In a recent conversation with a friend I was reminded of my tendency to avoid sharing my work due to a paralysing fear of it not being perfect. I've worked a lot to change this process over the years and if you follow my social media accounts you will know that I'm often sharing content that's anything but perfect.
Do you recognise that pattern? If so, you're not alone. Perfectionism is a common thinking pattern that affects many people. Small moments of striving for perfection can provide us with a moment of motivation. However, a long-term focus on perfectionism can be harmful and can lead to you feeling stressed, anxious, and burnout.
By understanding perfectionism and what causes it, you can take actionable steps to improve your relationship with it.
According to Brené Brown, a researcher and author who has extensively studied perfectionism, it's not the same as striving for excellence or setting high standards for oneself.
Instead, perfectionism is the opposite of striving for excellence. It is a self-destructive and addictive pattern of behaviour that can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, and even depression.
Perfectionists often need control, fear failure and criticism, and tie their self-worth to their achievements and external validation.
You may feel like you’re never good enough, even when you've achieved a lot, and you may struggle with anxiety and self-doubt.
Perfectionism can be particularly harmful in the creative process, as it can stifle innovation and lead to procrastination and self-doubt. It can also harm relationships, as perfectionists often hold others to impossibly high standards and be critical of mistakes.
Common Perfectionists Traits
So, how can you recognise if you run perfectionism? Here are some traits to look out for:
- You have a strong need for control and struggle with uncertainty
- You fear failure and criticism and avoid taking risks
- You tend to procrastinate or avoid tasks that seem daunting or difficult
- You are critical of yourself and others
- You tie your self-worth to your achievements and external validation
- You struggle with anxiety and feelings of inadequacy
There are varying levels of perfection. You might relate to only one of these traits. Or you might have hit the perfectionist jackpot and can relate to all of them.
The good news is there are actionable steps you can take to overcome it and live a more fulfilling life.
Playing in a More Compassionate Space
Self-compassion is treating yourself with kindness and understanding, especially when experiencing setbacks or failures. By practising self-compassion, you can learn to accept yourself for who you are and let go of the need for perfection.
This can help you feel more confident and resilient in the face of setbacks and allow you to focus on your goals and passions rather than your flaws and shortcomings. Yes, I know. Much easier said than done.
But self-compassion is a powerful tool and one of the first steps we take with my clients who struggle with perfectionism.
How to Cultivate Self-Compassion
You’re likely familiar with being overly critical of yourself and struggling with feelings of inadequacy or shame when things don't go as planned. Self-compassion can help you break out of this negative cycle and learn to accept yourself for who you are, flaws and all.
Tips for practising self-compassion
- Reframe your inner voice. Instead of criticising yourself for mistakes or failures, try speaking to yourself as you would to a friend. Offer encouragement and support, and remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes.
- Acknowledge your efforts. Even if things don't go as planned, it's essential to recognise your effort. Focus on what you did right rather than what went wrong.
- Take care of yourself. Practising self-compassion also means taking care of yourself physically and emotionally. Make time for self-care activities that make you feel good, like exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones.
Embracing Vulnerability and Imperfection
Another important step in overcoming perfectionism is to embrace vulnerability and imperfection. This means recognising that everyone has flaws and weaknesses and that it's okay to make mistakes and learn from them.
Leaning into imperfection requires letting go of what others think, cultivating authenticity, and finding the courage not to get things right every time. It also involves practising self-compassion, as we discussed earlier, and being kind to yourself when things don't go as planned.
Tips for embracing vulnerability and imperfection
- Practice self-awareness. Start by becoming more aware of your thoughts and feelings around imperfection and vulnerability. When do you feel the most vulnerable or afraid of being imperfect? What triggers these feelings?
- Challenge your beliefs. When you notice negative thoughts or beliefs around imperfection, challenge them. Ask yourself if they're true and if they're positively serving you.
- Embrace mistakes and failures. When you make a mistake or experience a setback, try to reframe it as an opportunity for growth and learning. Ask yourself what you can learn from the experience and how you can use it to improve.
By embracing vulnerability and imperfection, you can learn to let go of the need for control and perfection and find joy in self-discovery and growth.
Cultivating a Growth Mindset
Finally, cultivating a growth mindset is another tool for softening perfectionist tendencies. A growth mindset is a belief that you can develop intelligence and abilities through hard work, challenges, perseverance, and learning.
Struggling perfectionists often have a fixed mindset, believing their abilities are innate and cannot be changed. This can lead to a fear of failure, a reluctance to take risks, and a tendency to give up easily when faced with challenges.
Cultivating a growth mindset can help you see challenges as opportunities for growth and view failure as a natural part of the learning process.
This can help you develop resilience and perseverance and overcome the fear of failure that often accompanies perfectionism.
Tips for cultivating a growth mindset:
- Embrace challenges. Instead of avoiding challenges or difficult tasks, embrace them as opportunities for growth and learning. Focus on the process of learning rather than the result.
- Practice self-reflection. When faced with a setback or failure, reflect on what you learned and how you can improve in the future. Use this information to adjust your approach and try again.
- Celebrate progress. Finally, make sure to celebrate your progress and growth along the way. Recognise your hard work and perseverance, and take pride in your progress
By cultivating a growth mindset, you can learn to see challenges as opportunities for growth and learning and develop the resilience and perseverance needed to overcome perfectionism.
Perfectionism can be a harmful mindset that leads to stress, anxiety, and burnout
But perfectionism is a pattern of behaviour that you can unlearn. By practising self-compassion, embracing vulnerability and imperfection, and cultivating a growth mindset, you can overcome perfectionism and live a more fulfilling life.
Just remember to be kind to yourself. Changing long-help beliefs takes time. And the rewards are worth the effort.Also know that you don't have to do this alone.
If you're struggling to overcome perfectionism, please contact me for help. I can provide you with the tools and support you need to break free from the cycle of perfectionism.
Have a winning day!