Perfectionism can be described as a person's concern with striving for flawlessness and perfection and is accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' evaluations. I would consider myself a "recovering perfectionist." I'm aware of when it starts to arise within me and can overcome it with determination and strategies in my mindfulness toolkit, but I still fight the temptation to give into the pursuit of flawlessness at the expense of my peace of mind and well-being.
Perfectionism is sneaky. It creates an illusion of safety from criticism, judgement and punishment. It's subconsciously believing "if only I can be perfect or do it perfectly, I will be enough." Perfectionism, however, is restrictive, limiting and exhausting - it only cares about the outcome. I've found in my personal experience and coaching work that perfectionism truly does have a positive intention - for us to be loved and seen as worthy. This is a powerful motivation, especially if we have received messages in our upbringing or in society that we are not inherently lovable or worthy of belonging and acceptance. It's only natural that we would work twice as hard or do the absolute most to appear as though we are enough.
Perfectionism often comes up in my work on boundaries, as one of the reasons why we don't set boundaries or why we sabotage them. And it makes a lot of sense. As we strive for perfection, we often squander some of our most valuable resources - time, energy, self-esteem, peace of mind, well-being, etc. I can recall times that my perfectionism caused me to overwork and miss meals, or my efforts to look perfect caused me to be way too critical of my physical appearance. I've crossed the line with myself one too many times in pursuit of perfection.
The truth is, we are all inherently worthy and lovable, even if someone, some people, society, the media have subtly or not-so-subtly told us that we aren't. This is a tough truth for some to accept. It certainly has been for me. What turned this around for me was shifting my focus and adjusting my actions. And surely enough, over time and practice, my beliefs about my lovability and worthiness have followed suit in a healthy, beautiful and affirming way. I committed to stop crossing the line with myself (while pushing through the fear that came with it), because I knew there had to be a better way of living where I felt at peace and right with myself, and could reclaim all the time and energy and well-being I was wasting. This is a journey I'm still on, but I feel so good with how my relationship with myself has transformed to one that is way more loving than ever before.
If you struggle with perfectionism, try these strategies to keep your boundaries with yourself in check.
Put time boundaries on your "crazy". We can all get carried away with trying to be perfect and find ourselves embarrassed with how much time has elapsed in perfecting something to the point of diminishing returns. What has worked for me for tasks ranging from refining my talking points for a presentation to doing my hair and makeup for a night out, is making an agreement with myself on how much time I'll allow myself to go wild with perfecting the details. I set a timer or an alarm for a deadline that feels good. Once that timer has gone off, I have to let go and move on with my life, accepting that I did the best I could in the time that I was given.
Ask for help. If your perfectionism tells you to appear like you have it all together, when you do not, then you are wasting valuable time and headspace in confusion and overwhelm. Ask the question or the favor that will allow you to move farther faster than you would have on your own. It may feel like a hit to the ego to appear needy or incapable, but you'll feel relieved when you're no longer spinning your wheels and stagnant.
In situations where you feel that you are lacking, remind yourself of the strengths, talents or natural gifts you do have and allow those to shine in that situation. I've done this a lot when it comes to social anxiety. I may be at a networking event nervous over how I'll be received among large groups of impressive people, but I do know that I am great at building rapport when approaching people one-on-one, so I lean on that to create connection and feel confident. By being yourself, you can actually outshine your perceived imperfection and feel good while you're at it.
Take stock of the wisdom you've gained from your perceived failures or mistakes. Maya Angelou said "When you know better, you do better." When your efforts don't go the way you wanted, it gives you useful information for what you can do differently or how you can pivot toward your desired outcome. When you think of it, it seems silly to beat yourself up over something you didn't know that you didn't know.
Create a self-appreciation practice to remind yourself of how awesome you are just the way you are. At the end of the day, I write down 3 things in my journal that I can brag about from that day itself or about myself in general. It's a great reminder that there are things I do really well or am proud of that are valuable to me, whether they are noticed by others or just myself.
These strategies give you permission to experiment and take chances, and create momentum when you feel stuck. These strategies are here to give you permission to appreciate the journey to the outcome and embrace imperfection as a catalyst for growth. They're here to remind you that you don't have to be everything to everyone; in fact, it's impossible. And yet, you are still more than enough.