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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Perfection/Willpower


Today I'm striving for a perfect day even though the word is a loaded one.  I need to make good on all these promises to myself.  I need to walk the walk (for those of you who think I'm like Mary Poppins - practically perfect in every way - think again.  I often talk a good game but follow through - not always there).  So what does a perfect day look like?   It's the right balance between obligation and fun.  Kaveh said on Tuesday that what makes a person attractive to others is their ability to have fun and enjoy life - having fun is becoming a lost art!  And fun is NOT the things we do to numb ourselves from the pain of being a complicated human being (drinking, escaping into mindless TV, drugs, gratuitous sex, etc).  I think real fun is had when you are truly expressing yourself in some way, whether you're throwing paint at a wall, feeling the wind whipping through your hair as you chase a ball downfield, curling up on the couch with a book, meeting a girlfriend for lunch and talking about stuff that turns you on - you get the idea - the things that bring you to life, that animate you.

Then there's the other stuff we do that's not so much fun - the infrastructure of our daily lives - our care and feeding - the things that must be done to keep ourselves afloat.  The yucky stuff. Yesterday when I should have been working, I browsed the New York Times website and read a fascinating article about willpower.  Some interesting snippets from the article:  "together with intelligence, self-control turns out to be the best predictor of a successful and satisfying life...willpower consists of circuitry in the brain that runs on glucose, has a limited capacity and operates by rules that scientists can reverse-engineer - and crucially, that can find work-arounds for its own shortcomings...will, like a muscle, can be fatigued....immediately after students engage in a task that requires them to control their impulses they show lapses in a subsequent task that also requires an exercise of willpower...Baumesiter tagged the effect "ego depletion, using Freud's sense of "ego" as the mental entity that controls the passions.

So wow, scientists have dissected and are understanding the physiology of willpower which has been identified as a key component to a satisfying life.  And there are exercises we can do to build up our willpower! - exercises like tidiness and good posture.  And then, when you've exhausted your supply of willpower and you're experiencing "ego depletion" - when you are most vulnerable to chucking your discipline, if you eat a little something sugary, the glucose resets your willpower! Now that's counter-intuitive!  To keep yourself from eating a pie, eat a cookie!   Funny that after reading the article, I clicked through to Amazon and ordered the book, even though I had made a commitment to myself to NOT buy books but get them from the library to save money!   No willpower there! I should have had some fudge.

Today, I am making the monster list of all the yucky stuff I need to accomplish and applying discipline to knock the items down, one at a time.   I am not going to reward myself with personal pleasures until I've put in my time.   I am not going to settle into a luscious conversation with a dear friend during working hours.  I am going to exercise some willpower muscle and have something good to show for my day.   If I can go to bed tonight having had the right combination of obligation fulfillment and inspiration, I will call it a perfect day. Well perfect may be overstating the day's poential - nothing is perfect since he left -  but satisfying, how's that?

After we broke up, I gave a lot of thought to the idea of perfection and I wrote him a letter about the subject. In it, I described how I had nervously tried to be perfect for him, to control all the variables so that he would experience me and our relationship as absolutely perfect and of course, never leave me.  It didn't work as you know - he left despite my efforts and I realized the shortcomings of the whole perfect thing.  I wrote:

I am going to work hard to correct this.  I don’t want my next relationship to be built on a house of cards that can’t withstand adversity.   I need to truly believe in my own worthiness to be loved – that someone can love me in my entirety - weaknesses as well as strengths -  that I don’t have to make everything pretty, all the time.   I need to take it slower and be someone’s friend first and then when that relationship has passed the test of time, offer more of myself in a real and genuine and secure way, knowing it won’t all vanish at the first hint of trouble.

This whole perfect thing, wanting everything to be ideal is a destroyer of happiness.   It’s fake, it’s unsustainable, and it is a recipe for disappointment.   It’s chasing something we will never get our hands on.    Real relationships, I think I’ve realized, are a mixed bag, they are not low maintenance, they are not always rewarding, often frustrating, but they are real and sturdy.

And they aren't perfect!

Today's challenge is to mull over the dual concepts of perfection and willpower.  Is perfect a dirty word or is it something to strive for, like I'm doing today in scripting for myself an ideal day full of productivity and fun? (as long as I'm aware my efforts will invariably fall short and I don't punish myself for it)  And is the magic ingredient willpower?  Perfection. Willpower.  If you are like me you are attracted to these words like a moth in love with a flame - but there is a light and dark side to these two words.  I suspect we should nervously embrace the ideals of perfection and willpower, use them for striving, but that we should also have a healthy respect for the fact that, taken to extremes, they can be happiness destroyers.  

Should we all buy that book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Gratest Human Strength?  Here is the link to the article and the book:



Peace,
Sarah

Picture is an unflattering picture of me (hair up and a mess, no makeup) with a parrot named Rhuna (sp?) on my head.  I'm fighting my urge to NOT put this picture here because it's not perfect - I don't look perfectly beautiful with my usual sexy curled hair and perfect makeup.  But this is me much of the time...the unvarnished Sarah and I should embrace this less polished "me" as perfect too.  I am having fun.  

Rhuna belongs to friends Pat and Peter and I adore her.  I think I need a parrot.

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