeniably good and we feel so obviously bad when we
fail at it. These repeated experiences reinforce the framework
because there's nothing like feelings to make something seem
real. The way we see things creates the feelings we have, and
the feelings we have in turn give reality to our way of seeing
things. It's a classic vicious circle.
When I do manage to see through this illusion,
I reconnect with the fact that my experience of trying to be
perfect doesn't feel good, it actually feels very bad.
Oddly enough, I was experiencing the bad feelings before but
I was misattributing them; I was mistaking where they
The bad feelings are NOT coming from my inadequacy
and my failure to be perfect, they are actually coming from
my NOT accepting myself and my TRYING to be perfect.
Of course, that becomes more and more obvious
as soon as I do truly start accepting myself and then get to
feel how simple and lovely it is to be myself.
However, the old habit is pernicious, and
in order to succeed at this change we need to see through another
misattribution. It's important to recognize that when you attempt
to change, for a while you will likely still be operating
partly from the old point of view. From the old habit's
point of view you're asking yourself to accept something that
isn't very nice, namely being imperfect, and the first thing
that comes up for most people is that this is very hard thing
But here again something is fishy. How can
it be hard to accept myself when just being myself is so easy
that it takes no doing at all? Well, it's that framework
thing again. It only seems hard to accept because I
am still partly in the old framework where accepting myself
would be accepting that I am less than perfect, and not good
"It's hard to accept," we say. But
I put it to you that no one has ever had an experience in their
life of acceptance being hard. You can test this yourself
against any of your own experiences if you only take a moment
to recall them. Ask yourself what has happened for you every
single time that you actually did accept something? Was
it not that at that moment of real acceptance the struggle fell
away and the ease began?
When we say that it is hard to accept something
we are speaking as if the act of acceptance is somehow difficult.
This is a misattribution. If you look closely you will see that
those moments when you are experiencing the difficulty are precisely
when you are NOT accepting. Not accepting is certainly full
of difficulty, and fight and struggle, but the moment when true
acceptance happens is the very moment when all that fight and
This is why it takes an active choice to
choose not to try to be better than you are, and instead to
just accept that you are what you are. Which, of course,
makes sense. If there wasn't a lot of smoke and mirrors keeping
the illusion of the old habit in place, and if there wasn't
such a challenge in actually accepting yourself, then everyone
would already have escaped from the trap. However, it's only
AFTER you meet yourself in that moment of reluctance to accept
your imperfections, your limitations and your unique humanness,
and only AFTER you go ahead anyway to make that choice, that
you will then experience what it's like to be to you without
judging yourself and without trying to change yourself.
And you will feel something different. How
could you not?
Since you are no longer reacting as if you're
imperfect and need changing, you'll no longer feel any reactions.
Since you are no longer trying to change anything, you'll no
longer feel any trying or effort. Since you are no longer engaged
in puzzling through all the complexity of what you have to do
to be better and how you have to do it, you'll be more present
with what is happening around you and more capable of responding.
With all this change, why wouldn't you feel so much better than
you felt before?
And — simplistic to say, but it is so true
— once you start to allow yourself to just be, you will start
getting back in touch with yourself. Back in touch, literally,
with the real you — the one who is there when you're
not busy reacting or trying to change yourself. Or to put it
the other way around, the worst consequence of the old habit
is that you end up so thoroughly out of touch with
yourself —again in the most literal way.
If you keep at it, it won't take long until
you'll no longer be experiencing things from the old habit's
point of view, because you'll have a growing set of experiences
from the new framework's point of view.
On the one hand, you'll have the memory of
how bad it felt to try to be perfect and how bad it felt to
judge yourself. This will make it more and more unthinkable
to get caught up in that crap again.
And on the other hand, you'll have more and
more present-moment experiences of how much easier and better
it feels to dump all that and just be yourself.
These new experiences will reinforce your
new (and more accurate) way of seeing things, and in turn your
new point of view will make it easier and easier — and more
and more comfortable — to just be yourself.
In other words, as you get good at it, everything
You'll just BE you…
There is small biography
of personal details about the author below.
About the Author
David Gorman has been studying human
structure and function since 1970. He is the author of an illustrated 600-page
text on our human musculoskeletal system, called
The Body Moveable (now in
its 6th edition and in colour), and numerous articles and essays, including
the book, Looking at Ourselves (2nd
edition in colour).
David has been working with performers (singers,
musicians, actors, dancers and circus artists) for over forty years. He is a
trainer of teachers of LearningMethods and of the
Alexander Technique and has taught all
over the world in universities, conservatories, performance companies, and orchestras;
for doctors in hospitals and rehabilitation clinics; and in training courses
for Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, physiotherapy, osteopathy, massage & yoga.
Over the years, his changing understanding about the
root causes of people's problems led him to gradually extend his Alexander Technique
teaching into the development of a new work, LearningMethods (and an
offshoot, Anatomy of Wholeness about our marvelous human design), which
is being integrated into the curricula of performance schools in Europe, Canada
and the United States by a growing number of LearningMethods
Teachers and Apprentice-teachers.
For the last 6 years, David has been running online
post-graduate groups for Alexander Technique teachers and groups for those who
want to learn to use LearningMethods in their own lives and work, as well as
a group for those who want to go on to train as LearningMethods teachers.
Telephone: +1 416-519-5470
78 Tilden Crescent, Etobicoke, Ontario M9P 1V7 Canada (map)