Sometimes I will go weeks without publishing a blog post and not because I lack content, I legit have 50 unfinished articles awaiting to see the light of day. The reason they remain unpublished is because I am crippled by perfectionism. I will start a post and rewrite it ten times, then I will just let it sit there and never publish it because I think it’s the actual worst.
This is a pretty solid metaphor for my entire life—paralyzed and consumed by the desire to be perfect (even though I’m fully aware that I’m not even a little perfect, never will be perfect, and that perfect doesn’t exist). I’ve missed out on many opportunities and life events because of a fear of not being good enough, prepared enough, smart enough, fit enough, skinny enough etc. Sound familiar?
“Perfectionism is defeating and self-destructive simply because there is no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal. Additionally, perfectionism is more about perception — we want to be perceived as perfect. Again, this is unattainable — there is no way to control perception, regardless of how much time and energy we spend trying,” Brene Brown.
Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity, risk taking and the fuel for procrastination. It’s a belief that if we are perfect we will avoid the painful feelings of shame or judgement.
I know I’m not alone in this—perfectionism is rampant in our image-obsessed, achievement-driven culture. How many times has a perfectly good day been ruined by comparing yourself to others on social media? We are bombarded with endless photos of people’s perfectly curated happy lives. All we see is chiseled abs, poppin’ booties, bright blue waterfalls and amazing athletes snatching 100lbs more than us and making our new PR feel like junk. Social media preys on perfectionists.
I’m not gonna lie, my own Instagram account is essentially a highlight reel, but what you don’t see is my disaster of a life and the 50 other shitty photos that I deleted because I had a double chin, cellulite or just failed some completely mediocre squat attempt. Remember that sweet hiking photo? What you don’t see is that I was actually lost for six hours in the woods, crying, sweaty, dirty and pretty certain I was going to have to drink my own urine to survive…but at least I got a killer IG glam shot. (This photo doesn’t exist…I only get lost and never actually get the glam shot, I also don’t LOVE hiking.)
According to Brene Brown, “Many people think of perfectionism as striving to be your best, but it is not about self-improvement; it’s about earning approval and acceptance. Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield.”
Self-deprecation and humour has always been my personal defence mechanism—if I can point out my flaws first and make fun of myself, I feel like others are less likely to judge me. What I do know is this: people will form their own perceptions of us and of that we have no control.
To overcome perfectionism we need to be able to acknowledge our flaws and experience shame, judgment, and blame; develop resilience; grow a thick skin and practice self-compassion.
So, if you are anything like me and can be paralyzed by perfection, here are some ways to help rewire that mindset and tackle those tendencies head on.
10 steps to combat perfectionism
Practice self-compassion. Speak to yourself like you would speak to your best friend or your grandma. Would you call your BAE fat? Would you call them weak AF? If you would then…you’re kind of a dick. Notice how you can love others, even though they are imperfect, and see if you can begin to do the same for yourself.
Embrace your mistakes. Do your excessive concerns over making mistakes undermine your outcomes? When you make a mistake do you self-criticize, adding on piles of shame and guilt to crown the misery? Allow yourself to make mistakes because this is where we learn and grow the most.
Replace can’t. Replace can’t with can’t yet. Frustrated you can’t run a 6 minute mile? Replace “I can’t” with “I can’t yet.” Having a growth vs fixed mindset is a great step in battling perfectionist tendencies.
Let go. Let go of the notion that you need to be perfect and instead strive for making peace with imperfection. Fuck perfect…unlike Beyoncé, I did NOT wake up like this…in fact, it took a lot of make-up and the Snapchat beauty filter to make me look even somewhat presentable to the world.
Acknowledge that letting go of perfection does not mean you’re a failure. Realize that you can motivate yourself with kindness, joy, passion, creativity, responsibility, and devotion — rather than a self-defeating obsession with being perfect.
Separate yourself. Learn to see yourself as having innate value as a person, and separate your self-worth from your accomplishments. You are more than just what you do for a living…you are as deep as the fucking ocean, so you better recognize.
Shift the focus. Practice kindness to others; taking the focus off of yourself will tip the scales toward gratitude instead of focusing on what you painfully perceive as being flawed.
Practice empathy. Have empathy for others and you will have empathy for yourself. There are no rules around empathy, but if you practice patience and understanding with others, make yourself relatable and remove judgement, you will learn to have empathy for yourself in the process.
Better done than perfect. I recently interviewed a successful entrepreneur, he told me the best advice he ever received was “better done than perfect.” Sometimes it’s just about moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other and forging ahead. If you wait for things to be perfect, you might never get anything done at all. Nike said it best..Just Do It.
Shit’s weak. Just remember that behind every IG photo is someone lost in the woods about to drink their own pee.