It’s amazing how much we don’t actually know about ourselves until we take a closer look in the mirror. Until we somewhat ‘undo’ our lives and go from who we think we are, to move into authenticity. That’s exactly how I began my journey to overcoming perfectionism.
For years, I was the exact opposite of authentic. I wore a mask that suited whatever occasion presented itself. Noone knew…they thought I had the perfect life.
The reality was that I struggled with a feeling that I needed to be good…no great…at everything I did. In my mind I compared myself to everyone and had to (at least look like) things were amazing in my world. I parented like a boss, had dinner parties, excelled in business, volunteered at school and generally had a life that looked really good on the outside.
What they didn’t know is that I was obsessed with details. Consumed by making the good or great, even better. ‘Good’ simply wasn’t good enough and I would re-do, re-write or re-whatever needed to be done until I felt that it was perfect.
The problem is, that it never is perfect.
When you’re a perfectionist, it creates a tremendous amount of stress trying to achieve the unachievable. The need for excellence in the things you do, translates into self-criticism over perceived failures and everything taking much longer or actually putting off things because they aren’t your best. In addition to this, being a perfectionist is incredibly isolating because you are constantly hiding yourself…hiding behind who you think you should be…and leaving authenticity far behind.
Overcoming perfectionism or giving up perfectionist tendencies can be challenging so you need to prepare yourself for a bumpy ride.
Knowing how to master your negative self-talk is crucial when it comes to overcoming perfectionism. In fact, perfectionism happens when we listen to the repetitive negative thoughts in our minds. If we manage to become more self-aware of our inner critic, we’ll get one step closer to overcoming perfectionism.
Where Does Perfectionism Come From?
One of the most common reasons we turn into perfectionists is because of the messaging we receive during childhood. Who we are allowed to be, and who we can’t be, combines with what behaviour gains approval.
Sometimes, even an overly critical teacher can turn on that switch. But to be honest, it can be any experience that left an imprint on us.
This switch is the one that makes us feel that nothing we do is ever good enough. That, to be accepted, we need to be perfect or at least strive for that. (This is the definition of high-achievers.)
Sometimes it just takes seeing it for what it is and being DONE with having the same pattern direct your behaviour.
What does Perfectionism look like?
Brené Brown talks a lot about learning to embrace the idea of being “good enough” in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection. She calls herself a “recovering perfectionist” and an “aspiring good enoughist.”
“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. 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.”
It might not always be easy to spot a perfectionist…but here’s a little insight into what to look for.
- regular feelings of failure
- struggle to relax and share thoughts and feelings
- procrastinate regularly – even inability to act or finish tasks
- controlling in personal & professional relationships
- highly critical
- motivated by fear
- unrealistic standards
- deep sadness or depression over unmet goals
- low self-esteem
- all or nothing / black or white thinking
- obsessed with rules and lists
Now having one or two of these characteristics doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a perfectionsit, but if you went down that list going “check”, “check”, “check”…you might need to read on…
What can we do?
Here are 3 tips to making sense of your perfectionistic tendencies:
1. Identify the Core Reason for Being a Perfectionist
I want you to do a little exercise with me. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and answer the following questions:
- When I hear the word ‘perfection’, who is the first person that comes to my mind?
- Have I experienced severe criticism in my family?
- What will happen if I don’t do things perfectly?
- Does being a perfectionist make me a better person?
- What does perfectionism give me?
- What does it take away from me?
After answering these questions, you’re going to have a little bit more clarity on the core reason for becoming a perfectionist.
Honestly, I still cringe every time I do something that, to me, seems lower than my extremely high and unnecessary demanding standards for myself.
But, here’s the thing: if you don’t learn to do things imperfectly, you’re going to burn out pretty quickly and there’s a good chance you’ll lose the joy of creating things.
So, what can you do to lower your standards without driving yourself completely nuts?
Here are a few examples of doing things imperfectly: next time you shoot a video and you have flying hairs, messed up lipstick, or something else that bothers you, leave it like that. Or next time you do a design for a client and you’ve spent 6 hours perfecting a small detail on the logo, leave it like that.
I know how hard it may seem at first, so I want you to start small. Leave a typo in a blog post, a little stain on your shirt, etc.
If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, now that’s a whole different story. Perfectionism may be ingrained so deep into your personality that you need the help of a therapist to manage it.
But if you just have too high standards for yourself, try to lower them a little bit and see what happens.
Honestly, the best thing you can do is just do it anyways.
3. Push for Progress, not Perfection
This sentence can completely change your life.
Perfectionism is rigid and revolves around control: things have to go a certain way, look a certain way, behave a certain way. Progress, on the other hand, is to be one step closer to achieving your goal. To be just a little bit better today, than you were yesterday.
If you get stuck in perfectionism, remember this little mantra, and move into action. It may be hard to remember it at first, that’s why I recommend you write it on a sticky note on your computer to look at it throughout the day.
The importance lies in the small actions we take every day towards the goal. These baby steps are progress… and that’s the key.
Remember that as human beings, we are imperfect. That’s how it’s supposed to be. The power never lies in attempting to reach perfection, but in accepting and embracing who we truly are.
The power lies in our own authenticity.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Do you struggle with perfectionism? How does it show up for you?
PS: If you’d like support with any of the topics mentioned in this article, please reach out.
Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Mindset and Confidence Coach in Ontario, Canada, serving clients across Canada and internationally. Katrina helps professionals to change the relationship that they have with themselves so they can reconnect both in their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.