I’ve been studying the Bible of treatments for anxiety and phobias lately (also known as the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook), for my work, but the thing I love about my job is how much everything I learn along the way can be applied to my life, or just about anyone’s for that matter. What I would like to share from that book, over a few posts, are the four personality traits most linked to the experience of anxiety. Tonight, folks, it’s all about perfectionism.
“Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” -Leonard Cohen
Perfectionism is all about having high sky-high expectations (that are never met), and the inevitable disappointment that comes from focusing on small flaws and mistakes. Perfectionists tend to become so critical, that they are not able to see the positive. Perfectionistic thinking leads to low self-esteem. You try sooo hard, but always fail (because of that one small mistake you made on the way to glory), and therefore are a good-for-nothing nobody. Perfectionists will also completely stress themselves out and often become completely burnt out, just trying to be good enough, constantly fighting this inner critic that will never be satisfied.
Sound familiar at all?
If your answer is yes, here are some steps for shifting your attitude.
- Let go of the idea that your worth is determined by your achievements and accomplishments. That’s right, you are good enough, just being you, doing absolutely nothing at all. Say that to yourself now. “I am good enough. I don’t have to strive to be anything. I am inherently good and worthy.” Stop comparing yourself to others. We all have unique gifts and it only takes the right circumstance to bring them out. Consider this quote by Alice Miller, who wrote the Drama of the Gifted Child. “One is free from depression when self-esteem is based on the authenticity of one’s own feelings and not on the possession of certain qualities.”
- Recognize and overcome perfectionistic ways of thinking. Get a notebook, and listen to the way you talk to yourself. When you hear yourself “shoulding” on yourself, write it down. If you hear yourself using all-or nothing thinking (such as, If I can’t do this all right now, I’ll never get it done.), write it down. Finally, if you find yourself overgeneralizing in a negative sort of way (I messed up, just like I always do, or I made a mistake, which means I can never ever do anything right.), write it down. After you have a good idea of the specific ways you beat yourself up, write down some statements that counter these negative ones (Everyone makes mistakes and learns from them. I did one thing wrong, but I did alot of things right; I will do the best I can; I don’t have to finish this all now. I can do part of it now, and the rest later.) Post these new, more forgiving statements where you will see them. Write them down over and over. Say them out loud to yourself, very slowly, every single day.
- Focus on Positives. Take inventory every day of everything positive you accomplished. Notice when you disqualify a positive statement, with a “but…,” and stop yourself.
- Stop magnifying the importance of small errors. Seriously, how important is it? Enough to lose sleep? Enough to drive yourself crazy? We all make mistakes. I make one at least every minute. Haven’t you heard the famous quote? “The road to success is paved with failure.” -Unknown
- Work on goals that are realistic. If you’re not sure what realistic is, do some reality checking. Talk to people around you. Ask them if it seems attainable to them. If you continuously set goals you fail to attain, it’s time to break them into smaller pieces and give yourself more time. We all have limits. Accept yours.
- Cultivate more pleasure and recreation in your life. My favorite!!! Perfectionism tends to make us rigidly focused on attaining goals, denying our need for unstructured time, and as a result, our luscious creative life-force becomes stifled. Who wants that? Not me. So, take a break. Make a list of things you like to do just because they bring you joy or comfort. Do one of those things every day!
- Develop a process orientation. That old cliche about the journey being more important than the destination? It. Is. So. True. If nothing else, remember this. Everything continuously evolves. There will be a-ha moments when everything feels perfect and clear, and then there will be challenging lessons. Mostly, there will be challenging lessons. Focus your hunger on the growth, the learning, instead of the finished product. You will be much more satisfied that way. You will be more content, more relaxed, and more accepting of your mistakes. I promise.