Make Friends With Your Perfectionism
Perfectionism can be a frustrating little pest. Wanting everything in our lives to be perfect is the quickest way to cultivate feelings of “I’m not good enough” down every corner we turn. Perfectionism can block us from being productive, intuitive, creative, and authentic. It can keep us from celebrating our progress. Perfectionism can also keep us from beginning something new or completing a project, for fear of not being the best. And it can keep us from enjoying the journey — feeling like our efforts are never enough.
All my life, I’ve felt the frustration of being an imperfect perfectionist. One day, I realized that life would feel a lot easier if I just accepted my perfectionism and learned to love it! Some say perfectionism is the enemy of progress, but if we can learn to harness the power of our perfectionism and make it our friend, it can begin to work for us, rather than against us!
Here are some ways we can make friends with that feeling, give ourselves a break, and love where we are today:
1. Honor the ways your perfectionism works for you.
There are lots of ways your perfectionist tendencies are already working for you. Let’s honor them! Maybe you have a great eye for detail that makes you a spectacular writer or editor. Maybe you’re a brilliant problem-solver, able to pick out discrepancies and find fast solutions with your highly critical eye. Maybe you’re terrific at travel planning, a meticulous chef, or a researcher who leaves no stone unturned. Maybe you love to take on challenges, knowing you’ll follow through. There are lots of ways your perfectionism serves you — make a gratitude list!
2. Laugh at the perfectionist; thank it, and keep moving.
You know the areas that your perfectionism trips you up most. Is it your diet, exercise plan or body? Your work? Your art? Your public image? When you feel the perfectionist tendency arising, notice it. Acknowledge it. Laugh, lovingly — saying “thank you — I realize I have the fierce drive to be successful in this area, which is awesome, but all I can do is put one foot in front of the other, knowing that doing my best — today — is enough!”
3. Celebrate your everyday successes.
At the end of the day, instead of thinking of all the things you still need to get done with that “What’s next?” mentality, take a few minutes to celebrate what you accomplished. Even the smallest positive steps forward are worthy of your celebration and acknowledgment. The more you celebrate the small steps, the more you’ll start feeling like a rock star every day of the journey — not just when your big goals are achieved.
4. Give yourself permission to change course.
If you’ve set up a strict, high-standard goal for yourself, make sure to check in along the way and see if you’re actually enjoying it. Is this course of action really working for you? Does it make you feel good or do you feel pressured and stressed out? Sometimes the only thing stressing us out is our own perfectionism. You’ll get better results if you allow some wiggle room for your intuition to flow in. Let your intuition work hand in hand with your high-achieving mentality, make commitments that feel exciting, and allow yourself the time to reflect and change course along the way.
5. Have compassion for yourself if you take a step backward, or if you’re struggling.
One of the pesky traits of perfectionism is beating ourselves up when we make a mistake or veer off course. If your best friend was going through a slump, a period of struggle, or seemingly took a step backwards from her ideals — how would you treat her? Probably with lots of compassion, encouraging words and love. Treat yourself the same way. Acknowledge that having perfectionist tendencies can make you hard on yourself, have compassion for that, and encourage yourself the way you would encourage a friend.
6. Learn to relax and embrace uncertainty.
Most people with perfectionist tendencies have trouble relaxing. There’s always something more you could be doing, another goal to be attained, something that can be fixed. Taking time to just relax and not work toward a goal can be exactly what you need to enjoy your life as it is now. Realize that no matter how hard you work or how much you analyze and control your life, things can always turn out totally different from what you anticipated. Giving yourself some time to really relax and enjoy life will only make you more productive when you do revisit your goals. So just do your best today, honor yourself for that, and then truly chill out! The serenity prayer helps: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
7. Get support!
Having a friend, mentor, coach, therapist or other sounding board can help you laugh and have fun with your inner perfectionist. When you’re feeling “not good enough” — tell someone! Out yourself. Just saying it out loud to someone else can relieve some of the pressure, help you let go, and make you realize you’re not alone in this wild, crazy, beautiful journey of life.
Jenny Sansouci, a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, writes about nutrition, health and personal development.
Photo credit: Liza