Six Strategies for Shedding the Cloak of Perfectionism

For years I proudly proclaimed “I’m a perfectionist!”  While I truly am a conscientious and hard-working individual and it is important to me to create and deliver the highest quality work, my perfectionism was (and still is, though to a lesser degree) a cloak for fear and an elitist attitude.  *gulp*  That last one is hard to admit, but the absolute truth.

perfectionism

Fear that when I messed up I might be fired (which, sadly, in today’s world isn’t unfounded).

Fear that a mistake detracted from my other knowledge.  Oh, you didn’t know about that one switch in the configuration code that only the Microsoft engineers knew about and told you about during a support call…you ARE a fraud and you DON’T know what you’re talking about!!  Honestly, I thought stuff like this about the pieces of network configurations I didn’t know!

Fear that I would spend money on another program to follow, wouldn’t be able to follow it to a tee, then I would have wasted money AND not lost weight either.

Fear that if I couldn’t “get it right” that I didn’t have the ability or the willpower to lose weight…not only would that make me fat, but it would mean I was lazy and a failure, yet besides.

Fear that my/our decisions as parents would never be right.  How can I know that what I’m doing as a parent is the right thing in any situation…the payoff, the knowing that your child grew up to be a happy, decent, responsible human being, doesn’t come until years later?!?  (Hint:  I can’t…and I know this…and being a parent was probably the beginning of my unraveling of this perfectionism mindset I carried for years!)

I’m a perfectionist!!  That means I’m trying harder than anyone else.  I find it extremely important to NOT make mistakes on the company dime…do you??

I’m a perfectionist!!  That means I’ll work as late as necessary to finish up a project or find the answer to the one pesky error that seems unsolvable.  Then when I do solve it I can show how devoted I am to my job and customer satisfaction…unlike you.

I’m a perfectionist!!  I followed all the stuff you told me to do.  I exercised like your DVD program told me to.  I ate the way your meal plan told me to.  I journaled.  I restricted.  Now, WHY didn’t I lose weight??  It’s not my fault, it’s yours…I did exactly what you said and it still didn’t work!

 

Yeee-ooouch!!    FYI:  when you make a single syllable word into a double syllable word that is extra-EXTRA emphasis.  As in “This lasagna is guh-ooood!”  😉

Completely honest.  Completely unflattering.  Completely scary to share.  *sigh*  That was me.  I was chock-a-block full of fear…which then bred superiority.  If I could just *not* make a mistake then no one had anything over me.  Further, while I thought perfectionism was the ultimate in personal responsibility it actually allowed me to point the finger, especially in terms of my own health and weight loss.

What’s the antidote then?  How do you begin to move away from perfectionism and allow for the inevitabilities of life to happen?  Here are some things which have helped me.  Cherry pick the ones that will work with your personality and in the context of your life.  *ahem*  That is to say, choose WWFY!  🙂

1.Action.

You can’t predict what will happen in every scenario.  As I mentioned above, parenting is what began to pull me out of my perfectionist mindset.  When you are met with choices as a parent, you do not have the luxury of freezing.  Decisions have to be made:  medicines to administer, discipline, consequences, activities to enroll in, classes to be a part of, how to advise when asked by your child “What do I do?”   Parenting requires making decisions where you simply don’t know if they are right or wrong.  Parenting means lots of mistakes!!  And you often see your mistakes as you are raising child #2 or #3 or so on.  As with anything in life, the more we do the better we get at it.  In some respects, I’m a much better parent with child #2 than child #1.  I’ve got experience on my side which helps, but then again, child #2 isn’t exactly like child #1 either!

The moral:  Make decisions and take action…with your best intentions…based on what you know.  You will learn!  And when your decisions come from a place of calm and love (versus fear) you won’t feel so downtrodden if you do make a mistake.  You tried your best with what you know.

2. Perform and change privately

Fly under the radar if you can.  The act of doing something without eyes on you can make a difference in how you act.  In terms of my own weight loss journey, I told no one.  My fellow bootcampers knew, but they weren’t my close circle and they didn’t have any connection to my outcome.  My husband knew I was trying to lose weight, he was the only one.  I spent a large chunk of my journey doing my own thing with no one watching or checking in.  I didn’t feel pressure to perform (or not) because there were no eyes on me, no expectations…only me!

When you don’t feel as if you’re being judged on your outcomes you can focus on something other than your outcomes.  This allows you to get immersed in the process rather than worrying how your actions are  perceived.

3. Read and learn

Find some self-help authors to read and learn strategies from them.  Search Amazon or Google and you will find some top-rated publications to help you.  I particularly like Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection.  This entire book revolves around fighting the need for perfection.  She gives loads of strategies and tools to implement.

Reading and learning isn’t the end-all-be-all though–you are going to need to refer to #1 and also take action based on what you read!

4.  Practice self-compassion

Can you be nicer to yourself?  Is it possible to still have high standards of work ethic and quality, while allowing for missteps?  Heck yeah!!  Mistakes happen!

Do you offer grace to others in your life?  When they make mistakes do you pounce on them and berate them with “What were you thinking???”  No, of course not.  Extend the same understanding and grace to yourself.

Review the situation and figure out what you could have done differently, so next time your plan of action looks different.

Focus on what you learned versus what didn’t happen.  There are lessons in everything…look for what you gained instead.

Realize your achievements aren’t the hallmark of who you are.  Your character and how you build up those around you are far more important indicators of your worth.  Strive for those outcomes you want, but realize at the end of the day it’s how you live and treat others that indicates your success in life.

5. Realize “right” is a point of view.

Each of us cannot simply know everything or do it all “right.”  Besides, “right” is all in perception anyway.  I’ll go back to parenting as an example.  Immunizations (or not).  Breastfeeding (or not).  Certain foods off limits (or not).  Consequences (or not).  Attachment parenting (or not).  Do you see how each decision point in parenting has reasons why you may or may not do each of these with your kids?  Your culture, your education, your experiences, your doctor, your parents, your friends…all those things contribute to your opinion and what is “right” to you.  For every decision you make which YOU feel is “right,” there will always be detractors who think you are wrong.

Being “right” means right for you.  And that applies to others as well…they are doing what is “right” for them.  Like it or not, our world is not so cut and dried!

6. Take responsibility for ALL outcomes

As adults, we realistically do have constraints in our life.  But, you probably have more autonomy for choices than you allow yourself…or trust yourself with!  When we simply follow, then we can give up responsibility.  We did as told…I was just following the rules…not my fault it didn’t work!

Use your instinct and critical thinking skills, especially in the realm of your personal health!  If you have tried several different programs and didn’t get the outcome you expected, then reflect on yourself and your choices.  That’s not to say you did things wrong, but perhaps there are commonalities there to be learned from.

Remember when I said above that I was the perfectionist who followed programs exactly and was mad when they didn’t work–wasn’t my fault.  For years, I never stopped to figure out WHY things weren’t working…I just kept blaming.

Finally, I took stock and determined what I disliked about the programs I had tried and then implemented things in my health that did NOT incorporate those.  I learned.  I took responsibility.  I tried something new…all on me!

I was scared to go it alone, but what I did different when I began in 2010 was I also had an attitude of learning, not simply following.  I wanted to find out how to eat healthier, what to incorporate in my life to change my weight and health.  I went to free classes, I read stuff online, I asked questions.  Some of what I incorporated I still practice, some I have ditched.  It’s all a learning process and the decisions I made were because they made sense to me…they weren’t actions I took because I was told they were a rule to follow.

Take charge of your health.  Ask questions.  TRY some things and then evaluate how you feel.  This isn’t easy or quick, but the payoff is huge:  you figure out yourself AND you gain confidence in yourself again.

Take responsibility by doing and asking and then roll with all the outcomes you create.  Those outcomes serve a purpose!

simplyme

Perfectionism is really about fear.  Fear of not measuring up and then having people around you dislike you because of it.  Fear of what mistakes mean.  Changing that need to never mess up is really difficult.  I’m in the process of rewiring how I think right now…2016 is my year to get out of my own way.  Nearly daily, I have to remind myself that typos and grammar mistakes, ugly web pages,  and opinions that people will disagree with do NOT reflect upon my character or ability to help people improve their health.  It is my willingness to share my own shortcomings and experiences, my willingness to listen and offer support rather than rules and platitudes, and my understanding that life is different for all of us that shape how I show up in the world and for my clients.

 

Being real, being human, and simply being myself has proven to be a far sight better than the old “perfect” me!  Same goes for you, too, you know!!

 

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