Unbundling the habits hindering us

I want to use my final post featuring ideas from Tal Ben-Shahar’s book The Pursuit of Perfect to explore how an open, curiosity-driven and appreciative approach can be applied to understanding our resistance to change. As Ben-Shahar focuses on perfectionism, I will use it as an example, however I believe that the method he has suggested is much more widely applicable.

“Once I define those areas where I want to change and those where I do not, I am likely to be less conflicted and consequently more ready to change.” p. 171

Like many of our characteristics, perfectionism both helps and hinders us. If we fail to investigate its helpful aspects, we may miss valuable information about what makes us effective, and, at the same time, create larger barriers to changing those aspects of perfectionism that hinder our ability to perform at our best.

“Why was it so difficult for me to change my perfectionism, even though I knew that it was making me unhappy? Because although I saw perfectionism as problematic, I also associated it with being meticulous and driven. And because I didn’t want to be sloppy and lazy, I chose—or my subconscious chose for me—to remain a Perfectionist, despite the price I knew I was paying. To be able to change, we need a nuanced understanding of what exactly it is that we want to get rid of and what we want to keep.” p. 171

To find the energy and courage to change, we must remain open to the possibility that all of our characteristics offer something of value. We need to undertake to embrace rather than demonize those imperfect or unloved parts of ourselves. To sustain change, we need to work with rather than against our natures in the effort to create new ways of being. How might we achieve this? Ben-Shahar suggests using the process of unbundling, and offers a series of questions designed to help us implement this process (he credits Dina Nir with the basic form of these questions). Here are his questions (p. 171), using perfectionism as the example:

What does perfectionism mean to me?

What do I gain from being a Perfectionist?

What aspects of perfectionism am I proud of?

What price do I pay for being a Perfectionist?

What price do others pay for my perfectionism?

Which aspects of perfectionism do I want to keep?

Which elements of perfectionism do I want to get rid of?

By unbundling, we move from a fearful, all-or-none view of perfectionism to one that is more balanced. Getting curious about what perfectionism offers that is good and striving to appreciate its beneficial aspects can allow us to reframe these positive qualities in ways that unhook us from the other elements of perfectionism that diminish and derail us.


Tal Ben-Shahar. (2009). The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life. New York: McGraw Hill. Or the 2010 paperback Being Happy: You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Lead a Richer, Happier Life.

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The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Unbundling the habits hindering us

Mercy, Forgiveness and Resolutions for the New Year

“Turning personal or national suffering into a source for healing is never easy, but unless that remains our top priority, we’ll be left with a world in which everybody has a finely honed sense of how his particular past allows him to undermine someone else’s future.” p. 66

“[The] marriage of justice and revenge is always a death spiral. We know that all it does is give us just enough moral high ground to do to other people precisely what we wouldn’t want done to us.”

I had already chosen to focus on chapters 1-4 of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right in this post, however the material in chapter 3 – “The Shadow Side of Faith: Learning That We Can Be Both Victims and Victimizers” – and chapter 4 – “Vengeance, Forgiveness, Justice, and Mercy: Recognizing the Sacredness of All Our Feelings” – felt particularly apt given the ongoing conflicts around the world and the debate here in Germany over how to foster the integration of refugees without a loss of identity or integrity on either side.

With these quotes in mind, and, if you have read it, the first four chapters of Hirshfield’s book, consider the following questions:

  • What personal issue are you grappling with where you would benefit from letting go of old hurts? Where do you see your nation suffering from an inability to move beyond past wrongs?
  • When have you allowed your desire for justice cloud your judgment? When have you found room to exercise mercy and forgiveness rather than seek vengeance?
  • Where have you created difference, separation or rejection by labeling others? By labeling yourself? How can acknowledging and accepting diversity in yourself and in others help you to fashion a more integrated and balanced life?

Note that these need not be life or death concerns, they could be, as Hirshfield describes on page 94, as simple as sharing your distress and exploring possible motives after hearing a friend’s negative comments rather than holding a grudge, looking for an opportunity to respond in kind or pigeonholing him or her as rude and unpleasant.

I’d like to close with one more quote and a thought on resolutions for the new year:

“[T]raditions exist not to serve the faithful, but to help the faithful serve the world. The traditions are there for anyone to use to craft his or her own life.” p. 51

As we move into 2016, seek to craft your own life and better serve the world by rediscovering your own traditions and making connections with diverse traditions outside your own. This forges the diversity dividend.

*All quotations are from Brad Hirschfield. (2007). You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. New York: Harmony.

Creative Commons License
The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Mercy, Forgiveness and Resolutions for the New Year