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How to Manage Perfectionism

How to Manage Perfectionism

  • Healthy ways to recognize and manage your perfectionism.

To understand how to manage perfectionism, you first need to know what drives it. Usually, we wind up as perfectionists when this behavior is modeled regularly by our parents or caretakers and when they consistently push us to be perfect.

It’s important to recognize that, in most cases, they wanted us to do well because they loved us and, most likely, had no idea that trying to shape us into flawless beings could possibly do us any harm.

Here are some steps to take to recognize and manage perfectionism:

  • Observe this tendency in yourself

If you tend to go above and beyond more often than not, observe your behavior. You’ll need to do this for a while in various situations to get a full picture of the extent of your perfectionism. Check out your behavior at work, at play, at home, with your children and in any setting in which you think you might be putting in too much effort.

If you pay close attention, you’ll note an inner sense that you need to keep doing something to get it right and feel as if you can’t stop if you don’t. You might also notice that you keep driving yourself forward in the hopes of getting approval.

  •        Understand how you developed this trait

Think back to your childhood and ask yourself some questions: Were either of my parents perfectionists or was anyone else who played a major part in my upbringing?

What was the emotional tenor of my childhood apropos doing things right—or wrong? Was there a competitive feeling in the family? Was success or excelling more highly regarded than other qualities?

Here are more questions to ask yourself: What happened when I didn’t do things perfectly? Of course, perfectionism translates into what your parents thought was perfect, right or acceptable. When you didn’t do something just so, did your parents express grave disappointment in or anger at you?

Were you pushed beyond your natural abilities or compared to others and found lacking? Were you punished, shamed, teased, or humiliated? Did your parents withdraw love when you did anything in less than a stellar way? Did you feel chronically not good enough?

  • Evaluate your experience of feeling bad or wrong in childhood

Many people become perfectionists because anything less makes them feel as if they’re bad or wrong. As a child, especially if your parents were intolerant of mistakes or failures, feeling bad or wrong was just about the worst thing that could happen to you, particularly if it happened regularly.

Perfectionism is a learned trait that we’re conditioned to pursue for adaptive reasons. Maybe you kept trying to hit a home run or bake a cake, ace geometry, play the piano, ski down the black diamond trails, or take first place in spelling contests because you didn’t want to fail.

  • Identify your beliefs about mistakes and failure

To manage perfectionism, make a list of what you believe about mistakes and failure such as:

  • I shouldn’t make mistakes.
  • Mistakes can be avoided if I try hard enough.
  • Failure is a terrible thing, to be avoided at all costs.
  • If I’m not perfect, I’m a failure.
  • I always need to try my hardest or give an endeavor my best shot.
  • I must be perfect to be lovable and loved.

Reframe your beliefs about mistakes and failure

Here are some healthy beliefs about mistakes and failure. Notice how you feel as you read through them, especially if you have a reaction that I must be wrong and that these beliefs couldn’t possibly be healthy.

  • Forget about always doing your best

The truth is you don’t need to be perfect at anything or everything. My father brought me up according to the adage, “Good, better, best, never let it rest, ‘til the good is better and the better is the best” and I spent half a lifetime shedding that unhelpful piece of advice, though I have absolutely no doubt that my loving father meant well by encouraging me to live by it. My guess is that he was raised with the same expectation and that, as a highly competent, successful man, he never questioned it.

Why not start from the premise that you’re going to do some things well in your life and some things poorly, that you have strengths and weaknesses just like the rest of us, and that your success or failure in an activity has absolutely nothing to do with your value as a human being.

  • Stop measuring yourself against perfection

If we measure every aspect of ourselves against some perfect ideal, we’ll be pretty bummed out nearly all the time.

Considering that humans are imperfect beings and that we can’t control the universe, how can we insist that whatever we’re engaged in—playing tennis, parenting a child, giving a speech, or taking a vacation—must be a complete success?

Whenever humans are involved, we need to toss out the concept of flawless and get real. And real means flaws, faults, frailties and defects. Real means good enough, close-but-no-cigar and, often, only the best we can do at any given time.

  • Decide how well you wish to do at certain activities

When you try to do everything well, you’re setting yourself up for stress, distress and exhaustion. We soon run out of steam if we try to do our best at everything. And, who says that we need to?

Mental and physical energy are not infinite resources and human beings often get depleted from trying too hard. When that happens we look for quick fixes in food or alcohol, may become irritable with others and, in frustration, often want to chuck whatever we’re trying to do and give up.

Learn to enjoy your imperfection

Practice laughing at your mistakes, sharing your bloopers with your friends, owning up to your own failures before someone else points them out, allowing yourself to be fair to midland at things, giving up trying to make things work out right all the time and, instead, riding with the tide and going with the flow.

Go for broke on being flawed. I once wrote a newspaper article on “The Art of Mediocrity” which extolled the merits and benefits of striving to be a mediocre skier because I doubted I’d have enough fun if I forced myself to focus strictly on perfect form.

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