How Perfectionism is Holding You Back
Many of us grow up with the idea that it’s good to be a perfectionist. We want to do our best and be the best. As children, we received gold stars, in school, we made the honor roll, and now? Holding ourselves to perfectionist ideals could be hurting us more than helping.
Perfectionism could be exactly the thing that’s holding you back from true success.
The Problem with Perfectionism
It would seem as though wanting to be perfect should be a good thing. It would motivate us to work harder, come up with the best ideas, and produce the best work. Unfortunately, that’s not how perfectionism plays out.
Perfectionism leads to inaction, as our fear of underperforming causes procrastination. We’re either paralyzed and unable to begin, or we work even more hours in pursuit of the ideal, unable to ever complete a task.
Perfectionism stifles our creativity by boxing us in and limiting our freedom to try new things. By sticking only to what we’re already good at, we fail to build new skills or realize new ideas.
Perfectionism holds us in a negative state of mind, by labeling everything we do as not quite good enough. A perfectionist is much more attuned to the details of what went wrong than what went right. Even if the big picture is positive, a perfectionist will zero in on a few small things that could have been improved.
This negativity and inability to reach the highest bar keeps us in a continual state of anxiety and stress. The more we fail to meet that bar, the worse we feel about ourselves, the more our stress increases, and the more we must become perfect just to feel ok.
We become trapped in a vicious cycle, where, much like a hamster on a wheel, we’re running towards nothing. Why nothing? Because the truth about perfectionism is that it’s an illusion.
The Illusion of Perfection
One woman’s ‘perfect’ is another woman’s ‘not quite.’ Perfectionism is subjective and it’s changing. Only you can decide what perfect is. So what is it to you, and what have you been expecting or afraid of?
Are you expecting gold stars or your name on the honor roll again? Often, in our adult lives, we just don’t get that type of feedback. This frequently has nothing to do with you; everyone’s just busy. Let go of your reliance on external praise, and find it on the inside by taking pride in your efforts.
Are you afraid? If you’re feeling paralyzed by perfection it’s time to look inward and get honest about what it is that you’re afraid of. Perfectionism is fear in disguise. Criticism, suggestions, feedback, or even second place may not feel good in the moment, but they are an important part of your journey. Are you afraid of failure?
Failure is just as subjective as perfection. For example, if by making a mistake we learn something important, or if by ‘failing’ we end up somewhere new, couldn’t we label that as perfection?
How to Let Go of Perfectionism
Begin by becoming aware of what’s fueling your perfectionism. Dig deep to reveal you’re true fears. Once you drill down to the core of what’s driving you, it may seem silly and outdated, or you may have revealed what it is that you really need to work on.
Stop using the words, “I should have,” “I could have,” or “I wish I would have.” Deal with the present in the present by taking positive action, and spend less time ruminating on the past.
Practice self-acceptance and self-compassion. Ironically, those who are obsessed with being perfect often have low self-esteem. You’re perfect just as you are, and you are exactly where you need to be to learn what you need to learn.
Set achievable, healthy goals, which is completely different from perfectionism. Celebrate each small achievement to become more aware of all the things you’re currently doing well.
Remember that success comes in all shapes and sizes, and what success will end up looking like for the future you, might be a surprise to your present-moment self.