Perfectionsim. It’s the antidote to happiness. It’s best friends with comparison. It’s all too common amongst both women & men. Most of my clients, but also many of my friends, spend their days striving for perfectionism.
I’m a recovering perfectionist. Just the other day I caught myself explaining that I’m not perfect at being imperfect – what a “perfect” oxymoron!! Old habits are hard to break & sometimes I find myself slumping back into modes where I’m striving for something that isn’t serving me, but for the most part I’m less concerned with this elusive thing we label “perfection”.
I’ve had countless people “admit” their perfectionist traits to me recently & I’ve noticed some common trends.
1. It seems to be something people are ashamed of but don’t know how to recover from.
2. It is deeply connected to comparison, particularly in a consumer society that spends so much time on social media.
3. It is closely intertwined with perception. Our perception of ourselves, our perception of others & even how we think others will perceive us!
Here’s the thing, I’ve realised lots of us are trying to be someone else’s idea of perfect. We’ve forgotten to focus on what aligns to our values & makes us happy partly because everywhere we look we’re told what will make us happy. In fact, Brene Brown has a wonderful differentiation between perfectionism & healthy striving – healthy striving is internally driven whereas perfectionism is driven by what other people will think of us.
From past experience I know that striving for perfect is exhausting, it inhibits our creativity & undermines our self-confidence. It’s also terrifying & difficult to overcome this addictive behaviour, but it can be done. My behaviour change has taken time & was driven by a need to overhaul my mindset in order to make a sustainable recovery from my adrenal fatigue. Mindfulness & meditation practices have played a a huge part in helping me to become aware of my behaviours but more so my thoughts, with a new level of consciousness. I also credit Brene Brown’s videos and books on perfectionism as a great help to understand what perfectionism is & how to start moving forward. I have re-focused on creativity & fun – cooking without recipes, arts & crafts, exercise with friends rather than so focussed on outcome, and so on. Lastly, self-compassion is absolutely critical & along with it compassion towards others. Until we give ourselves some slack & stop looking at what others are doing well or not so well (in our opinion) we can not truly stop caring what other people think of us.
It’s a daily practice for me, some days it’s an hourly practice, but I can tell you my life is all the better for dropping other people’s expectations, saying no, admitting when I don’t know something or won’t meet a deadline & making decisions based on what aligns to my personal values rather than too often protecting other people’s thoughts & feelings. This practice does not mean letting people down or hurting others but it refocuses the intention on internal mindset rather than external opinions. If you feel like you’re weighed down by always trying to keep up appearance I strongly urge you to look at many of the wonderful resources on the internet – I’ve loaded one of Brene’s videos here, talk to a professional or close friends & start a mindfulness practice around self-compassion.
Embrace living a life where stuff gets done even if there’s colour outside the lines, creases in your shirt or you missed the bus & arrive a few minutes late. Don’t sweat the small stuff.