Being perfect… it sounds like such a good thing, right? I mean who doesn’t want to find the “perfect gift” or throw the “perfect holiday party”. But here’s the thing about perfect: It doesn’t exist. Not really. It’s a totally subjective concept. One person’s perfect can be another person’s disaster. So, the problem with being a perfectionist is that you are constantly chasing something elusive. Nothing you do is ever good enough which can lead to stress, anxiety and even depression.
As a recovering perfectionist, I know a thing or two about overcoming perfectionism. It is both super simple and really hard. It takes time and effort. But it is oh, so worth it in the long run. Since the holiday season is a time when even the most normal person suddenly feels the need to become Martha Stewart, this seemed like an appropriate time to share.
Are You a Perfectionist?
Most of us who are perfectionist know it. We are often described as having “exacting standards” or a “type A personality”. But in case you are in doubt, if you answer “yes’ to two or more of the below then you probably have a bit of a perfectionist problem.
- Does criticism send you into a tailspin?
- Are you a people pleaser?
- Do you sit in judgement of others?
- Do you have a hard time asking for and/or accepting help?
- Are you someone who fixates on your mistakes to the point of not functioning?
- Do you avoid things/activities at which you don’t excel?
- Is the word “should” a huge part of your vocabulary?
- Is delegating hard for you because you don’t trust others to get the job done?
Why is Overcoming Perfectionism Important?
At this point, you might be thinking that it isn’t such a bad thing to have high standards. And you’d be right. It’s a good thing to strive for excellence. It’s what makes any human being — athlete, businesswoman, doctor, artist — successful. But there is a huge difference between a desire to excel and a desire to be perfect. The former can be a motivator, but the latter can actually hold you back.
While most perfectionists do desire success, they are more focused on not failing. The irony in this is that success is the direct result of failure. How many times did you have to fall off your bike before you learned to ride a two wheeler? If you talk to any dynamo in any field, they have failed many times over. But they learned from their mistakes, picked themselves up and tried again. In fact, failure often leads to new possibilities. When you are wrapped up in being perfect, you become afraid to fail. Which closes so many doors. Overcoming perfectionism is really about opening yourself up fully to life. Skinned knees and all.
Tips for Overcoming Perfectionism
Many of my tips for overcoming perfectionism are the same ones that I would suggest for living a happier life. Interesting, right? Letting yourself off the hook relaxes your mind and body. It gets you out of a reactive state that is usually fear based and into a happier, calmer and more positive place. All of which increases your serotonin level. And since serotonin is the body’s “happy’ drug, you may find yourself smiling more. Give one or more of these a go and let me know what you think.
Enjoy the Ride: Whether you are actually in the car, wrapping presents, finishing up a project or cooking dinner, try to stay in the moment. Don’t focus on past mistakes or worry about your future “to do” list. Just stay present. It’s amazing what a relief being in the moment can be.
Gratitude Journal: I started this a couple of years ago and it has made a huge difference in my life. I begin every morning writing down 3 things for which I am grateful. Sometimes, it’s a stretch. I won’t lie. But doing this helps me to notice what is working in my life as opposed to what isn’t. This attitude shift has had a huge impact on my joy level. And my ability to forgive not just others, but also myself.
Stop Judging: This is a tough one. Judgement always comes from a place of fear. It’s about feeling superior. But the only reason that you need to feel better than someone else is because you don’t feel good about yourself. So, the next time that you find yourself commenting negatively on some stranger’s poor sartorial choices, turn it around and talk about what it is you do like. Maybe the woman’s skirt is not your cup of tea, but you applaud her confidence. Focusing on the positive reminds us that we are all unique individuals. Not perfect, just human.