Before reading this article, have you taken the saywhydoi.com Perfectionism Test?
(This article is the continuation of Perfectionism: Why Do I Want to be Perfect?)
How do you overcome perfectionism? Since perfectionism is really a learned habit of the mind, overcoming perfectionism means we need to break this old habit and establish a new one. We can do this by two main ways: Firstly by challenging our false beliefs which are keeping perfectionism alive, and secondly by introducing new, healthier ways of thinking.
Changing beliefs and thought-patterns is a process that can take time. Experts say that 21 days is roughly the minimal length of time it takes for a new habit to be established, so be patient with yourself as you try to apply the following tips for overcoming perfecitonism:
1.) Ask yourself: “Why *is* it so important to me to be perfect?”
Ask yourself why YOU want to be perfect. Sometimes it helps you come up with things if you write it down. What do you gain from it? You can look at the list of possible causes here for inspiration and see if any strike a chord with you.
When you see why you want to be perfect, have a look at what else makes you feel good about yourself other than doing things perfectly. Compose a list of things that make you feel happy and good about yourself. This is the beginning of establishing your new habits. You can learn to replace the perfectionist tendencies with these other things that make you feel good.
2.) Whenever you feel like beating yourself up for not being perfect enough, know that you did the best you could in that certain situation, at that particular time, given all the factors involved.
You can’t expect more of yourself than giving your best to something – so really, is it fair to beat yourself up about it? Besides, what does being hard on yourself achieve other than making you feel bad?
Another point is: If you love someone and respect them, you wouldn’t come down harshly on them, calling them names for making little mistakes. You wouldn’t want to hurt them. So why do you hurt yourself by talking to yourself like this? Be compassionate towards yourself.
Catch yourself when you’re wallowing in self-abuse or self-pity about mistakes you’ve made and notice this is of no value and is an absolute waste of time and energy: Instead shift your focus onto what can be done differently now and in the future.
3.) Know that you aren’t defined by your actions and that actions certainly don’t make you a better person
You are a complex individual and your internal nature is the most important part of who you are, rather than your external actions.
Some people are faster. Some people are cleverer. Some are stronger. But no person is better than any other person. We are all equally worthy of being alive and of being loved.
You can do a task appallingly and still be a worthy, wonderful, loving, kind, beautiful person
4.) Be aware of the importance of enjoying the journey
If you just strive for some arbitrary “best” and only have your eye on some future goal, you are missing out on the journey you are on right now. Besides, if you ever would have achieved your goal, what more would you have to do with your life? It’s not about the goal and attaining it perfectly. It’s about the journey and enjoying it. It’s about being happy. The constant stress of striving for goals and perfection stops you from being happy.
Things that can help you enjoy your journey are:
- Savour the joy whenever it arises. Notice how much you enjoy certain activities you do. Maybe you enjoy the banter with your workmates. Maybe you enjoy learning something new on the job. Maybe you love the thrill of problem-solving as you work. Make time for play. Life doesn’t have to be so serious. Everything you do, do it with an appropriate level of playfulness and humour. Enjoy these little things. They all count as part of the journey.
- Stop doing things for the sake of meeting your perfect standards and start doing things that you enjoy. When you do things you enjoy, you often do better at them. The power of happiness and joy drives people higher up the scale of success.
- Be more aware of your surroundings and environment, and being more “in the now”. If you pass a flower, admire it and enjoy it. Stop to take notice of a great smell as you pass a bakery, or give yourself a minute to take in a beautiful sunset. Enjoy being alive and taking in all life has to offer.
- Make an effort to be thankful: We often take things for granted, and no longer appreciate or feel joy for these things because we stop noticing them. Be thankful for your health, for having warmth and shelter, and food, for your friends and family, for people who love you and support you, and for anything positive in your life. Notice how blessed you truly are and how fortunate you are to have what you have.
5.) Be realistic: It’s impossible to be perfect
It’s good to have goals in life. But have realistic goals and treat them as a guide for the direction you want to go in, rather than as a place that you must reach otherwise you are a failure. Failure and success are just a construct of the mind. All events are neutral and it is we who attach judgment, significance and emotional charges to them. All that there is, is living in the now with as must joy as we can.
6.) Don’t “sweat the small stuff”
Before starting a task that you know in advance has a risk of you getting lost in perfecting all the little details, make a mental note to check your progress X minutes into the task. Say 30 minutes in. Take this time to step back, see the big picture and try to be objective about whether a detail you are working on is essential, or whether it is a perfectionist’s intricately designed icing on a cake. A cake that would in fact taste exactly the same even if the icing were just spread on there with far less time and effort.
If you take time out to assess whether the details you’re working on are important or not, it can save you a lot of time, and make you more productive.
Perfectionism is the mother of inefficiency and procrastination in some cases if you’re spending hours on minute details that don’t really matter. Once you are aware of this, you can create habits of checking yourself to ensure you don’t get lost in the details.
7.) Reframe mistakes as opportunities for growth
See “mistakes” as things that you can learn from. They are an integral part of your journey, and without them we can’t progress. Be thankful for mistakes! Mistakes are our teachers.
8.) Know that you don’t have to do something at a “top” level in order to contribute
As Henry Van Dyke said, “The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”
A company often has many workers behind it, and all contribute to its functioning, even if individually none of them is “the best” or perfect at what they do. Power here is in working together rather than power of the one who is best. Even if you aren’t perfect or the best, it doesn’t mean you can’t contribute. Small contributions count as well as big ones.
9.) Know that your identity is linked to being your unique self, and is unrelated to what external achievements you attain
Only you think the way you do.
Only you have your imagination.
Only you have been through life experiences which have shaped you into who you are today, giving you the unique perspective you have on life and life’s events.
Only you can contribute to certain things in your unique way, leaving the personal imprint you leave behind.
These are some of the things that only you have within you, and help make you the person you are. Achievements and external labels come and go, but the person you are inside stays with you, even as you grow and evolve.
10.) Take note of how your perfectionism is affecting others around you
A lot of perfectionists aren’t aware of how their behaviour affects others and that their behaviour can get other people’s backs up because perfectionists can be a bit controlling, critical, didactic and patronizing at times.
If others aren’t doing things perfectly, instead of tutting in annoyance and doing it yourself, try and understand where they’re coming from. Put yourself in their shoes. This exercise may make you aware that the thing you’re fussing over really isn’t that big a deal. Be open-minded to the idea that they may have a point you can learn from. Everyone is your teacher.
Becoming aware of how you’re coming across to people, and trying to see things from their point of view will help you connect better with people. Blind-perfectionism may be holding you back from getting the most from your relationships.
11.) Meditations, Affirmations and Visualization to help you beat perfectionism
Going within and finding peace within yourself will automatically help you let go of feelings of inadequacy and of not being perfect. When we quieten our minds and go within, we discover that we have all we need inside us. We access our Higher Self or our Truth and perfection fades into insignificance. We discover love and acceptance, compassion and tolerance. We discover patience and forgiveness; forgiving ourselves for not meeting our punishingly high standards of behaviour. In short, meditation is a very good idea, and it does not have to take hours and hours!
Once a day, a 5-10 minute meditation could help.
Start off with just 5 minutes in a quiet place. Ensure you will not be disturbed in any way. Turn off your phone.
It is best sitting upright in a chair, your feet firmly on the floor, so that you are well-grounded.
Close your eyes, because we lose a lot of energy through our eyes.
Focus on your natural breathing. The idea is to have a clear mind. If a thought pops into your mind, just let it float past and bring your focus back to your breathing.
When you feel comfortable with 5 minutes, do a little more time until you build it up to 15-20 minutes each day. Doing your meditation at the same time each day is most effective. I find waking up a few minutes earlier each day and doing this before I start my day, helps set me in the right frame of mind for the rest of my day.
b.) Affirmations & Visualizations to help you beat perfectionism
Positive affirmations and visualizations can be brought into the meditation exercise, where instead of focusing on your breathing, you focus on a positive statement.
Examples of positive affirmations that are useful for perfectionists include:
- What I do is good enough
- My best is good enough
- I accept the way I am or I deeply love and accept myself just as I am
- People who matter will still love and accept me for who I am, no matter what my performance is.
(Sometimes if you’re dealing with certain people this affirmation won’t feel true. On a deep level people like parents, as long as they are capable of love, they *do* love you even if their stubborness to stick to their own limitations hold them back from expressing it.)
Examples of visualization exercises:
- Exercise 1: Imagine letting go of perfectionism. You can do this by imagining a weight being lifted from you. You can give perfectionism a shape, colour, and appearance to help this visualization. You can add the sound or feeling of the weight being lifted from your shoulders.
- Exercise 2: When you fall short of being perfect, what do you feel in your body? Is it pain? Turmoil? Constriction? A heaviness? Or something else? Where is it located in your body? Once you locate it, give it a colour. Now visualize this colour leaving your body. If you like, you can imagine yourself pulling it out, like a piece of string and wrapping it up into a big ball of yarn. Once it’s all outside your body, give it a happy, “good-feeling” colour. Once this transformation is complete, you can visualize yourself putting it back from where it came from.
You can create your own positive affirmations and visualizations. The more personal these are, the better this exercise will work.
12.) Bach Flower Remedies/Essences
Bach Flower Remedies are “energetic medicine”, working on a similar level to homeopathics. These remedies or essences can be helpful in balancing our emotions, in a safe, subtle and gentle way. When we are free of unbalanced emotions, we feel happier and more at peace with ourselves and our lives. “Perfectionists” may find the following Bach Flower Remedies useful:
Method to take them: You can mix up to 7 flowers per one personalized remedy bottle. In order to make your personalized remedy bottle, fill up an empty 30ml mixing bottle with mineral water, leaving a little space at the top. Some people like to add a dash of brandy into the mix to help preserve it but I find this isn’t essential. Put 2 drops of each flower essence that you think you need into your water-filled mixing bottle. Mix well. That’s it! That’s your remedy made.
To take the Bach remedy, take 4 drops of your personalized water-essence mix on your tongue whenever you feel perfectionist tendencies rising, or a minimum of 4 times a day.
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We hope you found this article useful and would love to hear how you get on if you choose to use any of these ideas.
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About the Authors
This article was co-written by Naturopath, Li-Or and Spiritual Counsellor, Janice.
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Perfectionism: Why do I want to be Perfect?