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I confess I am a recovering perfectionist–it is something I remember struggling with as a child and something I am always working with. Fortunately, over the years I have eased my perfectionist tendencies and rather than being an every day occurrence they tend to only come out and play when I am stressed or anxious. Perfectionism is the belief and constant striving to do it perfect. At times this striving allows us to do things we wouldn’t normally do, work harder, do better. However, rationally we all know perfection doesn’t exist. It is when we lose perspective that perfection isn’t actually possible that the striving for perfection becomes unhealthy and down right debilitating. The danger of perfectionism is that it serves as a barrier not only from those around us but from our intuitive selves. By holding on to the belief that we CAN do it perfectly we continually strive for something that doesn’t exist. In an attempt to drive towards an impossible goal we can alienate ourselves and our loved ones.
Below are some of the things we say to ourselves as perfectionists and tips I have for changing those thoughts/behaviors.
“I can do it better” “If only I work harder I will achieve perfection”: This is a never-ending cycle because if what we are after doesn’t exist it doesn’t matter how hard we work. Now the positive of this belief is that we are constantly striving for more. We are challenging ourselves to grow and become stronger more whole human beings. The problem with this belief is we don’t celebrate our wins. We don’t enjoy the times when we reach a goal or hit a milestone. Rather we keep plowing ahead for that ever-elusive perfection.
Tip: Recognize when you have hit a milestone or goal, even if it wasn’t perfect. Throw frequent mini celebrations for trying or doing a great job even if it wasn’t perfect.
“If I had more time it would be better” This one belief is why a lot of perfectionists tend to be procrastinators. Because the reason the paper or project isn’t perfect isn’t because we failed but because we ran out of time. This belief is extremely tricky to change because we aren’t aware that we are procrastinating out of a fear of perfectionism.
Tip: If you are a procrastinator, get really honest as to why. If you are a chronic procrastinator and a perfectionist, chances are they are linked. Next time you have a project due, challenge yourself to not procrastinate, try to sit in the uncomfortableness of potentially not getting it done perfectly AND not having timing to blame it on.
“If I do it perfectly I won’t be disappointed” This is another one of those sneaky, hard to see unconscious beliefs. But somewhere we believe that being perfect will protect us from pain. As if perfection gives us an invisible shield against hurt and disappointment. We tell ourselves if we achieve perfection than everything will be ok.
Tip: This belief keeps us from really engaging in life. Truth is you will never be perfect and therefore you will never be enough. Start building awareness of how often you think to yourself, if only I were skinnier, cuter, or smarter. Each time you hear yourself saying this take a deep breath and remind yourself “I am ok as I am” “I am imperfect and lovable”. Then physically give yourself a hug, smile at yourself in the mirror, do a dance or give yourself a high five. The combination of changing the words in your head AND moving your body will slowly release the hold of perfectionism.
Perfectionism can be overcome. It can lessen and it doesn’t have to be the never ending carrot chasing that it feels like.
Are you a recovering perfectionism? How does your perfectionism serve you? How does it hurt you?