Recovering Perfectionists' Tool Kit
Perfectionism usually starts young, like elementary or middle school. We want to get all A’s, have a spotless bedroom, behave in a way that doesn’t draw negative attention, get first chair in band or orchestra, be skinny or at least not fat.
Why? Well, we all have different specific reasons for trying to achieve perfectionism, but the bottom lines are similar. We want to feel worthy, gain someone’s attention, not feel like crap about ourselves, be included in groups, feel better about ourselves or think it will make our lives better when we achieve it.
Early on, we, women especially, are taught that perfectionism = happiness.
But it never does. Ever. No matter how much weight we lose, no matter how many times we were on the honor roll or who might start paying attention to us. Perfection, and what we think it will get us, is an illusion. We say we know that intellectually, but our hearts don’t believe it.
We think something along the lines of, “When “X” finally happens, life will be better, I’ll be happy, I won’t feel like crap anymore.”
It’s an illusion and a form of insanity. You know the definition of insanity, right? Doing the same thing and expecting different results. Somewhere along the line, we internalized the thought of, “If I’m perfect, things will be different, and I’ll feel better.” And so, our impossible, and totally exhausting journey for perfection began. And it doesn’t stop until we realize a few truths.
Truth #1: Perfect is a lie, and we can stop trying to achieve it right now. We’ve tried SO hard for SO long. If it was legit possible, we would have already achieved it. You don’t need to keep trying. And you know this is true in your gut. We all do. So let’s get off this dang merry-go-round of crazy. Right now. No matter how long you’ve been riding it, stop and tell yourself, “no more, we’re done.”
Truth #2: It’s really freaking exhausting! For just a moment, think about all the time, energy, money and head space you’ve given, in the attempt to get something that isn’t real. It’s like trying to grab smoke. You can’t. Now, be really compassionate and graceful with yourself. This is not an invitation to beat yourself up! We’ve all done that a lot, and it doesn’t help. I ask you to think about everything you’ve given in the pursuit of perfection, to see what it costs you, and decide if you want to continue doing it. That’s all. A simple looksie at its price, and a decision if you want to continue. Skip the drama and beatdown! We aren’t doing that anymore.
Truth #3: You’ve got to find out WHY you were killing yourself to try to be perfect. Without knowing your “why,” the thoughts you were thinking that drove your actions, you’ll keep striving for the impossible. You’ve got to write it down. It’s SO much more powerful and effective to write it down. It’s science. Ask your brain why you’re trying to be perfect. And KEEP asking “why,” until you get to the real reason. The reason/thought that’s way down in your gut that maybe no one else knows. Without knowing that key thought, you’ll stay in the insanity. Keep asking and writing until you know your truth. With that truth, you can make changes from a place of power and authority. Instead of giving your power to the person or goal you were trying to be perfect for.
- Brain Dumps/Thought Downloads– Grab a fun journal or notebook and just word vomit everything that’s in your brain around why you feel the need to be perfect. And don’t accept, “I don’t know” as an answer. Keep asking yourself why until you get to your root cause. This will be SO important for you to know. That information, your real why, will allow you to begin asking yourself if it’s true and if you want to keep that behavior.
- Don’t Avoid Your Feelings– When we strive for perfection, we’re trying to avoid a feeling. If you obsessed about your grades, maybe you were hungry for your parents’ attention. You didn’t want to feel unloved or unimportant. If you try to be the perfect mom and do all the things, maybe deep down you feel like a terrible mom because you don’t enjoy playing games with them 24/7. There’s some feeling we are trying to suppress or run away from and we think, “if I was perfect at this, then I wouldn’t feel X.” You’ve got to be willing to sit with the uncomfortable feeling or you’ll keep driving yourself crazy trying to achieve the impossible.
- B- Work– This idea and practice hit me like a ton of bricks. Perfectionists want everything to be an A+, and anything less than that basically means we suck. But striving for perfection keeps us stuck in quicksand. We keep tweaking the email before we hit send. We have a “pre-conversation” in our minds 50 times before we have the real one with our spouse, boss or BFF. We don’t take an art class because we’re not Picasso right off the bat.
But I’ve noticed something over the past few years. I’m really drawn to, and resonate with, people who are real, honest and showing their humanity. I used to judge that and think, “sheesh, they could have done that a lot better.” But now, it’s my goal. To get something out there and stop redoing it 10 times first. This saves me SO much energy and time! I realized it was more important to send the email, take the art class, have the conversation no matter what, because perfection is an illusion and I was wasting my precious life trying to catch smoke.
- Take Action Before You Think You’re “Ready”– We wait, and reschedule, and put off, do retake after retake or never take action at all. We’re often waiting for a certified letter from the Universe telling us what action to take and when. It’s never gonna come. We just have to try stuff and see what happens. And start eliminating the words “right” and “wrong.” Our brains never want to be wrong. Ever. So we don’t take the first or next step, and our goals and dreams just rot and die.
- It’s time to take the leap and see what happens. 99.9% of the time, the decision you’re contemplating is not life or death. No one will be harmed no matter which choice you make. Take the info. you have and make the decision. Not the perfect decision or the right decision. The decision. And move on. You can reassess down the road and make a change if necessary, with new info. As my dad used to say, shit or get off the pot.
- Compare and Despair– We’ve all done this. We see someone’s post on social media and think, “they’ve got it all together,” or, “their house is so clean and tidy,” or, “she’s so much skinnier than me.” When we think these kinds of things we’re screwed. It’s a lose-lose situation. Instead of comparing yourself to someone (or someone’s perceived situation or social media “highlight reel”), look at it as what is possible. For examples: she has 3 kids, and her house is tidier than ours, so it’s possible. She has created a successful online business, so that means I can too. She lost her baby weight, so it’s possible for me too. Celebrate that person and then let those circumstances inspire you. You can have it too! No one has a monopoly on anything you want in your life. Be inspired and go for it!
Start practicing these tools. Use them when you catch yourself wanting to do something perfectly. If you liked this tool kit and want to learn more about life coaching with me, you can get all the details on my Life Coaching page.
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