At one time I wouldn’t have been able to write this blog. I would have procrastinated about it for a few days…okay weeks. I’d have been concerned about making a mistake and what people thought of it-putting more weight in their opinions than my own. Does this sound like something you would do? Put things off and stop yourself setting goals for fear of not getting them correct?
Many people have this kind of thinking. For those of you who don’t know, its called ‘perfectionism.’ It’s pretty common for people to describe themselves as perfectionists, thinking it’s a compliment. It’s no compliment! It is actually someone who is running away from feeling like ‘shit’ about themselves, (Kelly, 2015). They are hyper-critical of everybody and everything, but mainly themselves. Perfectionists are unable to accept reality, trying to fit life into their perfect ‘cookie-cutter’ version of what they think it should be. The perfectionist hates feeling sad emotions because it doesn’t fit with their view that they should be positive and upbeat all the time. Beating themselves up is common, for failing to feel happy and upbeat all of the time!
They tend to set incredibly, often too high, standards for themselves…thinking that if they achieve them they’ll get away from feeling like ‘shit.’ Most of the time these standards just aren’t achievable, putting them right back in the very place they want to get away from. Even when they do reach the standards, they then mitigate the achievement down to nothing, move the goal posts, or just continue straight-on to the next goal! There’s no time to take five minutes and acknowledge the achievement. With all of this going on its not surprising that they’re hammering their self-esteem. Every time we think in a perfectionist style, we are destroying any positive self-esteem we have, by giving ourselves the message we are not good enough.
Okay that’s the picture painted, although a pretty bleak one! Fear not! Perfectionism is just an unhelpful style of thinking and can be easily changed with a bit of effort. Notice I said this is how I would have been at one time? I was a complete perfectionist. It impacted every aspect of my life and I made quite a lot of misery for myself a lot of the time! With the help of The Thrive Programme I worked to change this unhelpful style of thinking to Optimalism - someone happy with life being ‘good enough,’ (Tal Ben-Shahar, 2009). Unhelpful thinking styles are just habits. Habits are just thoughts and thoughts are really easy to change. Developing new habits takes about two weeks.
Here’s a wee bit of science for you! Heard of neural pathways? When our brain thinks a thought, synapse A sends a flash to synapse B. The more we think this thought, the stronger the flash becomes, developing solid patterns. However, should we change this thought to a more helpful one, ie: “Its not perfect” to “Its good enough,” we start to build a new habit and a new neural pathway, leaving the old one to fade away. This change takes about two weeks to achieve. To help cement this habit there are some actions you can start to apply.
Top tips for overcoming perfectionism:
- Start to pay attention to your inner voice, in particular how you speak to yourself about decisions you have to make. Take a step back and gain perspective. Ask yourself when making the decision, is perfectionism rearing its ugly head?
- Rather than focusing on the end result when working towards goals, focus more on enjoying the whole journey. Accept that failure can be beneficial to our learning.
- Accept success. When you achieve something, don’t mitigate it down to nothing, or say its due to luck, fate or chance! Acknowledge its your efforts and take time to smell the roses and enjoy the success.
- Recognise the pressure to be perfect is coming from you and no-one else! So the good thing here is you can change this.
- Accept negative emotions are part of real life and don’t give yourself a hard time for feeling them sometimes.
If you like these tips why not book a free consultation? The Thrive Programme is packed with actions and exercises to get you living your life to the full. Self esteem and thinking styles are just two of several areas the programme covers. Thrive isn’t about going over the past, its about learning a whole bunch of skills to actually make practical changes. As well as learning these skills, it also teaches you what’s behind your unhelpful thinking and what makes you tick. This is a very empowering place to be.
And remember, “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it!” (Dali, 1939).
Kelly, R (2015) Thrive. Rob Kelly Publishing. Cambridge.
Ben-Shahar, T (2009) The Pursuit of Perfect. McGraw-Hill Publishing Company. Berkshire.
Dali, S (1939) Google.
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