Today’s guest tells us that the very idea of perfect happiness is an illusion. Being perfect will not make us happy, and happiness is not perfection. But we all still think if we can just reach one more goal, fix one more thing, be just a little better, that will be the key to happiness. Join us as Poppy Jamie and Gabe Howard discuss how to get over these feelings and accept yourself, even if you’re not perfect.
Poppy Jamie is an entrepreneur, influencer, a rising star in the mental health and mindfulness space, and the author of “Happy Not Perfect: Upgrade Your Mind, Challenge Your Thoughts, and Free Yourself from Anxiety.” She launched the “Not Perfect” podcast and the Happy Not Perfect app after 4 years of researching behavioral studies and developing the app with neuroscientists, researchers, and her mom, a neurotherapist. She has been featured in the New York Times, Wired, Fast Company, Refinery29, Forbes, Vogue, Bustle, Cosmo, E!, NBC News, and MTV. See more at PoppyJamie.com.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of Inside Mental Health, a Psych Central Podcast. I’m your host Gabe Howard and calling into our show today we have Poppy Jamie. Ms. Jamie is the author of Happy, Not Perfect and the host of the Not Perfect Podcast. She has been featured in The New York Times, Wired, Vogue, Bustle and NBC News, just to name a few. Ms. Jamie, welcome to the show.
Poppy Jamie: Hi, Gabe, how are you?
Gabe Howard: Oh, I am doing great, and I’m so excited to have you here. Now, the topic of today’s podcast is how to be happy with yourself, even if you aren’t perfect. Basically, don’t sweat the small stuff. Easier said than done, especially in today’s fast paced and social media driven world. The small stuff gains the most traction. A little while back, the news cycle was dominated by the first lady and the Duchess of Cambridge wearing the exact same shoes to their first meeting. I mean, what nonsense? How do we put aside this constant nagging desire to be perfect?
Poppy Jamie: Well, that’s a great question, and I think there are so many answers, answers that are very individual to the person because we have pretty much forever been conditioned to aspire to this illusion of perfect, this idea that we can reach a state in life where there are no problems. And of course, that doesn’t tend to exist or it’s a fleeting moment, and then we feel deeply imperfect again. A way to start with would be to remember that perfect doesn’t exist. This idea that life can become this problem free, always extremely happy, everything’s going smoothly place is an illusion and something that we probably might only see in Disney films, but actually accepting that life is always an up and down adventure and one that really is beautiful because of its imperfection, is easier said than done because, of course, at the heart of all of us, we crave that feeling of perfection.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that you talk about a lot is silencing or calming your inner critic. Now I imagine that is easier said than done. What strategies do you use to accomplish that lofty goal?
Poppy Jamie: Most of us have a very, very loud, inner critic and our inner critic, it’s so devilish because, of course, it knows our worst fears, our inner secrets. It can tell us the most triggering things about ourselves. wwwThe power of pause was initially the most amazing thing in disarming that voice, because our world tells us to be busier and busier and busier and when we’re so busy, we don’t have time to question with curiosity what this voice is actually saying and if this voice is actually true.
Poppy Jamie: And I was so hectic saying yes to everything being a bit of a people pleaser. And so the moment when I learned the power of pause to actually stop in the middle of this voice telling me whatever it is, whatever negative thing or critical thing it’s trying to taunt me with. Pause to ask the question Is this true? Like, Is this true what I’m being told? For example, I would be on a podcast, I’d be talking to you and I’d have a voice in my head being like, Oh my God, the audience hates you. You could have answered that question better. They probably think you’re useless. I would have imposter syndrome. You know, you’re not good enough for this podcast, and I would be so anxious while I was doing my job. But the power of pause and the power of curiosity instead goes, Well, how do you know the audience hates you? You can’t look into the audience minds. And how do you know that you’re not good enough for this podcast? Is this true? How does this sort make you feel? Well, it doesn’t make me feel very good.
Poppy Jamie: It makes me lose my confidence. It makes me have really low self-esteem. And who would I be without this thought? Well, I’d be happy. I’d be my best self. I’d be just doing my best, which is the only thing that any of us can do.
Gabe Howard: Now, I understand that you suffered serious bouts of anxiety and imposter syndrome.
Poppy Jamie: Yes, I mean, impostor syndrome is such a weird thing, because it comes from a very, very loud inner critic telling you that you’re not good enough and you should be better. And why on earth would somebody hire you. Or ability gets you somewhere and then your inner critic tells you that you are undeserving of where you’ve got to. And again pulls you apart, makes you focus on your weaknesses far more than your strength and is a precursor to anxiety, to feeling very fearful that you’re going to be found out or you’re lying or you’re doing something immoral by just being you. And it’s just such a destructive experience to be in, and so many people experience that. I mean, I had it for years. I was a TV host before I started working on the mental health app I built and then writing the book, and every time I was on television, I would be interviewing someone in front of millions, and my inner critic would be like, You’re going to mess up, you’re going to mess up. You shouldn’t be here. Why should they give you the job? And it’s a really uncomfortable state to be in long term. And look, everybody gets it now and again, and in small bits, maybe it can be a good thing. Maybe it can encourage you to see where you could improve. Or, you know, in small bits, it’s no bad thing. But when it becomes actually the majority of your thoughts, that’s when actually it becomes quite debilitating and actually prevents you from growing and it prevents you from you being your best self.
Gabe Howard: You mentioned workaholism and burnout very, very strongly in your book. What was that like for you?
Poppy Jamie: So workaholism is such a strange thing, because even this idea of being addicted to work feels a bit weird and really like, is that even possible? And for me, from a young age, work became an escape from my problems. And Mandy Seligman, an amazing psychologist and speaker, I remember reading her definition of addiction, which is any behavior we partake in that is outside of ourselves used to heal an internal wound is often an addiction. I used work as a way to make me feel better inside. But the problem with that is when we put our self-esteem or our happiness or our self-worth and anything outside of ourselves, we become vulnerable to it being taken away. So if work wasn’t going well, that meant I was useless. That was total evidence for my inadequacy. But when work went well, I felt a bit good. Every time I felt insecure and not good enough, I would just think to myself, just work harder, just work harder, just put another hour in. And when your work goes well, you won’t feel like this anymore.
Poppy Jamie: So I became more and more addicted to working harder to make my feeling of not being good enough, like make it go away. But obviously, no addiction, nothing outside of ourselves can fix an internal wound. And that was a very hard lesson I had to learn. And then that really was the precursor to burnout, because every time I felt insecure, I wasn’t really addressing why I felt insecure. I wasn’t really addressing the fundamental principles of developing this sense of self-acceptance. Instead, I would use external things to try to make me feel differently. And after a while of trying to work harder and harder to make myself feel better, my body just completely collapsed. I had no energy left to work any harder than I was. And that’s when I really had a cold shower reality check because I really had to look at what I was doing in life as a safety mechanism that really wasn’t a safety mechanism. It was destructive and toxic.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with Poppy Jamie, the author of “Happy Not Perfect.” Let’s talk about strategies to overcome these feelings, what strategies did you personally use to overcome them?
Poppy Jamie: And it really comes down to the four Cs. So first of all, connecting, the first step connection. Connecting to actually what was going on inside rather than ignoring it. And that is one of the most powerful steps that we can all do. The ancient Greeks said the famous quote know thyself. And self-awareness, actually understanding what is going on inside, to actually acknowledge, embrace, recognize, face up to how you are feeling. So that was the first thing just to get very honest with myself, connect to how I was feeling inside and a part of the connection was to really think about, well, what sort of connection was I having with myself? I start to recognize my anxiety would go up when I was very sedentary. So when I was stuck at my desk in front of my laptop for 12 hours a day, I would pretty much every single time feel very anxious afterwards. I began to explore, Well, how could I connect with myself in a different way? How would I feel after a 20 minute walk? How would I feel after a three minute dance party? That was a critical tool, changing the way my relationship with my mind was actually through my physical body, changing my physical energy.
Poppy Jamie: Using and changing my connection with my body was the best way to do it. So 10 Star jumps, 20-minute brisk walk, or even a five minute run, or even just six belly breaths. Often, we talk about mental health totally separately from physical health, and physical health practitioners talk about mental health totally separately from the body. Actually to feel better, I had to reconnect the body and the mind and really realize that if I wasn’t looking after my basic health, like if I wasn’t sleeping, if I wasn’t eating nutritious meals, if I wasn’t nurturing my need to have touch like, you know, stroking my dog or hugging friends, then I wasn’t meeting my basic human needs. And if I wasn’t exercising and moving my body, then I couldn’t expect to feel good because that is a vital part of us just nourishing our basic health. Good mental health starts with good basic health, physical health, and that was a big part of the connection steps. And then some other tools.
Poppy Jamie: We spoke about curiosity earlier, which was a huge tool for step two. Step three is about the choice to be kind to ourselves. Often in life, we don’t always have the choice to be happy because we’ve seen a huge challenge and having to handle a lot and happiness feels like an emotion we can’t quite get to, and that’s totally OK. Every emotion is really valid, but the one thing we always do have a choice over is being kind to ourselves. How do we treat ourselves like a friend? How do we say things like, Well, what would I advise a friend experiencing what I am now? On the whole, we are so much kinder to our friends than we are to ourselves, and this was a big tool in helping me recover from anxiety, burnout, perfectionism and all the other things that I went through and quite a significant and destructive way.
Poppy Jamie: I had totally forgotten to be kind to myself at all, and bringing back kindness to the conversation was so important in allowing myself to heal. And when we have more compassion to ourselves, I think we have more compassion for life in general. Less things annoy us. We don’t feel the need to be right the whole time because we’re OK. We’re happier with ourselves in general, and step four is about commitment. How do we commit to knowing that whatever we are going through in life, it’s an opportunity for us to learn and commit to action aligned with our values of who we want to be, not just aligned with where we’ve come from. And all of us are a product of our past. Wherever we have gone through has led us to be the person we are today. But what I think is so amazing about commitment to action and committing to being present is our ability to change. Our life is really here in the present. That’s the power we have to change because we can choose to react to life in a different way and suddenly our reality looks to be very different.
Gabe Howard: I still have to ask, Ms. Jamie, what does it mean to be happy, but not perfect? Because even as I sit here, I think, well, I’d be happy if I were perfect.
Poppy Jamie: Oh, my gosh. Did I not think that. That was my belief for very, very, many years. Well, when I’m perfect, I’ll be happy. And the thing is, we often never reach perfection because we always thought we could do a little bit better. We could just do a little bit better. And that’s the sad thing about humans is that as soon as we reach a goal, we suddenly go, Oh, well, I can reach another goal now. And we spend our lifetime just running off to the next goal and never really truly appreciating what we have and being happy and always finding faults with ourselves. So anyone who’s self-critical will fully understand the pain is in realizing that we’re all very un-perfect. So happy, not perfect is about accepting that happiness is not perfect. You know, if we accept that happiness is flawed, then we can be happy so much more because it means we’re not waiting to have something or be something for us to feel really good feelings about ourselves. So happy, not perfect is a great way for us to really self appreciate, to appreciate where we’ve been to get to this point, what we’ve gone through. And I know every single person listening will have gone through their own unique set of challenges. But appreciating that has given me so much more happiness and actually develop that feeling of being a bit proud of ourselves for getting through everything we have. So, yes, happy, not perfect is appreciating the people we are today.
Gabe Howard: Ms. Jamie, thank you so much for being here. Do you have any final thoughts for our listeners on how to live our best life and be happy and not perfect?
Poppy Jamie: I think two questions I would say. The one question, how would I advise a friend experiencing what I am now? That is such a powerful question because it actually helps you tap into the wise part of your brain and not be reacting with just the emotional part of your brain. When we are thinking about ourselves, we’re usually lost in the emotional side of the brain, and that’s often when we then kind of hype up our feelings of anxiety and whatever else. And second of all, commit to asking, Why is this happening for me rather than why is this happening to me? I think when things happen in life, it’s so easy for us to immediately become our own victim. And I certainly do and ask questions like, Oh, why does this always happen? But actually, when we realize that every obstacle is there to grow and evolve to make us even stronger. And it’s actually trying to maybe put us on a more aligned path. I think living with optimism, why is this happening for me and really, truly accepting that the world we live in is a compassionate world. It always does want the best for us, and it may not seem it at the time, but there’s a lot of illusion going around. But trusting that things are working out has been a really wonderful way to live life and it’s definitely helped me.
Gabe Howard: Where can people find out more about you and get your book?
Poppy Jamie: Ok. Thank you so much for having me on the show, people can find me @PoppyJamie on Instagram or online, PoppyJamie.com. And you can find Happy Not Perfect the book out on every bookstore really, wherever you buy your books. And I really, really hope it resonates with your listeners, so thank you so much for having me on.
Gabe Howard: Oh, I’m sure that it will. My listeners love stuff like this and of course, even myself, I’m like, Well, this show is not perfect. It’s like, Well, it sounded really good and everybody loved it. And you know, all these people listen to it. I know. But there was this blip that if you turn up the volume all the way and you listen really hard, it’s there.
Poppy Jamie: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: It’s like, you’re kidding, Gabe, what? What more do you want to be happy? But that’s how I feel. I can’t help it.
Poppy Jamie: Oh, I know, gosh, I know, I know it’s something that never really leaves us, only slightly managed better.
Gabe Howard: Very true, very true. Again, thank you so very much for being here, it was an absolute pleasure.
Poppy Jamie: Thank you so much, Gabe.
Gabe Howard: You’re welcome, and a huge thank you to all of our listeners as well. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of, “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations,” as well as a nationally recognized public speaker who would love to be at your next event. You can grab a signed copy of my book with free swag or learn more about me over at gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this podcast, please follow or subscribe, it is absolutely free, because you don’t miss a thing. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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