When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target. Geoffrey F Fisher
“Top 10 Signs You’re a Perfectionist
It isn’t easy being a perfectionist. You have to be persistent, detailed, and an organized high achiever. You must have exceedingly high standards not only for yourself, but also those around you. You have to conceal your imperfections from others in an attempt to always project an image of perfection.
Ten Top Signs Your a Perfectionist
- You can’t stop thinking about a mistake you made.
- You are intensely competitive and can’t stand doing worse than others.
- You either want to do something “just right” or not at all.
- You demand perfection from other people.
- You won’t ask for help if asking can be perceived as a flaw or weakness.
- You will persist at a task long after other people have quit.
- You are a fault-finder who must correct other people when they are wrong.
- You are highly aware of other people’s demands and expectations.
- You are very self-conscious about making mistakes in front of other people.
- You noticed the error in the title of this list.”
Source: The BBC News Online
I’ve worked with lots of people who all suffer from this condition and 99 out of 100 times they are exhausted. In their pursuit of this ideal, this perfect picture in their head they’ve lost sight of what matters, other options and other people that could help all because they’re tunnel visioned as to this picture that they must achieve at all costs. And it does cost them. Burn out, exhaustion, lack of motivation, no creativity (can’t think outside the box), feeling stuck in a rut (ie I better not do anything cause I must do it perfectly), etc, etc. I’m sure, if you’re a perfectionist, you can add in more here.
Then there is also those of us who have facets of perfectionism. While I was thinking about this today it came to my mind that I used to have an element of perfectionism about me and I think you might have it as well, especially if you’re a woman. What are we told from such a young age – we must be perfect in order to be lovable.
The beauty business is based on this idea of a perfect woman, yet this is a fable. I chased it for most of my 20’s. I had every beauty treatment I could afford (drew a line at bottox or anthing chemical), conditioned my eyebrows (pots of vaseline, my dad was very perplexed at this one), used bread soda on my teeth to whiten them, squeezed lemon juice and pulp (the classic) to lighten my hair and anything else I could think of all to try to come close to looking anywhere near the girls in the magazines. But even they didn’t look like themselves! They had been airbrushed, pulled, angled in such a way as to depict an image of what society calls perfect but it doesn’t exist. Thankfully I gave up on that ridiculous picture in my 30’s and put away the breadsoda much to the delighted of my burning gums.
I’ve lots of clients who come to me and say “I have it all, I SHOULD be happy”. They’ve achieved what society tells them is the perfect life only to find that it was all an illusion and they’re still unhappy. They have the car, the partner, the 2.4 children, pet, successful career but still there is an emptiness inside. This is what striving for this ideal does to us.
When I talk to people about letting go of their perfectionism I can immediately see the fear in their eyes. They believe that their standards and work ethic are somehow related to this perfectionism. They believe that if they let it go, if they free themselves from the constraints of this that they will turn into a layabout who won’t get off the couch, won’t care about their work and if they do manage to actually get into work that they will only produce 20% of what they used to, so they’ll get fired cause they won’t care anyway. I can actually see this sequence of events flashing through their brain as I suggest it. Basically they believe that being a perfectionist helps them to strive to be their best.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
What is perfectionism? It’s creative strangulation! I know that sounds very harsh and not very pleasant, but having this “condition” (for want of a better word), sets you up with a picture of how it MUST be, no exceptions, no conditions, no alterations and it’s rigid. I’ve seen people so consumed with this pciture that they can’t see what’s right in front of their own noses, whether that’s the fact that their families are suffering, that they’re burning out or that there is a much much better alternative. NO! The perfectionist is blind to anything but the picture of what they see.
But perfectionism doesn’t actually exist. There is nothing in this world that is perfect, even they say that a circle isn’t actually perfect, neither is a straight line, according of the physicists and mathematicians of this world. (google it though I warn you it’s a bit mind boggling.) So we are striving for something that isn’t actually real! There’s nothing to aim for because it doesn’t exist.
Often perfectionists say to me “That’s just the way that I am. There’s no changing me now” or ” I’ve always been this way so I’ll always have it”, grrr that’s wrong. If you were born being a perfectionist then you’d of never gotten off your bum and started walking because it wouldn’t of been “perfect”. Similarly you wouldn’t of ever said your first words, fell, ran, written an essay…..etc etc, you wouldn’t of done anything without a serious amount of thought, planning and general perfectionist behaviour! Would you? I’d say not, I’ve never seen a child stop and not do something just because it wasn’t perfect. So you weren’t born with this condition, you just picked it up along the way.
What will letting it go do for you? By releasing yourself from this condition you will free yourself up to see “the wood from the trees”, be more flexible (and less stressed) in your approach, be open to alternatives, be aware of the people around you. Allow you to access your creativity and come up with visions and be inspired, channel your passion and enable you to express yourself clearly as you’ll be clear in your mind.
Does that sound like something you’d like? Great! So heres how:
Step 1: Awareness. What is the cost to my life. Observe
Ask yourself why do I do this? Is my belief that “I must be perfect or I’m a complete failure, I must be perfect or I won’t be loved, I must be perfect or I’ll be fired or is it something else?” Or are you a perfectionist is all areas of your life? Don’t judge yourself for what you find, remember you took on this pattern as you learnt it at some point in your life. It doesn’t matter who you learnt it from all that matters is now you’re prepared to let it go. Write down your observations, talk to people about what they see in you and ask them how it hampers their relationship with you.
Step 2: What does this cost me? AND What are the pay offs?
This might seem a contradiction but a pattern can have dual aspects. There is cost to having this pattern, again observer and write down the costs. In the same way there must be a pay off, again observe and write it down. It could be that it in your head it keeps you safe, helps you remain focused, makes you go for things outside your comfort zone. Note these them commit to yourself that you can do all of these and let perfectionism go.
Step 3: Commit to changing it. This is very important. You have to weigh up the pros and cons that came up as part of Step 2, then you have to see that this is no longer serving you and you need to make a decision that this is it, no more.
Step 4: Do it! Allow something to be “imperfect” (ie normal) while still maintaining your standards. Start with something small like how you clean your kitchen or how you cook your dinner etc then build to the bigger things.
Step 5: Celebrate! Such an important step. We tend to tick patterns off a “personal growth” list without taking the time to stop and have an inner party that you’ve just let go of a major stumbling block in your life. Get the balloons out, have a dance or simply say a gentle “thank you” into your heart.
If you can’t get past step 1 or 2 then I’d suggest that you seek the help of a professional but remember you CAN let it go its just that sometimes the brain needs a little help in releasing it 🙂