Throughout January, we’re going to talk about releasing. To make room for abundance, joy, balance, and peace, it’s important to let go of the old stuff that no longer serves your highest good. January is a great time to take a personal inventory and set a solid foundation for the year ahead. What elements of your life make you feel good? What elements deplete you? To the latter, I say, “Thank you, but I don’t need you any more. Bye now.”
# 5 Perfectionism
“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” ~ Voltaire
Here’s what Voltaire means: When we hold ourselves to the impossible — and unattainable — standard of perfection, we deprive ourselves and those around us from the good work we are able to accomplish.
For most of my life, I would have argued with Voltaire. Back in the day, I was (ahem) an extreme perfectionist. If I am being completely honest, there are still days when I struggle against the urge toward perfectionism.
There is a difference between a desire for excellence and the need to be perfect. Excellence is a motivator, pushing us to grow. Excellence can be defined and achieved. Perfection, on the other hand, is a deterrent, preventing us from reaching our goals. By definition, perfection is not possible.
Here are some of the thoughts and behaviors associated with perfectionism. Perhaps you’ll recognize some aspects of yourself. I know I did!
- Perfectionists have to be the best — even at things in which they have no interest.
- Perfectionists are super focused on and hyper-critical of mistakes.
- Perfectionists live in a world of absolutes.
- Perfectionists are their own harshest critic, punishing themselves for even the smallest error.
- Perfectionists are overly defensive in the face of criticism.
- Perfectionists have a highly developed fear of failure.
When we use perfection as the measure for achievement, we set ourselves up for disappointment, frustration, blame and shame. Not good feelings. In fact, studies have shown that perfectionism correlates with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental health conditions.
So, how can we let go of striving to be perfect? Here are a few tips.
- Cut ourselves some slack Be realistic about success. It doesn’t happen overnight, so don’t expect to kick ass immediately. Try to look at each experience as a relative success, that is, a necessary step on the way amazing things.
- Cut others some slack, too Expecting others to conform to our perfectionism is really just an attempt at controlling the people and situations around us. But, people don’t like to be controlled — even when we think we ‘know best.’ Remember, people are who they are regardless of how we feel they should be. Try accepting others as they are rather than continually trying to change them.
- Learn to see the world in shades of grey All-or-nothing and black-or-white thinking aren’t perceptive, sophisticated, or accurate ways to evaluate life. The brightest people can do the dumbest things sometimes; most things are relative. Recognize what's good and savor those successes.
- Develop a sense of humor Laughter is flexible, enabling us to see beyond rigid, fixed viewpoints. Often, perfectionists fail to see the funny side. A ready sense of humor depends on being able to shift perspective quickly, which is essential when things don't work out exactly as we'd hoped. Hang out with and learn from funny, relaxed people.
- Remember mistakes are not catastrophes Be brave and accept that mistakes happen and that they should happen. Not making mistakes means never having the opportunity to truly learn and develop. Perspective is everything.
- Avoid procrastination Don't fear mistakes or use the possibility of imperfection as an excuse not to start things. If a journey is worth making, then false starts and temporarily getting lost are part of the trip. The final destination can still be reached.
- Stop globalizing Making one mistake doesn’t mean we’re completely worthless, just as doing one nice thing doesn’t mean we’re a total saint. Psychologists call this 'globalizing' and it's a hallmark of intolerance. Intelligent people do dumb things, but are still generally bright. Decent people may occasionally be less than kind, but are still generally good people. Work hard to be tolerant.
Saying goodbye to perfectionism is definitely doable, but it can also be pretty difficult. If perfectionism is something you’d like to change in 2016, I’d love to help you do it.