Six Tips for Overcoming Perfectionism
From a Recovering Perfectionist
I am a recovering perfectionist.
This morning I realized I had missed an event by putting it on the wrong day in my calendar. It wasn’t even something I cared that much about, but that one error was enough to send me down a spiral of self-doubt and self-punishment. The remarkably familiar and well-worn tapes started to roll:
"You’ve got too much going on and you are not doing any of it well."
"What’s wrong with you?"
"Why can’t you keep track of simple things?"
Today I did something different. I caught myself and stopped the tapes. I detoured from my familiar path of self-deprecating thoughts and gave myself a little love instead. The voice inside that relishes making me feel bad said:
"It’s really ok. You can do that another day."
Many factors can contribute to perfectionism, including "Frequent fear of disapproval from others or feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, mental health issues like anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and having a parent who exhibits perfectionistic behavior or expresses disapproval when their children's efforts do not result in perfection." While I do not live with OCD or anxiety disorder, the other factors totally describe me.
Job hunting can bring out the perfectionist tendencies in all of us. We apply for jobs and second guess why we don’t hear back. Or we reflect on our responses during an interview and then replay the interview in our heads, ruminating on the ways we "coulda/shoulda/woulda" answered. We prepare for numerous interviews only to receive that "thanks, but no thanks" call or email. Rejection is the perfect set up for self-criticism, but there are ways to interrupt those ruminations.
I do not profess to know the cure for perfectionism, but I can tell you a few things (besides years and years of therapy) that have worked for me:
Even five minutes of meditation per day is enough to get you out of your habitual thoughts and outside of your "monkey mind," a term used in Buddhist meditation to describe the constant stream of thoughts that fill our brains. Though you certainly do not need an app to meditate, I have found Headspace to be helpful and user-friendly. It has options for every situation, mood, or need. Calm is another meditation app that comes highly recommended.
Write down positive affirmations in places you will see them throughout the day. I have little post-its on my computer that run counter to my perfectionist inner dialogue. It sounds cheesy, but these reminders have really helped shift my thinking from negative to positive. I hope they may help you too!
3. Download “I Am”
If you could benefit from some affirmations, but do not quite feel like you are in a place to generate them yourself, the inexpensive "I Am" app supplies subscribers with positive messaging throughout the day. Just now, I got a push notification reminding me that "What I am doing today is getting me closer to my goals."
4. Try something new
Ever since my 7th grade art teacher gave me a C on paintings I had worked really hard on, I have internalized the "fact" that "I am no good at art." I avoided trying anything artistic for many years. Recently, I had the opportunity to take a beginning painting class. While I was extremely reluctant to participate, I pushed myself to do so and in the end, it turned out to be a great experience. I may not be the next Picasso, but I realized that painting can be fun and relaxing, even if the result is not frame-worthy.
5. Practice Being Average
Try doing something where your perfectionism usually shows up and silence your inner critic while you do it. Leave some dishes in the sink when you leave your house. Go out after taking only a quick peek in the mirror. Good enough really can be enough.
6. Divert and deflect your inner critic
When you hear your inner critic saying something negative, try treating the advice like you would a quirky relative. Know that they mean well but are not being helpful and send them on their way. I imagine a great-uncle who wants to help but really doesn’t know how. When he offers antiquated advice on household appliances, I thank him lovingly for his concern and send him on his way.
Ideally our self-worth would not be tied up to our performance. We would love ourselves unconditionally and laugh off our mistakes. We would know, intrinsically, that we are not our ego and we are not our behavior. This is certainly worth striving for, but it takes time and a lot of practice to get there.
Do you suffer from perfectionism? Have you developed any tools to help? Let me know in the comments.