I am a recovering perfectionist. My perfectionism has seen me re-write birthday and Christmas cards over and over, because my hand writing wasn't "quite right or neat enough". It's seen me take a year to decide on and buy a pair of jeans, because I wanted "the perfect pair"! I have put off exercise, because I couldn't train 6 days a week like I did in my young, free and single days. And worst of all, it had me speaking to myself in a critical and belittling manner, one that keeps me small and afraid of failing. Oh boy! Perfectionism sucks!
So, in this weeks blog, as part of my series Find Your Balance, I have decided to tackle perfectionism head on, call it out for what it is and release its grip, once and for all. This is your biggest permission slip to do the same.
One of the definitions of perfect is to be completely free from faults or defects. The problem with perfectionist tendencies is that they operate from a place of lack, not enough or dissatisfaction. I know my habit of needing things to be "just so" has come from a variety of sources - a lack of trust, a fear of not belonging and a worry I will be disapproved of.
I have spent a lot of my life making sure I fit in, that I am safe and loved by everyone for fear of being left out, of being alone. At a young age, this is all part of finding out who you are, what you like and what you don't like and when dealt with in a healthy, proportionate way (or balanced way) can lead to healthy self-esteem, self-worth and a strong sense of self identity. BUT, if not kept in check, doing our best can tip over into a white-knuckle ride of hanging on for dear life and doing WHATEVER it takes to be THE BEST!
So, how do we let go? How am I releasing the need to be perfect? Here are 4 ways to look perfectionism in the eye and say "I see you!"
Yes, please, for the love of all things, do less! It is OK, the world, your world, won't fall apart if you take one thing off your to-do list today. If one plate stops spinning and falls to the floor, that gives you more time and space to focus on what really does need your attention. When we lessen the load of our life, we can take a step back and see things for what they are.
When you are in the middle of the forest, it is hard to appreciate the shape and colours of individual trees. But when you step back, pair back and focus on less, things become clearer. You notice details, you can pay attention more and most importantly, you can breathe a little easier without so much stuff to do.
But how and where do you start? Simple - cross off one thing that isn't important. Decide on the priorities in your life, not the 'should-do's' or the 'no-one-else-can-do-this-as-good-as-me' but the 'I-have-to-feed-my-kids' kind of priority. Anything else can either wait or be delegated. And whoever you delegate to, let them do it and do it their way, don't micromanage the task because that is double the work!
It Is What It Is
I've said before that acceptance is not resignation. Acceptance is one of the keys to unlocking the chains of perfectionism. Allowing things to be as they are, accepting there are things we cannot control and having the grace to know that being perfect is unrealistic and unachievable takes huge courage. In fact, spoiler alert, nothing is perfect because everything is in a state of flux, motion and change.
Start to pay attention to the natural state of life - that there are imperfections, flaws and inconsistencies throughout the whole of nature and humanity. This is not something to bemoan, but to celebrate - thank goodness nothing is perfect on this earth! It is exhausting to aim for something that does not exist.
See your perfectionism for what it is. Is it a shield? Is it a way of staying small? Does it really do you good? Instead of striving, today acknowledge something that is maybe off centre, not quite there yet, or naturally out of shape. It is all part of life and our experience. So what if there are creases in your bed linen or coffee on your shirt, does it really matter? And what about people, there is no perfect person and so soften your approach to how others do things. If your partner leaves a wet, soggy towel on the floor, is it a huge issue in the grand scheme of things? If they don't do the washing-up the way you would like, is it the end of the world? No, not really. (I am taking notes here too!)
Let Go, Literally
I mean this in the true physical sense. Perfectionism creates tension in our bodies, let alone our homes, workplaces and relationships. Our bodies hold onto negative energy and store it in unhelpful ways. How many of you suffer with tight joints, headaches, sleeplessness, chronic neck and back pain? Consider ways you may be physically holding onto negative emotions.
If we are constantly striving in our lives, there is little room for ease and can create dis-ease. There is scientific proof that holding onto negative feelings, experiences, emotional hurts or unhelpful beliefs creates stress and inflammation in the body. This inflammation when left unchecked and unresolved can result in illness.I genuinely believe forgiveness is as important as lifting weights, eating well and sleep for our bodies.
Take a good look at where you are holding on, and what you are holding on to. Does it serve you? Is it helpful? Is it creating physical tension? Your need to be perfect in parts (or all) of your life, may have been handed to you by someone else and their unrealistic and unhealthy expectations. Are you carrying something that was never yours to carry in the first place? Find ways to relax your body - deep breathing, walking, a hot bath, cold shower, dip in the sea, lying down on the grass, a massage or yoga, dancing in your kitchen, hugging and holding hands. All of these are both natural and needed by our bodies, but also release tightness in the body.
Progress Not Perfection
My final tip on beating the plague of perfectionism is one of the most important. The words we use are powerful. The way we speak to ourselves can change our world and our life. So, if you are berating yourself for how 'you've messed up again', for 'not getting it right' or worse for 'being so stupid!' STOP! Put the big stick you are beating yourself with away, better still snap it in half and burn it!
Ask yourself, would you say these things to a friend or loved one? How would you feel if they spoke like that to you or someone you know? You'd be shocked and upset. So, don't speak to yourself this way either. You may have been told something as a child by a care giver or teacher, even as an adult we can internalise criticism and negative talk from colleagues or family. The next thing to ask yourself is, is it true? Are you really stupid? The likely answer is no, so stop believing it and reinforcing it by saying it to yourself.
Catch yourself and recognise your self talk today. Start to replace it with lighter and kinder alternatives. 'I've not got this right, but I will.' 'I can't do this, yet.' And my favourite phrase 'Progress not perfection'. After all, there is no destination, there is no end goal, because the goal leads to another and another. Our lives are a journey, we are meant to live them fully - faults and all. The question is not whether we're living a perfect, Pinterest worthy life, but is it full - all embracing? Am I making progress from then me of yesterday? Am I moving in the right direction for this season of my life? Surely, that is doing our best.
This month I have decided to offer a 20% discount on all my online programmes and coaching. If this is something you would like to take advantage of, email me for more details. Also, throughout October the profits from the sale of my book Upward: The Power of Looking Up will be donated to Signposted Cymru, a mental health charity, you can buy my book on Amazon as a paperback or Kindle.
Each Monday in October I will be live on Instagram at 6.30pm BST. I will be giving more info and ideas on finding you balance and answering questions in person. It'd be great if you could join me and others who are all seeking balance. You'll find me @iamsarahalexcarter Share this blog with those that may need to read it and let's find our balance together.