Psychological Self-Help

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experiment to test the idea that people won't respect you if you are
not successful (actually many will like you better when you mess up
occasionally and admit it), (6) learn to handle criticism by role playing
that situation (see chapter 13), and (7) experiment with different
standards, i.e. try for an "average" meal, a "below average" essay
answer, a "poor" appearance one day and "a little above average" the
next, etc. Bring a little variety into your life, not just perfect, perfect,
perfect... Loosen up, it's usually more relaxed and fun that way. 
Another self-help book (Elliott & Meltsner, 1990) also shows how to
tell the subtle but important differences between seeking excellence
and demanding perfection of yourself. Striving to do your best is very
different from insisting on being perfect and better than everyone else.
One is free; the other is a slave to an impossible standard. One
welcomes challenges, the other dreads the task because he/she may
not be perfect this time and someone else might do better. One faces
the reality that people and things are not perfect, the other lives a lie,
believing everything has to be done well. Elliott and Meltsner identify
four types of perfectionists and, like Burns, suggest ways to stop
driving yourself crazy. People who can't tolerate uncertainty--and who
insist that the world be the way they want it to be--are likely to be
There are, of course, payoffs for being a worrier (worrying is also
discussed in chapter 5, both under worries and obsessions). Examples
of payoffs: in many instances, moderate worry will motivate us to
work harder and create better solutions but excessive worry interferes
with careful thinking and usually wastes time. Yet, we often have the
illusory belief that worrying a lot will help prevent something bad from
happening. Besides, if the outcome is bad, we feel less guilty and
disappointed if we have worried and fretted over the matter. Also, if
we worry a lot, people will think we are trying hard, e.g. a worried
parent thinks this proves he/she is a good parent and assumes others
will see him/her the same way. Worriers make mountains out of mole
hills; that may get them attention. Moreover, if you worry and
exaggerate the awfulness of some possible event, if and when it
actually happens, you experience the event as less scary than if it
were unanticipated. 
It may also seem safe to become like your own parent who was a
worrier. We may falsely attribute good fortune to worrying; thus, a
person who worries about being assaulted, and never is, may think the
worrying has paid off. Worrying about the outcome of a project may
actually interfere with its completion; an unfinished project avoids
failure (it can't be perfect). Worry often diverts attention away from
the real concern: a young person worrying about being assaulted in
the big city may actually be more concerned about leaving home and
his/her parents. Likewise, the mother worried about her children may
really be more concerned about her marriage. Certainly, no one enjoys
feeling a little mistaken, not quite a "10" in looks, a little irresponsible
or criticized by their parents, but perfectionism, self-criticism, and
worry seem to yield unhealthy payoffs. By honestly understanding the
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