As defined by Oxford Dictionary, a perfectionist is a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection. Unfortunately, we are human, which by nature, is imperfect. Striving for perfection is a false sense of security and often derived from a fear of being out of control.
If you’re reading this article, then I’m guessing you or a loved one identify as a perfectionist. A perfectionist mindset likely has served you in some areas of your life. Often these traits develop in childhood as a protective mechanism to feel safe and/or loved.
As children, these traits may have worked in some ways and even possibly as an adult. In fact, in our society, it has become socially acceptable to identify as a perfectionist. It is often even viewed as a positive trait by many. However, the unfortunate truth is that perfectionism can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental and social health issues. It can also lead you down a dangerous path of procrastination and emotional paralysis.
If this is a struggle you identify with, you are certainly not alone! According to many recent studies, perfectionism has increased over the past 30 years. Many factors may contribute to contribute to developing a perfectionist mindset, including birth order, academic proficiency, and lack of unstructured time, but we are here to focus on how to shift from that perfectionism.
In my opinion, focusing on perfect is a sure-fire way not to feel good enough. It is asking to feel unhappy, anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed. Often feeling a need to be perfect is just a manifestation of anxiety and fear. Anxiety and fear lead you to ask yourself questions such as, “What if it’s not perfect? What will they think of me? What if I can’t do it, will everyone laugh? What if I fail?” Maybe you have a fear or anxiety surrounding getting the grade you want, someone not liking you, someone judging you on how you look, the list goes on and on!
So, how can we start to move from needing to be perfect to embracing perfectly imperfect?
Step one is realizing that no one around you actually cares as much as you do. We live in a society that is so self-consumed, no one is paying attention to you as much as you are. Often as children, perfectionists feel that to gain the attention, praise, or love of a parent, you needed to be perfect. However, as an adult, this belief system isn’t necessary to get the love and attention you need. The simple truth is, perfection is not attainable, especially not for longer than a fleeting moment, and most adults accept this and do not expect others to be as perfect as we expect ourselves to be.
In my years of practicing therapy, I have noticed often that as soon a perfectionist attains a goal or achievement, they will immediately find a new flaw. These flaws can range from a flaw in one’s physical self, a project at work, finding contentment in one thing only to find another discontent in the same sentence, etc.
Step two to moving from perfectionism to perfectly imperfect is to realize that perfectionism is a symptom. This symptom is toxic for your mental, spiritual, and physical health. Accepting being imperfect is actually choosing to live with less anxiety and less sadness and self-criticism.
Often perfectionists also struggle with being more critical of others. This includes spouses, children, employees, friends, everyone in their life! As noted, we live in an imperfect world, so if we always expect perfection from others, we will often be left feeling frustrated, annoyed, disappointed, and hurt.
Step three to moving from perfect to perfectly imperfect is realizing that this expectation of others was not realistic, to begin with. As a perfectionist, we want to blame the others in our lives and not see it as our own unhealthy mindset. Looking inward can often be a difficult task, but in the case of perfectionism, we must shift our mindset and our expectations of others.
As we constantly obsess about being perfect, we often miss cues and communication from those around us. While we are projecting our need for perfection onto a situation rather than accepting and seeing the situation for what it really is, we miss beautiful and meaningful moments.
Thus, step four is being present in the moment. Being consumed with perfection clouds our ability to enjoy life. Additionally, pay attention to the other people involved. Who is triggering you to uphold the air of perfection? Why do you feel you need to be perfect with certain people or in certain situations? While making mental notes of all of this, stay present, notice the imperfections, and move on while appreciating the here and now. This will lead to a much more relaxed, fulfilling life than constantly striving for perfection, which as a reminder, is an unobtainable goal.
Step five in moving from perfect to perfectly imperfect is to spend a moment in catastrophic thinking. This might seem like an odd step, but it can be useful in recognizing the difference between a rational mindset and an irrational mindset. Stop and ask yourself, “what is the worst-case scenario if it doesn’t turn out perfect?” Chances are, the catastrophic thought is actually not so catastrophic after all. Once you have determined that the imperfect is not actually catastrophic, the next step may seem more possible, ease yourself into choosing imperfection. As you doubt yourself embracing the perfectly imperfect, take a moment to remind yourself that choosing imperfection also means finding the joy and freedom in letting go of perfection.
The journey from perfect to perfectly imperfect is not an easy one. There will be bumps in the road where you regress to striving for perfection rather than staying in the moment. However, little by little, as you embrace the perfectly imperfect lifestyle, you will see changes that greatly enhance your life. You will begin to love yourself from the inside out, and there is no greater freedom than knowing you’re good enough just as you are.
*Originally published on Brainz Magazine.
Joanna Hakimi is a proud entrepreneur and can often be found singing in the car with her two kids. Starting her first successful business when she was 17 and being president of the Young Entrepreneur’s Society at the University of Georgia, she never closed the door on opportunity. She then went on to Northwestern University and attained her Masters in Science, becoming a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. After being a successful LMFT in the northern suburbs of Chicago for more than 15 years while simultaneously running a mindful goods boutique for 5 years and accomplishing a 200 hour yoga teaching certification, Joanna was itching for a new adventure. After a phone conversation with a friend in California discussing ways to grow her Life Coaching business, the idea came about that independent professionals, such as Life Coaches, Health and Wellness Coaches and other similar people in the life changing business, needed a resource to connect potential clients with the LifeChanger they were seeking. That’s how her newest venture, LifeChangers.Info was born. LifeChangers has a mission to connect professionals with a new client base using a simple and inclusive site. When she’s not seeing clients or working to grow LifeChangers.Info, you can find Joanna hiking, making terrariums or, well, singing in the car with her kids…likely to Billy Joel or Indigo Girls. You can follow Joanna on Instagram.
Image courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio.