I have a vulnerability, a (*gasp*) weakness. A tendency toward a behavior that on the surface seems productive but in reality is unproductive and even undermining. It is what has led me to have a lapse in posting to my blog. It’s also something that I teach clients to overcome because it sabotages their long term success. I have to continually remind them to let it go. And I have to continually remind myself too.
What is it, you’re wondering? It’s perfectionism.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says this about perfectionism:
“Getting it right, you may call it. Or fixing it before I go any further. You may call it having standards. What you should be calling it is perfectionism. Perfectionism has nothing to do with getting it right. It has nothing to do with fixing things. It has nothing to do with standards. Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move forward… [that causes you] to lose sight of the whole.”
Perfectionist shows up in different ways:
- Perfect is the only option (even though it’s impossible), so you nitpick about unimportant details. But nothing is ever good enough. Therefore you are not good enough. Your confidence and self-esteem plummets.
- Unless you know you can do it perfectly, you won’t even start. The fear of failure leads to procrastination and paralysis. You are stuck, unable to move forward.
- You give yourself unrealistic standards, which sets you up for failure right from the start.
- You kill yourself trying to reach your goals and end up neglecting other parts of your life.
- You lose sight of the journey so you have a hard time celebrating seemingly small successes.
- You overreact when you realize you “made a mistake”. You put so much pressure on yourself to succeed, causing stress to your mind and body.
- You worry about making the wrong decision. So you don’t decide at all. You wait for others or outside circumstances to decide for you.
- You become frustrated with others because they don’t meet your expectations. You either decide to do everything yourself or you criticize others and harm your relationships.
- You use it as an excuse – “I’m a perfectionist. That’s just the way I am!”
Yuck. Any way you slice it, perfectionism sucks.
How It Helps You
If you can relate to any of the above scenarios you likely find yourself repeatedly not reaching your goals, or reaching them but feeling no sense of accomplishment. This is what you need know:
Improving your well-being is always tied your behavior – creating new, productive behaviors and doing them consistently. Unfortunately, if you have perfectionist tendencies, you will stand in your own way. Like this:
- “I need to get back to the gym. But I haven’t found the right gym / class / trainer / shoes / time.”
- “I was starting to eat better. Then the holidays happened and figured why bother.”
- “I went and tried yoga but I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right so I didn’t go back.”
- “I know I’ve lost 2/5/10/40 pounds. But I’m disappointed that I have so much farther to go.”
- “I wanted to organize my closet/office/house but the last time I did I only got part of it done. Before I start, I want to make sure I can do it all at once.”
- “I was going to go do ______, but I just didn’t do it. I guess I’m just lazy.”
The quest for perfection keeps you from moving forward in a positive way. But now it’s time to let go. Let go of unrealistic, rigid ideas about who you need to be and what you need to do. Take the blinders off so you can keep you eye on the future while also recognizing your victories along the way. Take baby steps – they will lead you where you want to go. Experiment and try new things. Take the first step in the direction of your dreams. If you don’t know what to do, do anything. There is no wrong – there is only learning.
Then, when you’re falling back into your old perfectionist patterns, you can borrow my affirmation:
Progress, not perfection.