5 Ways to Manage Perfectionism
Trying to be perfect all the time can be exhausting. Feeling like you’re never measuring up can wear you down in ways you didn’t think were possible. If you let it, perfectionism can negatively impact your self-esteem, affect depression and anxiety, and promote other forms of maladjustment.
The good news is there are healthy ways to manage your perfectionism.
Yes! Yes! This was me! How in the hell did this happen? I wasn’t born this way, I’m sure. Was it all those years, especially those early formative years, that I was bombarded by people, propaganda and experiences that I not just witnessed, but took to heart? Was I not told enough what a wonderful and perfect gift I am, just the way I am with unique qualities that no one else on the planet has? Hmmm…
What Does It Mean to Be a Perfectionist?
Simply put, perfectionism is a need to be perfect, and according to the American Psychological Association, it correlates with anxiety, depression, and even eating disorders. The worry and fear associated with perfectionism can be costly in terms of your physical and emotional well-being. It can also have a detrimental impact on your relationships because you tend to burden others with the same unrealistic standards you place on yourself.
When I found my perfectionism high on my priority, I just kept on going like the Energizer Bunny. I put you first and myself last. I cared more about what you thought of me than what I thought and felt about myself.
To take the edge off my perfectionism I drank. First just a glass of wine with you whilst having dinner or at a party. Then a couple when I got home from work. Then a few more and a few more until, all of a sudden, I couldn’t go a day without drinking.
This happened over the course of many years, even decades, but it happened. Drinking was my life and everything else got in the way of my priority. I made sure my kids got everything done on time, the house was clean, the meals were prepared, I went to work, but all with my security blanket of alcohol there for me when I felt overwhelmed.
I was a physical and emotional wreck not sleeping, but passing out; not waking up, but coming to; hungover; in a black out. Life was shitty. I was exhausted then, not from the perfectionism, but from the lying and hiding of my addiction.
The Irony of Perfectionism
According to Brene Brown, “Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us, when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.”
Perfectionism often leads to the opposite outcome of what you were fighting so hard to achieve. This is because perfectionists tend to worry so much about failure that they either never get started on or they get stuck halfway into their endeavors. They are constantly undermining themselves and getting in their own way—not exactly a fertile ground for creative growth.
It wasn’t until I got sober and worked the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous that I was able to come to terms with my perfectionism. By working Step 4 I realized how fear-based I’d lived up to that point. Everything started to make sense as the pieces of my life puzzle started to fit together.
Whether it’s with AA or another support group, I highly encourage everyone to work the steps of a 12 step program; it is truly enlightening and empowering. Finding out that addiction stems so much around how we think and that the substance is just a way out from the madness.
Learning what makes me tick, learning how not to react, learning to live from my heart and not my head, and learning to trust a Higher Power of My Own Understanding, has helped me tremendously into this transition to being comfortable in my own skin. Learning to love myself for who and what I am is such a freedom! Learning to put my needs before yours and knowing that then I can give you the best of me is icing on the cake!
How to Tell if You’re a Perfectionist
If you’re a perfectionist, chances are you already know it. But if you’re wondering, “Could this be me?,” here are five common perfectionist tendencies:
- You don’t settle for second best.
- You give up on tasks you don’t think will turn out perfectly.
- You are overly critical of mistakes.
- Your world falls apart when you don’t achieve perfection.
- You don’t like asking for help.
Whoa! Again, the old me to a “T”. I’ve always been an over-achiever from the get-go, especially in school. My dad would tell me to get my nose out of my books to go out and play. But I was so worried that I would get called on by the teacher, not have the correct answer, and be laughed at by my peers.
Needless to say, I was a straight-A student all the way through college (pretty much). And I was “Mommy’s girl” at home helping Mom cook and clean as she was raising my brother and me as a single parent with no child support or help from my dad. I continued to try to be perfect for my mom and for everyone in my Dee Bubble, hiding anything about me that would indicate I was anything but perfect.
All this hiding and lying and never getting to be me was exhausting and unfulfilling. I had no purpose on this planet except to drink (at the end of my active alcoholism). I loathed myself. I was empty.
Once again, working the Steps of AA helped me to get past all this wasted negative energy I held within. Today I choose to use what energy I have in a positive way and with purpose…to share my experience, strength and hope with anyone who enters my bubble.
I have learned to just do my best and that is good enough for me and my Higher Power. And I have learned to ask for help. AA has shown me this…that I am not alone…that many share the trials and tribulations of life and together we can get through anything.
Are There Any Benefits to Being a Perfectionist?
A healthy dose of perfectionism can propel you toward achieving your goals. But there’s a giant leap from a healthy pursuit of your dreams to striving to meet hopelessly unrealistic standards. The key is to find balance and to relax into a place where good enough becomes the new perfect.
Here are five practices to help you manage your perfectionism:
1. Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others
As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
People tend to make assumptions about others’ lives based on little or no evidence, which can make you feel like you’re not enough. Thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever before to compare yourself to others. But the truth is, you’re telling yourself fictional stories.
This game of comparison is one you’ll never win. The best and quickest way to shift these destructive thought patterns is to practice gratitude. Think of all of the amazing things you have in your life and hold your focus there. Try this every morning before you get out of bed to start your day on a positive note. You may just find that practicing gratitude on a regular basis leads to more abundance than you ever thought possible.
When I get out of living in the moment, I get away from my heart and my Higher Power. My ego takes over. I get critical. My energy goes toward negative thoughts, actions and words. My Higher Power loves me for the gift that I am today, right now, just the way I am. “Progress, not perfection” as we say in AA.
Not many people share how shitty their lives are on social media. Who wants to hear that? Those negative-type people bring me down and I find myself “unfriending” them. Therefore, social media is not real life.
2. Relish in Making Mistakes
There are dozens of examples of well-known people who have tried and failed hundreds of times, only to go on and accomplish great things. Theodor Seuss Geisel (known as Dr. Seuss) is a beloved children’s book author whose books have sold more than 600 million copies worldwide. But did you know that 27 different publishers rejected his first book?
Making mistakes and stumbling along on your journey is part of the human experience. It means you’re getting out there and trying. Mistakes are opportunities to help you grow and can even open new doors.
Each morning I now arise excited to see what the day, and my Higher Power, has in store for me. Who shall I meet? What shall I learn? What new experiences await me? Will they be good or bad?
I choose today to see all experiences as good as they are my workbook for learning. If something happens that twists the knife in my gut, so to speak, I realize that this incident is not a coincidence but a learning moment for me; it is up to me to take a positive approach to all that life has in store for me.
Trying new things, getting out of my comfort zone, not reaping the end-all reward right off the bat is good for me. The more “no’s” or failures I get, the closer I am to that pot of gold just around the corner.
To also put no expectations on anyone or anything has been a healthy choice for me. “No expectations, no disappointments”. If I get out of the way, things unfold just the way they are supposed to and usually better than any of my expectations could have ever dreamed of. God is in charge.
Had I not been an alcoholic I might never have found this awesome new and spiritual way to live. I may never have learned to love myself and be comfortable in my own skin. I might have always been an intellect and never learned to live from my heart. So glad to have gone through my alcoholic journey.
3. Let Go of an “All or Nothing” Approach
Trust and appreciate the process. This is where the beauty lies and the learning thrives. This is how you learn what works and what does not. Embrace the steps and celebrate the missteps you take during the process. This is the best way to get to where you want to be.
Think about your favorite author. Is every one of his or her books the best book you’ve ever read? No. Some are better than others, some missed the mark, and many are hovering right around the middle.
I learned early on in AA, “One day at a time” and “baby steps”. So this is the approach I now try to practice which is difficult for this all-or-nothing, obsessive-compulsive person. I want it now and I want it my way. That mentality doesn’t serve me well. I have learned patience and faith. All will happen in God’s time exactly the way it’s supposed to.
4. Focus on Practicality
A good way to think of this is to aim for good enough. Being perfect is impossible, so why not embrace reality? Perfectionists can get stuck in the weeds, obsessing over making every detail of their lives perfect and forgetting about the big picture.
Imagine that you set a goal to eat more healthfully. You begin scrutinizing every single morsel of food you put into your mouth; you beat yourself up over eating that cookie at work; and you feel guilty about the way your sweet potatoes were prepared (who doesn’t like sweet potato fries?). In other words, there is no balance, and because this is an impossible way to live, you give up, thinking that you’re never going to eat healthier.
Instead, try the 80/20 rule—eat healthfully 80 percent of the time and allow yourself to mindfully indulge in life’s culinary pleasures the other 20 percent.
“Perfectly imperfect!” It’s hard for me to do anything in moderation but I MUST! I must just try. I must be okay with “just” doing my best…today…right now. I am a work in progress and each day gets better and better and easier and easier. Way better than how it was when I was active in my disease when each day progressively got worse and worse.
5. Practice Self-Compassion
Above all else, cut yourself a little slack. For a perfectionist, negative self-talk comes easily. It can feel natural to berate yourself when things don’t go as planned. The antidote for this is to embrace yourself, flaws and all, wholeheartedly. Practice self-care and make your physical and mental health a priority. Repeat a mantra before you fall asleep each night: I am enough.
Taming your perfectionist tendencies might be a lifelong practice. And that’s OK. Just remember to remind yourself, over and over again, that you are perfectly imperfect, just the way you are.
Learning to be less critical of myself has been the hardest lesson of all. It’s taken me many, many years to finally be comfortable in my own skin. To love myself for who I am with all my defects of character is such a gift! And remembering that I am enough, that I am a gift with attributes that no one else on the planet has, that keeps me grateful. And when I’m grateful I’m in the moment. And when I’m in the moment my Higher Power is in control. That is where I strive to always be!
Thank you for letting me share my recovery. I welcome any and all feedback as I am not on this journey alone.
With much aloha,
For those interested in my artwork and gifts with a message of inspiration and hope, please visit my website at www.DeesignsByHarris.com. Mahalo and enjoy!
From The Chopra Center
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