Ginger’s note: This is the first post by TFGL editor and new contributor, Pia Savoie. Enjoy :)
After a fun evening, Phil left me with a challenge: to write a post for his blog.
I was excited, but nervous. I asked for a deadline so I wouldn’t be able to flake out.
Two weeks, he said.
Two weeks came and went. I hadn’t written a thing and I was kicking myself for it, angry for chickening out. Yet, I was less anxious about not following through than I was about the idea of actually writing something.
I had failed, but I had chosen to fail.
Everything I do needs to be perfect, meaning I need to be in control of it. If I write a post and share it to the masses on Phil’s blog, I’m not in control anymore. You see my trouble?
Some say I block up because I’m trying to “make it perfect”. Others say I set my standards too high.
To be honest, both are true. The standard I set for myself is perfection. And it’s seriously slowing me down.
Fed up, I realized that being a perfectionist is way more than just striving to be great. It’s a handicap to growth and success of any kind.
It has been my mission for the last 3 months to break my perfectionist habit.
Today, I feel empowered to share with you the struggle and, more importantly, the simple tips that can help any motivated person free themselves from their own limiting standards of perfection.
The Crippling Effect of Perfectionism
How good is good enough?
For some, good enough doesn’t even figure. There are only two options: perfection or total and complete failure.
Although it’s essential to dream big, perfection is an unrealistic standard that keeps dreams forever out of reach.
As the old saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. A perfectionist might say instead, if at first you don’t succeed, don’t bother, you failed.
This kind of thinking can turn even simple tasks into sources of extreme anxiety.
Burnt the toast? You failed.
Missed the bus? You failed.
Tripped on the stairs? You guessed it, failed.
The opportunities for failure become endless.
Mentally, you’re beating down on yourself for never getting anything perfectly right.
Emotionally, stress and anxiety are constant. You procrastinate because you’re scared to start anything when you know it won’t end well.
Physically, you recoil. You hunch, you hide, the weight of your failure crushing you down.
And what about your health? All this negativity takes a toll on your self-esteem and stress levels. The consequences can be quite serious, leading to panic attacks, depression, low immune system functioning and more.
So how do we break free from this downward spiral?
If your high standards are holding you back, or if you have trouble giving yourself full credit for your accomplishments, perfection is likely an issue for you.
Read on for tips that you can implement right now to reshape your standards and help you go further.
1) Make Room for Success
When your only options are perfection or failure, there’s no wiggle room for the unexpected. By broadening the spectrum of possible outcomes for any situation, an unexpected result no longer has to mean failure.
Instead of lumping an outcome into one of two polar opposites, find new ways of looking at your results.
Take aim, and know that no matter where you end up there are points to be earned.
Right now: revisit your last “failure”. Where would it land on this board? Find at least one thing about it that was right, and give yourself permission to feel good about getting that one thing spot on.
When you make room for a variety of different outcomes, there isn’t much that counts as a total failure. There is always something that went right, even if it was just about having the right intention.
Best of all, you’re now leaving room for improvement. Nadia Comăneci, the first gymnast to ever score a perfect 10 at the Olympics, didn’t get there on her first try. Like anyone who wants to perfect their craft, she worked her way through trial, experience and learning to finally become her best.
2) Find the Silver Lining
Life is full of surprises and we’re all bound to get caught off guard every now and again. Instead of getting crushed by what didn’t go according to plan, find another way of looking at it.
Right now: make a list of at least five different positive ways you can look at an unexpected outcome. It can be a chance for learning, opportunity, growth; what else?
The next time something doesn’t turn out as planned, think to the different perspectives you listed and apply as many of them as possible to the situation.
When an accident left me with a fractured foot and torn ligament just two months before a big dance performance, I had every reason to lock myself up and cry until it was all over. But I didn’t.
Instead, I attended every rehearsal and found an opportunity to take part in a new way. I ended up discovering and developing a new talent. I excelled as a rehearsal director and teacher, cleaning up choreographies and helping make that year’s show the most professional yet.
Instead of reacting to the unexpected by treating it as failure, you can re-appropriate any situation by finding a silver lining.
3) Practice Imperfection
There is intense outside pressure to be perfect. From exams to interviews to social events, society emphasizes competitive comparison, rewarding only those who come out on top.
Especially in terms of our career, competition is fierce and it can feel like the tiniest detail can make or break our future.
Let’s test that notion.
Today: Be purposely imperfect, and see what happens. Arrive 10 minutes late to work. Tell a bad joke. Mismatch your socks. Go wild!
I promise the world won’t stop turning.
In fact, I bet you’ll find that your planned imperfections will go mostly unnoticed.
Allow yourself a laugh of relief as you contemplate the possibility that imperfections are not only OK, they are life enhancing.
Imperfections add character to your day. They are the basis of a great “you’ll never believe what happened” story. They are reminders to relax and let life happen, because it’s impossible to make everything perfect and it’s draining to try.
4) Battle Inner Barriers
Perfectionism isn’t like any ol’ bad habit. It isn’t always obvious to those around you when you’re criticizing yourself, procrastinating or silently panicking over an awkward silence.
You are the only one who knows your whole story. You are with yourself 24/7 and your opinion is the one you are confronted with the most. Are you your friend or foe?
Right now: Tune in to your inner dialogue. Check in with how you’re treating yourself. Do this throughout the day and be aware of the positive or negative messages you’re feeding yourself.
Take responsibility for your self-worth by being responsible about what you tell yourself. If a slew of negativity is all that fills your mind, realize that you’re creating an unnecessary obstacle. Don’t think you deserve positive reinforcement? See how that’s part of the mental trap you’ve built for yourself.
Just as a good friend would sympathize instead of criticize, do the same for yourself until the underlying message sticks.
You are remarkable. Love yourself.
5) Look Outside Yourself
Some perfectionists impose their standards on the people they care about. All perfectionists spend incredible amounts of time and energy imposing their standards on themselves.
At the end of the day, perfectionist behaviour is selfish behaviour. It’s about how we come across, how those around us make us look, how our work impacts others’ perceptions of us… It’s all about us.
Why not balance our energy by directing a portion of it toward a less selfish cause?
Today: Phone a friend. Meet for coffee. Ask them what’s going on, and really listen. Take their problems and worries to heart. Let them fill you with compassion. Help if you can, if you’re asked to.
When we offer time and energy to the cause and benefit of others we exit our bubble and gain a wider perspective. The world doesn’t revolve around our personal ups and downs, as easy as this can be to forget.
Set time aside every day to take a break from yourself. Whether volunteering, giving back to the community or just being a good friend, devote some time and energy elsewhere and be reminded of some valuable truths:
Nobody is perfect.
Everyone can benefit from a helping hand.
In helping others we can better learn to face our own issues.
Mistakes are quickly forgotten, while a good deed leaves a lasting impression.
To Sum it Up…
The allure of perfection is like a mirage. It cannot be achieved, because there is no final destination.
Just as the mirage seems always just a little bit farther in the distance, there will always be ways to be more perfect. There is no real end, no satisfaction to be had.
Satisfaction must come instead from the experience of what we do. Learning, growing, finding new paths, dealing with the unexpected — there is so much joy to be found in the entire process of achieving goals.
Being good to ourselves means being realistic, encouraging and open to change. Being good to ourselves also means being good to the world around us, because we are products of our environments, too.
I am changing my standards. I am aiming now to not back down when something scares me (like writing this post!) and to become wiser and more knowledgeable from everything I do.
These standards are realistic, quantifiable, and truly help me grow.
How will you adapt your standards so they start working for you?
Share your thoughts in the comments! Your personal tips could be a revelation for the next reader.
Finally, I leave you with a quote…
“Done is better than perfect.” –Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook motto
… and this post is officially done!