Perfectionism Self-Help: Fish Don't Survive in Perfect Water

March 1, 2011 Becky Oberg

A samurai teaches perfectionism self-help that helped me get a grip on my attitude toward imperfections and my ability to live a calm and peaceful life.

I love to read, especially books that make me think and offer perfectionism self-help for, well, perfectionism. One of my much-loved treasures is Bushido: The Way of the Samurai. This book is based on the Hagakure, and is a philosophy of Eighteenth-Century Japanese warriors. Here's some perfection self-help I can pass on from Japanese warriors.

"It sometimes happens that, if the water is too clear, then the fish will no longer dwell there," said author Tsunetomo Yamamoto. "When there are algae and water plants, fish can safely grow by hiding behind the plants." He explains that sometimes overlooking perceived imperfections is essential to a calm, peaceful life.

It is an extremely Zen way of saying "Nobody's perfect." But Yamamoto takes it a step further by saying perfection can be undesirable.

Perfectionism Self-Help from Yamamoto

Imperfection can be good.

When the water is clear, it appears perfect--but it can't accomplish its purpose of providing a home to fish. The fish need the water to have some cloudiness in order to survive. In a poetic contradiction, what outsiders perceive as blemishes enables the water to accomplish its purpose.

So how does this apply to borderline personality disorder (BPD)?

Schema therapy teaches that unrelenting standards and hypercriticalness is a trap easy for people with BPD to fall into. This is one I have. When something doesn't meet my standards, I become upset. Prior to my time in the BASE Program, this would lead to depression, anger, and self-injury. Now I know how to recognize that trap.

I took Latin in fourth grade, and the teacher often said "The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement." Perfection is impossible. Any striving to improve should be done with this thought in mind.

Expecting perfection hinders enjoyment of the good.

I am also an avid gamer. My favorite video games are open-world role-playing games. I have a copy of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Game of the Year (GotY) edition.

Recently, I decided I would undertake every quest in the game--probably the unrelenting standards kicking in. However, I soon found this would not be possible during "Cure for Vampirism", an optional side quest. During a mission for a witch that involved my character going all over Creation in search of ultra-rare ingredients, I discovered she would not accept one of them.

Frustrated, I went to's answer board and discovered there is apparently a glitch in this mission in the GotY edition. The way to fix it was to insert a non-GotY edition and use it to overwrite the glitch. I decided I had neither the time, money or desire to hunt down a backup copy.

I also decided that I enjoyed the game and was not going to let the glitch interfere with the fun I was having. I accepted that there was nothing I could do about the problem, and adjusted my expectations accordingly.

Perfection and self-destruction.

Normally, I hate entertainment "news"--trust me, you don't want to get me started. However, when I heard about Charlie Sheen's "rock star from Mars" and "Adonis DNA" quotes, I decided to watch the interview to see exactly how bizarre it would get.

Sheen, who is "tired of pretending I'm not special", is apparently convinced he's perfect. The water is clear--he's the prize fish in a perfect pond--and that makes him easy prey.

As long as Sheen refuses to see his imperfections, he will not recognize the danger he is in. Acknowledging one's weaknesses--the plants in the water--keeps us in touch with our mortality and helps us make wise decisions. Wise decisions lead to a calm, peaceful life--one thing Sheen doesn't have.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2011, March 1). Perfectionism Self-Help: Fish Don't Survive in Perfect Water, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 23 from

Author: Becky Oberg

Leave a reply