Freedom from our perfect self / The dark side of 'positive thinking'

Over many years of working with people, it became obvious to me that in the process of ‘becoming’, we think we need to be perfect. What do I mean by this?  We become addicted to perfecting ourselves, to carving out a ‘front’ that would be admired by all around us. And this then destroys us if we are not careful.

Positive thinking, positive psychology, the ‘can do attitude’ is all around us. We know that even our brain can rewire itself if we keep working at it as it has been shown through neuroplasticity that age is no longer an excuse for not changing. There is nothing wrong with this. But only if we don’t overdo it. 

So what happens? 

We have pictures in our minds about being perfect. A perfect business woman, a perfect mother, father, friend, colleague, child.  There are plenty of books out there about how to be / do anything you want. The expectation of ourselves to strive for perfection becomes so overwhelming. 


What do I mean by perfect? People see their perfect self - what they aspire to be as positive, strong, capable, enthusiastic, great looking, fit, funny, inspiring,  energetic and I could go on… They view others who have done or achieved some of these things as perfect and there is a huge problem with this. Because they are not perfect either. 

Why does this cause so much pain?

When people are trying to ‘become’ someone, they think they have a huge mountain to climb, and it becomes so overwhelming that they stop before they reach their first milestone. 

And then they put it down to ‘it’s not for me’, ‘I am too weak’,  ‘I am rubbish’, ‘JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH’.

On this quest to ‘become’ our perfect self (whatever our goal is), we lose sight of something important. Something people rarely talk about.

The fact that nobody is perfect.  We forget this. And this is the cause of anxiety and lack of drive in so many people who could do really well if they tried. But they give up as the journey to perfect themselves becomes overwhelming. To be the perfect career girl, the perfect girlfriend / boyfriend / mother / father / athlete / public speaker / business owner / celebrity / royalty.  

They look in the mirror and see themselves. What do they see?

That they are not perfect every day. That sometimes they come close to it. That many times they have ‘good hair-days’ when they can propel themselves forward on the journey they set out to travel on. In my view, they see a ‘perfect human’. That is a human being with flaws.  And this is the paradox of it all.

Perfect humans are exactly like this. We all have good and bad days and we should be ok with this. The strive to be happy 24/7 is putting us off from achieving anything at all. We think if we can’t look like a million dollars every day than there is no point in doing it at all. If we can’t be the inspiring business man /woman 24/7 than there is no point in trying. If we can’t be perfect parents every day, we failed. If we feel low and extremely sad some day, we are doomed to stay there. We forget that we can bounce back, that we are perfectly capable human beings to take things into our own hands and try again. That one bad day, week or even year doesn’t mean we failed forever. We think we need to push ourselves every day, 24/7 to become that someone who we so very much want to be. And when we slip, we give up altogether. 

So instead of tackling challenges one step at a time, we hide away and escape through distractions of social media, TV, video games, drugs, alcohol, sex until it becomes a cycle that is so much harder to get out of than facing the fact what we all know. 

That nobody is perfect. Not one person. No matter how kind, loving, successful, gorgeous, inspiring someone is, they all have ‘pyjama days’. When they don’t do their hair, when they feel useless, when they are angry and snap at others, when they ‘can’t be bothered’. I’ve seen this many times working with celebrities, who the external world views as ‘perfect’. Sometimes they can’t even see it themselves. People aspire to be like them. Believe it or not, Marilyn Monroe had bad hair-days, Elvis Presley had his demons behind closed doors, everybody has doubts and fears and bad days. What’s wrong with that? We are all human. 


It is ok to relax and just be. Just feel whatever we are feeling. Why are we so scared of our feelings? We seem to think that its not ok to be really angry or really sad or even extremely happy because people around us don’t know what to do with these feelings. 

Society expects us to only display ‘pastel colour emotions’ and we keep the extremely happy or sad moments to our nearest and dearest, if we are lucky to have people around us who accept us the way we are. They celebrate the great days with us and our successes, but they also allow us to have a bad hair-day. A pyjama-day, when we are not conquering the world on some mission to save the planet. When we curl up with a blanket, a hot chocolate and read a book. 

pyjama day.jpg

So when we set out to finish our studies and become a banker, a professor, an actor, to finally get a break that we have been waiting for or to set up and successfully run a sustainable, eco-friendly business that supports communities and also makes a lot of profit, we need to know that it is ok to take some time off and just be. Be ourselves. Feel tired and have a pyjama day. Or just have a bad hair-day and roll around in the grass playing with our dog. Or children. And just be. It’s ok. Tomorrow is another day and there is plenty of time to get out there and achieve our goals. 

So the first step is knowing that there is a part of you that can handle whatever it is that you are trying to change and believing that you can change.  

There is a part of us, I mean the voice all of us have in our minds that says its ok to not exercise today, its ok to have that brownie and purge later, it’s ok to have another glass of wine, or joint or whatever, not the end of the world. And that voice is just that. The part of us. 

BUT there is also another part of us. The strong one, who can take control. The one that managed to do things we never thought we could, but we did it anyway. And that part of us can help us out if we listen to it, and put it back in charge. This is the part of us that can stop us from destroying ourselves. The part of us that can put us back on track. I see it in people who have been through incredibly difficult times, trauma, emotional rollercoasters, and they all tap into it when they had enough of the cycle of self-pity and self-destruction. 

There is a way to do anything you want. It starts with admitting that you are a perfect human being with flaws. Exactly how you should be. 

And when you get a bit tired of striving to be an eco-friendly, sustainability conscious, fit and healthy, gorgeous looking, inspiring success story, it's also ok to have a pyjama day now and then. You can start to conquer your world again tomorrow. 

Margareta James / Harley Street Wellbeing Clinic