Here are some tips for overcoming the insidious paralysis of perfectionism.
1. Perfectionism is a learned attribute that you can unlearn.
You were not born a perfectionist. You learned perfectionistic behavior from others, and you can unlearn it now.
Next time you hear your perfectionist voice, identify the original source, if you can. Was it from your family constellation or from how you saw people outside your family react to you? Or was it based on someone you modeled yourself after?
Envision these perfectionist messages in a heavy sack of expectations you received, which you can now set down and leave behind.
2. When perfectionism leads to procrastination, replace it with a “better than perfect” goal.
Inevitably, perfectionism will prevent you from attempting something, because you fear not doing it well enough. Remember, it is your own standards that are unrealistically lofty. If you feel stuck in a project, try replacing sky high expectations with a productive stretch, and then identify your next action step.
3. Release the shackles of perfectionism by naming the fear that serves as the lock.
Tyrannical perfectionism both springs from and generates destructive fears. Identify the specific concerns that constrict you. Do you fear failure, or are you apprehensive about what will happen if you do succeed? The level of control that perfectionism promises is illusory. See if you can identify the illusions and replace them with realistic alternatives.
4. You needn’t victimize yourself with your own success.
Once you have succeeded at a task, you may feel you have to meet ever-higher standards. This is sometimes referred to as “raising the bar syndrome”. Each effort leads only to demands for greater effort, until eventually you encounter the impossible challenge and inevitable defeat. Affirm that you remain fully in charge of your time and your goals, even as you move to a higher level of effectiveness.
5. Make friends with your mistakes.
Perfectionists often judge mistakes as bad. In reality, mistakes present a valuable avenue for evolution. If you don’t risk enough to make these mistakes, how do you ever learn? Allow yourself the freedom to engage wholeheartedly, and enjoy the thrill of discovery!
Finally, recognize that your perfectionism is part of a deeply personal story that you are now free to rewrite. It derives ALL of its power from the meaning that you ascribe it. The more effectively you strip the symbolic importance from “perfection”, the less power perfectionism will have over you.
To expose your perfectionism’s false promises, complete these sentences.
1. Doing something perfectly means I am _______________________.
2. When I don’t do something perfectly, then __________________.
3. The burden of perfectionism is _____________________________.
Exercise for overcoming perfectionism:
1. List 2 things you can do right now to reduce your perfectionism.
2. Describe how your life will change if you reduce your perfectionism. What will be the gains?
____________________________________________________________© Copyright 2009 Paula Eder, Ph.D.