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"Other people's beliefs may be myths, but not mine."
-- Mason Cooley


Part 3 of this series on escaping the perfection trap, I challenged the perfectionist's connection between performance and satisfaction. Now let's examine some of the common beliefs that sustain perfectionistic thinking.

One or more of the false beliefs presented below are commonly part of the self-talk that maintains perfectionistic thinking. Like the connection between performance and satisfaction, these beliefs are often unconscious and therefore go unchallenged by the perfectionist. But they continue to exert considerable influence.

In pointing out each falsely assumed belief, the point is to make them


and to fully acknowledge that they are


true and should be substituted with true counterbeliefs. That way, we can begin to dismantle the assumptions that support perfectionism.

Challenging False Beliefs

False Belief No. 1:

Perfectionism means following the rules to the letter, never deviating from what you're told.


It's OK not to take things too literally; it's OK to think for yourself and find creative solutions without relying strictly on rules and regulations.

False Belief No. 2:

You'll be punished if you don't always try to be perfect.


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You'll be punishing yourself if you keep trying to be perfect.

False Belief No. 3:

You ought to feel guilty if you don't perform perfectly.


You don't need to feel guilty as long as you try your best.

False Belief No. 4:

Thinking like a perfectionist makes you more perfect.


Thinking like a perfectionist makes you more miserable.

False Belief No. 5:

Being critical of others helps you feel superior to them.


Being critical of others only reveals your own need to feel superior to them and your underlying insecurity that goes with it.


can be critical.

False Belief No. 6:

People can be as perfect as smoothly running machines.


People are more like machines that continually need to be adjusted, tuned and periodically given complete overhauls.

False Belief No. 7:

Trying to keep things frozen in a state of stability will make for a more perfect life.


Without change, there would be no room for growth and new possibility.

Don't Push the River; It Flows by Itself

It seems like an obvious cliche: "The nature of life is constant change." While it may be obvious on the most surface level of observing the world beyond ourselves, we fight this truth all the time on the more intimate psychological and emotional levels. We don't allow our thoughts to keep changing as they are naturally inclined to do, but instead get caught in repeating obsessively the same negative thoughts until they cause anxiety and depression. We block the flow of our thoughts and then don't know how to stop this blocking.

Eastern philosophy teaches that the ability to flow skillfully with the river of inner and outer change puts us at one with life. Do you let yourself become part of this flow, or do you struggle to swim upstream against it? Where do you get stuck fighting the flow? Which beliefs are so important that you cling to them for dear life, so as not to get caught in the undertow?

Healthy striving for excellence means using all of your skills and talents to make creative adaptations to this ongoing flow -- not struggling to fight the changing nature of life -- and that includes the securities market. So traders are fond of the cliche "Don't fight the tape." This is about as close to Eastern wisdom as traders ever get.

And it's a nice metaphor for life beyond the markets: "Don't fight the tape. Learn to ride the ups and downs of the market of life."

Although stability and security are legitimate and powerful needs in our life, they are only one side of the coin. We must also acknowledge the other side, which represents the need for new stimulation, surprise, change and even disruption, chaos and transformation. Of course, part of the excitement of trading is that it rarely fails to deliver all of these conditions!

Those who are striving for excellence often experience this acceptance of change by enjoying the


of getting to the goal, not just focusing on the goal itself. The perfectionist tends to forget that the process of getting there is what creative adaptation to life is all about -- not just reaching some artificial goal, which is then quickly replaced by another goal, and then another.

Appreciative Mind vs. Judging Mind

It's possible to transform judging your behavior, others' behavior and the world in general into appreciating things just as they are. While the judging mind likes to focus on differences that lead to evaluating and comparing everything and everybody, the appreciative mind allows things to be left alone without comparison.

One way to work with the concept of appreciative mind is to walk around for a day with one simple idea in mind: Everything you do and everything you see others doing are to be appreciated, just as they are. To appreciate something means to "assign just value" to it. This may mean taking pleasure in it, receiving satisfaction from it or honoring and respecting it. It may mean simply accepting it, not wanting to change or judge it in any way.

For one day, see everything that you do as

just right

in its imperfection. Begin to notice how you can switch back and forth from your judging and comparing mind to appreciating all behavior as uniquely perfect just as it is. One form of enlightenment is the ability to consistently view the world and yourself in this way. Of course, they call it "enlightenment" because it isn't so easy to achieve!

Steven J. Hendlin, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Irvine, Calif. He has been in private practice for the last 26 years, investing for the last 20 years, and actively trading online as a position trader and long-term investor since 1996. He is the author of

The Disciplined Online Investor and maintains a site at He is pleased to receive your comments and questions for publication in his public forum columns at , but please remember that he is unable to provide personal counseling or psychotherapy through the mail. has a revenue-sharing relationship with under which it receives a portion of the revenue from Amazon purchases by customers directed there from