I suffer dreadfully with being a perfectionist. Do you? That awful need for all circumstances to be exactly right before taking action? And therefore, most of the time, you don’t take action because you’re too busy perfecting every bloody thing?
This is 100% me and it is an ongoing battle to overcome it – to allow myself to take imperfect action.
I dread to think how many opportunities – in life, love, or work – I have allowed to pass me by because the circumstances were imperfect.
Perfectionism tricks us into thinking that our goal is a high-quality result or outcome, which we define as success. This sets us up for failure – what if the result isn’t all we hoped for (as, let’s be honest, is often the case?). Yet, if we can reframe success to mean simply taking regular action, however imperfect, our goal becomes the action itself. We can then move past the crippling need for perfection. If it’s the action we are focused on, the result becomes secondary. If we consistently take action in the right areas of life, we achieve what we hoped for all along – success!
Perfectionism rarely begets perfection, or satisfaction – only disappointmentRyan Holiday
Perfectionism: what is it?
Perfectionism is often dressed up as a positive thing. Many times I’ve answered that age-old question in job interviews – “what would you say is your biggest flaw?” – with some version of “I’m a perfectionist – I can’t leave something half-done blah blah blah”.
Yet, it can be highly damaging.
Perfectionism can take a number of forms in day-to-day life. For example, refusing to see a task as done until the result is “perfect”, or taking much longer than others to complete a task.
Another good example of perfectionist behaviour is procrastination. This is one I can absolutely relate to. Finding anything to do, other than the task I need to complete, until I’m sure I can complete the task perfectly. And because it is virtually impossible to attain perfection, so many things remain un-started, in my world at least.
Writing blog posts (and indeed starting this blog in the first place) is a perfect (!) example.
I can find more reasons than you could imagine to avoid sitting down to write – because it can be hard, the words don’t always flow and sometimes I can’t think of a good topic for a post. Likewise, I had ideas for about 3-4 blogs in the years before I actually started this one and only one of them ever got further than in idea in my notebook.
I do other things – tidy up, clean, fold clothes or straighten the sofa cushions – instead of doing what I want to be doing. Which is? Practicing my writing – filling my blog with interesting content and engaging with my audience.
When you really look at it, perfectionism is nothing more than a highly-effective form of self-sabotage.
Perfectionism is a trick
Perfectionism rears its ugly head in my life in other ways, too. Since becoming a mum, I’ve found it so easy to get caught up in the ‘busy work’ of running the house – keeping on top of the washing, food shopping, meal-planning, tidying and cleaning. Often I’ll find myself thinking “once I’ve put the washing out to dry I’ll sit down and have some me-time” or “as soon as the vacuuming is done I can make a start on that blog post”.
The thing is, though, that none of these jobs ever really end. There will always be washing to do/shopping to put away/clothing to fold/toys to tidy up.
Having a pristine home with an empty washing basket is not going to bring my dreams any closer than sitting on my butt binging Bridgerton on Netflix.
What it does do is trick me into thinking I’m achieving a lot and making strides towards my goals, whilst actually going nowhere.
Simply put, it sucks. And it’s getting in my way – I’m sick of it.
Kick it to the curb
Pushing through perfectionism to take action, however imperfect, is truly my nemesis right now. It’s not easy, but I’m getting there, step by step.
For example, I let the washing basket fill up just a little more than I’m comfortable with. I only tidy my son’s toys once each day – usually during his end of day routine, when he helps me (or his approximation of help, which often involves him telling me to do it…).
I’m not suggesting you let things go completely – that would likely have an impact on your stress levels and mental health. What I find effective, though, is to pause when I change activity. You can make big changes just by simply re-jigging your to-do list in your mind. If your first instinct is to complete the jobs around the home and allocate any leftover time to R&R, switch things up.
Start with your R&R, even if the house is a bit of a tip. Prioritise yourself and take the time you need. When I do this, I often find the household tasks get done in the remaining time – even if the results are not perfect.
As I said to a group of wonderful women on a course recently, “Cleaning my son’s clothes is not going to change my life”.
And change, or better yet, transformation is what I’m after.
How about you?