SETTING THE BAR TOO HIGH

"You've no idea what a poor opinion I have of myself-- and how little I deserve it."
William Gilbert
Have you ever watched an Olympic pole-vaulter? After successfully hurdling the bar at a certain level, how does an athlete determine the level at which to raise it next time? What drives him to make that decision?
The same thing that drives most people to respond to an increased demand or challenge: The Director. That internal experience that serves as a criterion for "how well you are doing." Striving to improve is one thing. But for many individuals, The Director can be a deceptive, harmful instrument of destruction. It is an inner critical voice, gut feeling, or vision that repeatedly screams, "No, no...Cut! Let's try it again, and this time give me more-- I want it perfect!"
Phil is an extraordinarily gifted musician and composer. His celebrated musical compositions are widely published, and performed by some of the country's most prominent orchestras. Yet he is constantly plagued by an aura of frustration and depressing self-statements, leading to relentless revisions, tantrums and isolation from his family and friends. The acclaim and the supportive, empathic comments of others fall on deaf ears. Because, despite their best intentions, he knows that they don't know what's missing. They don't understand perfection. The Director makes you engage in a variety of difficult behaviors, all of which have an unconscious intent: To protect you from embarrassment and other emotional pain or physical harm, by driving you to be "perfect." That is, to strive toward achieving an ill-defined, unattainable level of performance; like a greyhound chasing that elusive "rabbit."
In time, The Director may grow stronger-- too strong, perhaps even out of control-- firing-off volley after volley of negative feedback, driving someone to set the bar so high that success becomes counter-productive. It's like having a radio station in your head continuously broadcasting your shortcomings! After repeated failures, that individual will acquire a set of negative beliefs about his or her abilities, displaying low self-esteem. This often leads to self-destructive behaviors such as alcohol abuse, smoking and drug addiction. Moreover, an out-of-control Director, crazed with power, can create so much frustration and misery that a serious depression, requiring treatment may follow. With The Director at the helm, it is often difficult to steer your life in a satisfactory manner. The latter would require your having a criterion for successful performance in the form of positive feelings or complimentary feedback from others.
Do you ever allow yourself the opportunity to feel satisfied for performing in some way? When someone compliments you, can you accept it gracefully? Or does your Director step in and reject it, through rationalization ("She would never have said that if she knew the real me"). A strong Director is rarely satisfied-- always striving for something that is not there.
"So in order to consciously achieve success in the various aspects of my life, how do I act differently? Just walk off the set?"
No. Just fire The Director! Then hire a new one; an internal experience that will allows you to be satisfied To install this new director in its rightful place, you need to provide it with several criteria for knowing when to allow satisfaction to happen. Make yourself comfortable, take a few deep breaths and relax.

  1. When in your personal history you have ever felt accomplished, successful or comfortable about even the most minute achievement?
  2. Has there ever been an occasion in which you failed at something, and then found a creative, novel way to succeed?
  3. Did you ever fear negative consequences you believed were absolutely inevitable, only to be relieved by the actual positive outcome which occurred?
  4. Was there ever a time when you were sure you had acted foolishly-- everyone would ridicule you-- and then, to your surprises and delight, the expected reactions fell short of your expectations?

(5) Have you ever really enjoyed a meal? Think of a time when you knew what you had selected and eaten was extremely good. So good that you also felt that you could not place another morsel in your mouth...or you would explode! As you consider these experiences, pay attention to the kinds of internal responses which occur. Your new director may then use these to set the bar at a height conducive to success.