Perfectionism can make it hard for us to enjoy our own lives.
Do your exacting standards and quest for perfection actually get in the way of happy and fulfilling relationships and experiences?
Perfectionism is an unhealthy and unforgiving striving for achievement. Perfectionists want things to be “just so”. They want to feel in control. They fear failure. They’re self-critical and demanding. Underneath perfectionism is a fear of not being good enough. For perfectionist, self-worth hinges on performance, achievement, and external approval.
I’ve written many times about my own struggles with perfectionism. One of the challenges is that I get so wrapped up in my own thinking and fixated on the outcome that I don’t enjoy the process. Knitting a sweater isn’t just about having a nice, warm sweater in the end. It’s about choosing the colors and the yarn, experimenting with new patterns, learning from my mistakes, the pleasure of seeing the sweater develop, socializing with friends as I knit. If I only care about the finished product and only feel satisfied if it’s flawless, I miss out on a lot of the potential enjoyment of knitting.
Mindfulness is a natural antidote to perfectionism.
Mindfulness is a popular term these days. There are many ways you can practice mindfulness. For me, it’s very simple. It just means noticing what’s going on right now. It means paying attention to how I feel, the experiences of all of my senses, and focusing my thoughts on the present.
Perfectionists spend their time obsessing about the past or the future.
We worry about the outcome. We anticipate embarrassment or rejection if we aren’t perfect. When we spend a lot of time trying to make the future exactly as we want it, we miss out on the present. And we also spend far too much time ruminating over our past mistakes. We beat ourselves up with criticism that only sees our mistakes. We’re all a mix of successes and failures. We’re works in progress. And we’re entirely unfair to ourselves when we choose to focus only on our imperfections.
Imperfections are what make us real. Contrary to what you may think, embracing your imperfections makes you more lovable. When you accept yourself, flaws and all, you’ll find inner peace and compassion that you can extend to yourself and others, and an ability to connect with others in deeper more meaningful ways.
One way to start this process is to practice mindfulness throughout your day. It may seem quite foreign to you or even like a waste of time initially. I find that it helps to start by scheduling regular times to be mindful such as at every meal or as you wake up and go to sleep. A routine like this provides a cue to practice the new behavior. With practice, you’ll find you’re more mindful throughout the day naturally. Instead of drinking your coffee standing at the kitchen counter or while writing emails, try sitting with your coffee and enjoying all aspects of the experience. Notice the strong smell, the warm mug in your hands, the smooth taste. Notice how it feels in your mouth and throat. Take in the beautiful, rich café color. Appreciate all aspects of the experience. Yes, it will take longer. That’s kind of the point. Slow down. You can find five minutes to drink your coffee mindfully. Besides, it turns out multi-tasking isn’t the productivity hack we thought.
I challenge you to make just 5-10 minutes today to practice doing something mindfully. It could be walking around the block, eating dinner, or playing with your kids. Your mind will drift. That’s to be expected. When you find yourself thinking about the past or the future (or anything that’s not what’s right in front of you), just gently bring your thoughts back to now. Use all of your senses and notice how it feels. In time, I think you’ll find this a useful practice for managing not only perfectionism, but also anxiety, “negative” thoughts, insomnia, and self-doubt.
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©2016 Sharon Martin. All rights reserved.
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