Perfectionist? Me? No Way. [I thought.]
I didn’t think I was a perfectionist until I took a deep dive into my own shadows these past couple years.
In fact, I was pretty sure I wasn’t a perfectionist.
- can be a terrible procrastinator.
- post and deliver assignments before triple checking my language.
- shy away from actively competing with other women –outside sports.
- love trying new activities and trying out new concepts.
- am definitely not a hyper-achiever Type A personality.
But when I started looking more deeply at my shadow, I realized that the reasons behind my so-called non-perfectionist behaviors were very perfectionist indeed.
Why did I procrastinate? So that when I delivered something at the last minute I had an excuse for it not being perfect. Why didn’t I openly compete with others in some areas of my life? Because I was afraid I wouldn’t win. And doubly afraid of the meaning I attached to a loss. Why did I take on so many challenges I knew I couldn’t expect to be good at right away? Because I knew I wasn't expected to be good at it. In fact, the bigger the challenge, and the more unrealistic the goal, the more grace if I failed. Why was I NOT a hyper-achiever? See all those reasons above.
The Myth of Perfection
The Myth of Perfection typically:
Sounds like: I must perform flawlessly in all areas of my life while making it look easy. But it can also sound like I must give myself really good excuses for not performing at a high level. Looks like: The tendency to demand perfection in ourselves and others instead of embracing mistakes and the reality of how things are. But it can also look like the tendency to avoid any possibility of perfection by self-sabotaging and / or taking on HUGE challenges so there is no expectation of wild success. And to let yourself --and others-- off the hook because it is ALL so HARD; and you don't have enough information to move forward anyway. Main strategy for approval: Being the best at everything and better than anyone else in your field. Or it can also look like deliberately not trying and thus not competing with others in areas that matter to you most, thus protecting yourself from disappointment or perceived failure. Either way, the powers you give up are: Your creative confidence, your vulnerability, and your authenticity. Plus, your nervous system goes into a disordered state, especially if you are also constantly judging and criticizing yourself (or others.)
Does any of this resonate with you?
When you’re evaluating your own behavior, look at the WHY underneath your patterns.
Isn’t there a healthy level of Perfectionism?
You might be thinking, “Kristin, there’s got to be a healthy level of perfectionism. How else do you explain all those Type A people who are so successful?”
First of all, there is absolutely no such thing as PERFECT when it comes to human beings. So striving for perfection –or flawlessness– can only lead to feelings of failure.
Secondly, when you look under the skin / hair of some of those high achieving perfectionist types, you’ll notice that even if they do well and rock the competition and have a moment of feeling good about themselves, they actually tend to stress more and be more unhappy than someone who is a high achiever without feeling the need to be perfect or flawless.
Plus, they don’t bounce back as fast from these perceived failures. They wallow in feelings of hopelessness for setbacks that someone without their need to be perfect might shrug off.
How do you balance your perfectionist tendencies?
Of course, it is healthy to strive to do your best!
Instead of striving for perfection, shoot for high but achievable standards that result in feelings of satisfaction and increased self-esteem.
Of course, this is easier said than done if you have a life-long habit of perfectionism or its shadow, though.
But, awareness is the first step in changing a habit. Next, look at your thought distortions. That is, your habitual ways of thinking that are usually inaccurate and negatively biased.
Some thought distortion patterns common to perfectionists are:
- Discounting the positive. For example, if someone pays you a compliment on your speech, but all you can think about is the time you stumbled over a word.
- Black and white thinking. For example, someone brings cookies to work and you devour three of them because they are so good and then get mad at yourself because you’ve “ruined” your healthy eating routine.
- “Musterbation.” When you live by a set of absolute and unrealistic demands that there’s no way you can meet. [For you shadow perfectionists, this sneaky thought distortion is common for you as well.]
To combat these thought distortions by yourself, first choose one that seems to apply to you and then keep a log for a week. Notice where and when this thought manifests in your life. When you catch it, thank it for its wisdom –you DID stumble over that word, for example– so thanks for noticing it Ms. Distortion. Maybe next time you can choose a word that means the same but is easier to say. Then let the distortion know that you would like to ALSO accept that compliment from your colleague. Smile and take that compliment in.
Your speech may not have been FLAWLESS, but it must’ve been good to get that compliment. Right?
Do you find yourself on one of these extremes or another?
Would you like support in finding the balance in-between?
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