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Habit Formation

Combat Control, Competition, and Perfection With Two Words

Refocus on root causes and use a calming mantra to ground yourself.

Key points

  • Perfectionism, a form of anxiety, flows from one's elders to the next generations.
  • Avoid competition in families or offices. It is a dysfunctional relationship dynamic and rarely ends well.
  • Comparing one's family member to others will leave hurt feelings for all. Accept different as doable.
  • No one lines up to be controlled. If you control and rationalize it, your own difficulties are at the root.

“Calm down,” someone tells you, or worse yet, gifts you a mug emblazoned with “keep calm and carry on.” Does this really help you to keep calm or feel a bit judged?

In moments of emotional overwhelm or literally too much to do, let’s replace the dreaded “calm down” with two words that remind you to breathe, refocus, and compartmentalize less.

The occasions where you need a mantra may occur any time of the year, but often at key times when your to-do list runneth over during special events or holidays, end of a work quarter, when tying up a key project, or aiming to impress people. We wrap ourselves up in anxiety because we often strive to:

Be perfect. A Martha Stewart table set for twelve or twenty, a wedding fit for a magazine, holiday gifts wrapped as if professionals procured them. Media images, movies, and generational messages that leave no room for “good enough” embed their way into our self-talk. The result becomes overwhelm, feeling tightly wound until, sometimes, people snap. If we’re not striving for perfection, we often…

Compete. Closely aligned with the above pressures, people compete to feel more attached to those they want to impress, compare themselves to others, or prove something to themselves. Certain competitions are healthy, such as academic honors or sports, science fairs, or award competitions.

Within smaller groups like families or offices, competition usually doesn’t end well, bringing out the worst in the competitors. Sibling rivalry. Going all Griswold until Santa’s electric sled falls off the roof, worse yet, if the homeowner lands with it!

We see it over simple meals or family or in-law alliances where parents compete for their child’s loyalty. Children, even adult kids, often feel like pawns on a chessboard moving in reaction to others, and later when they are older, never realizing a balance with an added cast of stepfamily or in-law characters, which leads to another dysfunctional thing people fall prey to…

Comparisons. Social media sets us up to compare both ourselves and others to unrealistic standards. Body Evolution is an insightful video that shows the before and after effects of Photoshop and the unrealistic beauty standards we, particularly as women, hold ourselves to.1 Men might be surprised if they watch Body Evolution.

During key events, have you ever felt pressured to spend or keep up with others?

“You must spend $125 on my girlfriend’s gift because that’s what her family spends on mine,” a son told his parents. When the parents asked for ideas, they got one idea rather than the chance to choose a gift that would please her and represent them.

They went along, indulging once, but suspected they’d set an uneasy precedent. Not long after it happened again, they gave according to their values and budget and had fun selecting rather than being informed what to give. Good habit formation is crucial as families expand, especially.

Comparisons also set up unrealistic expectations with a penchant for conformity. There is a reason the late Fred M. Rogers closed each of his television visits with “I like you just the way you are. There’s no one else like you.” He did so out of respect and to value each person for being themselves, as is evident in so many clips from his program.2

Different is okay. When we accept people for who they are, where they are, what’s happened to them, and what they have to offer, we show genuine respect, kindness, and compassion. Finally, another dysfunctional thing we strive for is…

Source: Mitry/Pixabay

Control. Name a person who likes to be controlled. Now, name a few people you may see as controlling. The first list is often zero to a few; the second is much larger.

Control seems to go off the rails at highly stress-filled times like holidays, weddings, and other occasions. It can speak to entitlement, manipulation, or simple stress. "Bridezilla" is a term coined out of such; control freak is another unpleasant moniker.

Holidays put most people up against choices of how and with whom to spend time. A wedding site grants reasonable holiday options, with inclusivity and rotating visits among the wise choices.3 As the article explains, fairness is key so as not to prioritize some people over others.

High levels of internal anxiety causes people to control others as they project their deep-seated fears onto others. Conflicts escalate, relationships sour as does trust.4 And, control can be driven by hidden anger and evident by passive-aggression.5

Control is often rooted in difficult personality traits. It's often rationalized away. Big mistake. The more troubling and selfish traits one has, the more ingrained the behavior and the more it adversely affects those in its midst–the stuff therapists hear often.

So finally, the two words that allow us to give up perfection, competition, comparisons, and control are these, "Oh, well."

Simple, yes, so apologies if the build-up to "oh well" led you to expect a mightier phrase. Simple works:

“Oh well, I didn’t get that done today, but I can do it just as much in a few days.”

“Oh well, it’s not what I’m used to, but change is good, and differences help us grow.”

“Oh well, I’ll do me, and they can do them.”

“Oh well, she may opt to control, but I can respond or truly have control over my life/my choices.”

Next time overwhelm sets in, say to yourself or out loud: “Oh well,” for those two words have a centering, grounding effect like few others. Breathe deeply. Make choices that reflect you and your values, and above all, review your own faulty thinking that leads you into these four faulty behavior traps that never end well.

© Copyright 2022 by Loriann Oberlin. All rights reserved.


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