In a world of plastic surgery, pore-blurring primer, air-brush phone filters and spell checkers, flaws and mistakes can feel unacceptable. It seems fairly ridiculous written down, but what we often do is compare ourselves to the idea of a perfect woman. This is a lose-lose game. It goes back to our deep-seated fear that if we show weakness or vulnerability, we won’t be liked or accepted, or that deep down, we’ll never be good enough or lovable. Ouch.
Many people wrongly assume perfectionism is a good thing.
It’s good to have high standards, right?
It’s probably something you’ve been complimented on before more than a few times.
Your boss loves your attention to detail and work ethic.
Your partner appreciates how you have thought of everything.
Friends compliments your ‘perfect’ nails, immaculate handwriting, or Michelin-worthy cooking.
But if you’ve been looking for ways to tackle your perfectionism, chances are you’ve woken up to the fact that there is a massive cost that comes from having such high standards.
That’s because perfectionism is not the pursuit of what’s good, it’s actually the pursuit of the worst in yourself and others – because you’re always finding fault.
Your mind homes in on the problems, blemishes, faults, and issues with everything (yourself included).
When you’re a perfectionist, it’s never good enough, no matter how good something is. The bar is always just out of reach.
And while the things you do may be of a high standard you might find that actually finishing (or starting) things is a struggle because you’re afraid of not meeting your own impossible standards.
If you have a messy desk or thousands of unopened emails, you might think there’s no way you’re a perfectionist. But perfectionism can show up in ways that are less obvious, such as fear of being disliked for your choices, for what you say, or how you look. You might avoid doing anything that risks making you look silly or that you’re a beginner at, or you might be highly critical of yourself or others.
Common Traits of a Perfectionist include:
- Setting impossibly high standards for yourself and others.
- Believing that if something is worth doing, it must be done perfectly.
- Being super emotionally invested in how well you do things.
- Procrastination, fear of failure and anxiety
What are the causes of perfectionism?
The causes of perfectionism are not entirely clear, but there are a variety of potential causes. One theory is that it comes from not feeling good enough and a desire to feel better about yourself. Getting praise, impressing others, and doing things well give you a number of rewards – in terms of appreciation from others, compliments, or even financial rewards when you’re an adult.
Another possible cause of perfectionism is the family environment in which one grew up. Children might grow up in families where high standards always have been set and those high standards are expected to continue as the child grows older. In order to avoid punishment and disapproval, the child may fall into a pattern of perfectionism.
Is perfectionism ever good for you?
If you’re a brain surgeon or nuclear physicist, rock on. In your case, perfectionism may be essential for your work. In fact, look away now – we need your perfectionist tendencies to stay intact! For everyone else, it’s safe for you to take some of the pressure off yourself and lower your standards a bit so that you can live a calmer and happier life.
What are the benefits of overcoming perfectionism?
The peace that comes from accepting what is, regaining more of your time that you’re not spending checking and perfecting things, and having a kinder, happier relationship with yourself and others are all incredible benefits that come when you overcome your perfectionism. Need I say more?
How to Overcome Perfectionism:
The first step to overcoming perfectionism is being aware of it! Once you are able to identify your problem with perfectionism, then you can start working on overcoming it.
I have 4 suggestions for overcoming perfectionism:
Embrace the mess
Human beings are messy. We sweat, bleed, fart and secrete. We get spots, flakes and lumps, and bumps. We cry, get scared, feel angry and sad. We fall over, say the wrong thing, and forget to take the bins out in time. To try to hide all of this is impossible; being flawed is part of the deal. We cannot contort ourselves into neat little, sweet-scented, smooth-skinned packages. Perfectionists hate admitting their mistakes or putting themselves in a vulnerable position, but working through that vulnerability and owning up to your mistakes shows self-respect and confidence. If I notice perfectionist thoughts coming up I remind myself ‘I’m human, making mistakes is part of the deal. I can learn from this and move on.
Change the way you speak to yourself
Instead of beating yourself up, or judging yourself harshly, start speaking to yourself in a kinder, more encouraging, and rational way. Try saying some of these statements to yourself instead:
‘Everyone says the wrong thing at times and it’s really no big deal.’
‘I am so much more than my appearance – imperfections are beautiful when you embrace them.’
‘No one is perfect!’
‘My best is always enough.’
‘Don’t let perfect get in the way of great.’
‘Everyone makes mistakes at times, it’s just being human.’
Remember your progress
While perfection is actually a myth (we’re way too messy as human beings for that) progress is something all of us can strive for. It’s human to fail, to make mistakes, and to experience setbacks. But one thing is constant, we’re always learning and making progress. Can you focus on progress, rather than perfection, and embrace the fact that failures are all part of the learning experience? What progress have you made lately?
Focus on what’s good
Because perfectionism is the pursuit of what’s worst in yourself and others, having a practise of looking for what’s good can train your mind to reverse this trait. Numerous studies have been done into gratitude and how it changes the way we think about things and makes us more positive. Each day, find 3-5 specific things to be grateful for. Your partner’s amazing curry, the sunlight coming through the kitchen window, a delicious hot chocolate, a good hand day, a work project completed. Searching for what’s good shifts your focus and becomes a habit whereby you notice more and more positive things. It can also be helpful to focus on self-appreciation where you find things to appreciate about yourself. If this is challenging to do, it’s a sign that it’s the ideal exercise for you to practise. Slowly, it will start to train your mind to think of yourself more positively.
Hopefully, this has given you a new perspective on perfectionism. Let me know in the comments ONE thing you’re taking away from this article.