Overcoming Perfectionism to Enjoy Life More
This is the second of a series of two posts that explore the dynamics of perfectionism.
It is most helpful if you take some time to observe your own perfectionist patterns. Once you have accomplished that, choose a few of the strategies outlined here. Keep working at it until you understand what you need to do to accept your imperfections and humanness. Work life balance coaching can also help you overcome perfectionist behaviors and get your life focused on your values.
Create a Support Network for Yourself
Seek out people who are not perfectionists. Encourage your support network to not be rigid or moralistic in their attempts to keep you on an honest course. Look for people who forgive and forget when mistakes, failures, offenses, or backsliding occur. Ask them to tell you when they think you are being rigid, unrealistic, or idealistic in your behavior. Ask them to give you positive reinforcement for any positive change, no matter how small. Seek out people who have a sincere interest in your personal growth.
Do Some Self-Exploration
Explore the following questions in your journal, make some notes here, or discuss them with a trusted friend or professional counselor:
1. Where do you see perfectionist behavior in your life?
2. How do these behaviors create problems for you?
3. What perfectionist beliefs do you have?
4. How do you think these beliefs will affect your ability to change your behavior?
5. What do you need to do for your beliefs to become less perfectionistic and more relaxed and compassionate?
6. How can you use your support system to help yourself manage perfectionistic beliefs?
Identify Alternative Behaviors
Make a list of specific perfectionist behaviors that you want to change. For each one, think of something specific you could do instead. For example:
• Perfectionist behavior: I expect my teenage daughter to pick up the clothes off her floor and make her bed every day.
• Alternative behavior: I can expect my daughter to clean her room every Saturday and I will close her door every other day.
Note your own examples in your journal.
Lower Your Expectations
It is very important to understand that it is unrealistic to expect to change your behavior (or someone else’s) immediately or completely.
Make a List of the Advantages and Disadvantages of Being Perfect
You may find that perfection is too costly. Perhaps you will discover that relationship problems, endless working, and other compulsive behaviors (eating disorders and substance abuse problems) are too high a price for the results you gain from your perfectionist way of being.
Pay Attention to Your Behavior and Attitudes
As you see yourself behaving in a perfectionist way, take note. In the beginning, just observe yourself. Keep a log if it helps you see your behavior more clearly. You don’t have to make any changes until you have a good idea of your specific behaviors and thoughts.
Try Some New Thoughts and Behaviors
Begin to substitute the alternative behaviors you identified earlier. If possible, ask someone from your support network for feedback. Observe your feelings and thoughts as you try new things.
Review Your Goals and Make Sure They Are Realistic
By having achievable, realistic goals, you will gradually see that less-than-perfect results are not as disastrous as you thought they would be.
Set Strict Time Limits for Your Projects
When the time is up, move on to another task or take a break.
Make Friends with Criticism
Many perfectionists take criticism personally and respond defensively. If someone criticizes you when you make a mistake, the easiest thing to do is to simply admit it. Remind yourself that you are human, meaning you will sometimes make mistakes. The people who never make mistakes are no longer learning or growing.
Learn to re-frame criticism and see it as information you can learn from.
When you let go of the fantasy that humans must be perfect to have value in this world, you are less likely to feel angry or embarrassed when you make a mistake. You will see that criticism is information that you can learn from, and you will no longer need to avoid it.
We offer a regular group program on Overcoming Perfectionism. Contact us to register for the next program.
Each day we face a barrage of images and messages from society and the media telling us who, what, and how we should be. We are led to believe that if we could only look perfect and lead perfect lives, we’d no longer feel inadequate. So most of us perform, please, and perfect, all the while thinking, “What if I can’t keep all of these balls in the air? Why isn’t everyone else working harder and living up to my expectations? What will people think if I fail or give up? When can I stop proving myself?”
The quest for perfection is exhausting and unrelenting. We spend too much precious time and energy managing perception and creating carefully edited versions of ourselves to show to the world. As hard as we try, we can’t seem to turn off the tapes that fill our heads with messages like, “Never good enough!” and “What will people think?”
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