Consider some of your very favorite things – the old sweatshirt you’ve had since college, your child’s drawing of you (you know…the ones with four fingers on each hand and blue hair), your favorite book with the bent cover. We appreciate these objects because in their imperfection – their incompleteness – they evoke emotion and hold memories. We are able to see the beauty in these things that are flawed.
Perfectionism makes it tough to appreciate the flaws in ourselves. Cozying up to the imperfection can seem scary. Here are some ideas for getting started.
1. Focus on the process – Notice the journey towards the finished product – the fun in making the mess with your kids even though the cookies were burnt. The calm that comes from taking the hike no matter how far it is or how many minutes you walked. This is a growth mindset that leads to keep going when mistakes happen.
2. Get support – It is lonely and isolating to believe that you are the only person who has made a particular mistake. That everyone else has it all together. You don’t have to suffer like that. We’re all in this together. Everybody’s doing life in the same way. You just know your backstory and you’re looking at everyone else’s Instagram highlight reel.
There is a saying that we are the 5 people we spend the most time with. Your friends and family are imperfect – we all are! – so you’re in good company. Hang out with people who make mistakes, take risks and keep going. Share your mistakes. Learn from the failures along with others. Let them see the realness, the genuineness and the authenticity of you.
3. Find the positive – We all have a negativity bias. It is easier to give attention to the negative than to the positive. Make a point to take notice of the positives. Create a balance in your assessment.
4. Get perspective – Seek out others for another viewpoint on whether your standards and expectations are realistic. Think of someone you respect that you consider compassionate. What would they say?
Think ahead to whether the extra effort or focus on the task will matter to future you. Will Future You be happier if you miss your child’s soccer game to read that report over a few more times?
5. Let there be messiness – Give yourself space and permission to make mistakes. Start with small tasks – the birthday cake, the new hobby – and be gentle with your missteps.
6. Aim to do it badly the first time – If you decide we’re going to do it badly then we can go ahead and get started. It takes the pressure off of the first attempt or the first draft and it might even make it fun. You might even find that you’re replacing the anxiety about doing the task perfectly with excitement. There’s no pressure. Mess it up! Just get started. Perfectionism wastes time as we review, revise, revisit. Keep going.
7. Set deadlines – Moveable deadlines promote perfectionism. Done is better than perfect. Give yourself some accountability. Let others know when you’ll turn that project in. Set a deadline and stick to it!
8. Practice flexibility– Make small changes in your routine. Show yourself that there are many paths and no one right one. These can be little experiments – a new route to work or different morning or evening routine. What happens? If you spend 30 minutes less on that task, what happens? If you buy the cupcakes for the class party instead of staying up to 1 am to bake them, does anyone comment?
9. Get out that journal – There are ways in which you think that support perfectionism. That all or nothing thinking or all of those “shoulds” we tell ourselves. Just writing them down can help us see them, think twice about it (would I tell that to a friend?) and perhaps change it. What would I tell that friend?
10. Schedule fun – Take a break from work and productivity. Schedule and follow through with fun and relaxation. Play!
You can kick the “I’m not good enough” voice to the curb and turn the volume up on the self-compassion. Put on that old sweatshirt and take that first imperfect step. You got this.