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Are You a Perfectionist?

Perfectionism can be difficult to define. The pursuit of perfectionism in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, there is a dark side involving self-defeating thoughts and behaviors. While being 'perfect' is often associated with a positive trait, Brene Brown, a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, says, "Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth." Most people strive for perfection from time to time in certain areas of life. However, to be considered a 'perfectionist' there are a number of other qualities often associated with one's attempt to be perfect. Some examples might include:

  • Holding oneself to the standards of others' accomplishments, or comparing oneself unfavorably and unrealistically to others.

  • Focusing on the end product rather than the process of learning.

  • Believing that anything less than a perfect outcome is not worth achieving.

  • Difficulty being happy for others who are successful.

When these behaviors are exaggerated, perfection can become destructive. To set unattainable or unrealistic goals can many times cause failure, leading to low self-esteem and possibly depression. The problem with perfectionism is feeling like you never measure up. The ideals many times don't match up to what is truly possible. This can cause someone to become critical, approval seeking, unrealistic, and prone to depression. We all want to have good results but there has to be balance to offset the high standards. Now that we know a little more about what perfectionism is, here are some strategies to overcome it and live a more relaxed life.

  • Change perfectionistic thinking. Your thinking HAS to be more realistic instead of idealistic. Practicing these affirmative statements can help change your thinking patters. It takes work but is absolutely worth it. Nobody is perfect. All I can do is my best. Everyone makes mistakes and that's okay.

  • Try to keep the big picture in mind. When you are faced with old patterns of perfectionism, try to ask yourself some of these questions. What does it matter? What is the worst that could happen? If the worst does happen, can I survive it? Will this matter tomorrow, next week, or next year?

  • Try taking a different perspective. Try seeing things from someone else's point of view. Ask yourself some of these questions. How might someone else view this situation? Are there other ways to look at this? What would be my advice to a friend having similar thoughts?

Perfectionist behavior stems from the fear of making mistakes. Gradually and consistently facing fears is the best way to overcome these negative behaviors. As crazy as this sounds, try to make mistakes on purpose. This will help you play with the feelings that come up. Also, try putting yourself in situations you would normally avoid for fear of not getting perfect results. Remember, the goal is to get out of your comfort zone in order to realize the end result isn't a catastrophe when things aren't perfect. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Show up to a function a couple minutes late.

  • Leave a visible area in the house a little messy.

  • Tell people when you are tired (or other feelings you consider to be a weakness).

  • Wear a piece of clothing that has a visible stain on it.

  • Purposely allow several uncomfortable silences to occur during a conversation.

  • Send an email that includes a couple mistakes.

  • Try a new restaurant without first researching how good it is.

It will take time and practice before making mistakes feel comfortable. Be consistent, and remember having anxiety will be normal. Once you become less rigid, you will feel less anxious over making mistakes. With consistent practice, mindfulness can actually alter functions of the brain. Negative thinking and behaviors are the core of perfectionism. Actively working to rewrite the brain's negativity for more positive outlooks can be done through the regular practice of mindfulness. A great idea to help switch those negative thought patters is to place positive quotes in places you will see them throughout your day (i.e. in the kitchen, on the bathroom mirror, in your car, etc.). Here are a few you might like to write down:

  • " You're imperfect, and you're wired for struggles, but you are worthy of love and belonging." ~Brene Brown

  • " When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you." ~ Lao Tzu

  • " Suffering usually relates to wanting things to be different than they are." ~Allan Lokos

We are all reaching for perfection in some way or another. However, it is important to recognize when things are getting out of hand and causing unneeded stress which leads to issues in relationships. Nothing will ever change if nothing ever changes. These are just a few action steps you can start implementing in your life today. It will feel uncomfortable for a while but go into them knowing that it won't be easy. Your brain is working overtime to make you stay the same. It is possible to eventually change those old thought patterns. Now it's time to take that leap for yourself.

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