Letting go of perfection

Me and perfectionism have had a long, long relationship until recently when we decided to part company.  It was an amicable split, we are still good friends.

Our history together goes way back, I think I was about seven when we met. That was when me and perfectionism decided to set the bar high, so high in fact, it was impossible to reach.  100% wasn’t good enough, just ok was a fail and a fail was the world is over.

In primary school, it was all about getting the teacher’s attention, striving to be clever and popular, to be the good little boy.

In secondary school it only continued, except now I not only wanted to seen as perfect in the teachers eye, I also wanted to be seen as perfect from my peers eyes, cool, funny, in the gang and so on.  I even tried to be the perfect football player (to this day I am terrible at it, no wonder they always put me in goal or defense!).

Next came the world of work, striving to be the best employer, to be liked, to be recognised, to keep my job, to earn more money so on and so on, makes me tired just writing it.

From the outside all looked okay, but underneath perfectionism was slowly turning me into a wreck.

Every time something didn’t go 100% perfect, I would beat myself up,I would tell myself I was useless. I was really good at that, always 100% perfect at beating myself up.   Oddly, the worse I started to feel about myself, the more perfect I had to be. A vicious circle, one that needed to be broke.

So, that’s how me and perfectionism met, but how did it end…

The thing with perfectionism, is that it is only bothered about the outcome. The experience itself becomes insignificant. When I really saw that for the first time, me and perfectionism started to part company.

When I think back there are so many examples of when I’ve been so focused on the outcome (of being perfect) that the experience of life has just passed me by.

My driving test was a good example, I failed first time and past the second.  My instructor couldn’t understand why I had failed, he knew I should have easily passed, but it wasn’t my driving that was at fault, but my striving to be perfect.

The first time I took the test, I told everyone when it was, I was so focused on passing, I had to pass otherwise I would be letting everyone down. On the day, I wore a suit so the examiner could see I was smart and conscientious. I was so anxious, the examiner was very strict and matter of fact, needless to say my nerves got the better of me, I made some silly mistakes and failed.

The second  time, I told no one. It was the same examiner but he was very different this time.  He got in the car and said, “I just want you to drive, enjoy it, pretend you are just taking your Dad out for a drive”. It was the best drive I had done, not once did I think about the outcome, I just drove, enjoyed it and passed without a single fault.

There really is nothing wrong with trying to do something well, but when the focus is only on the outcome, we can miss something vital. Perfectionism can be the one thing that stops you from being perfect.

Perfectionism can make you miss opportunities.  In my case, I started to stop doing things because if I couldn’t do them better than 100% what would be the point.  Perfectionism has a false logic.

How to say goodbye to perfectionism

  1. Give yourself some slack.  My journey into mindfulness has taught me that the strongest antidote to perfectionism is self compassion.  Give yourself that same understanding, gentleness and kindness you would give to your closest and dearest friend.  Easier said than done I know. Take small steps, when you notice you are beating yourself up over something, just take a few moments out, practice some self compassion and go easy on yourself.
  2. Ground yourself in the present moment.  When the urge is to focus on the outcome, bring yourself back to the present moment, to what is happening right here, right now.
  3. Stop people pleasing.  Perfectionism puts its roots down in people pleasing.  For me this is where it all started years ago, trying to please my teachers and peer’s.  I never really grew out of it.  Drop the people pleasing and perfectionism starts to lose its power.

So that is where my long-term relationship with perfectionism ended, in those three little steps.  It takes time, it’s a hard habit to shift but the work is well worth the effort.

Perfectionism is illogical, it doesn’t make sense.

Know that you are amazingly perfect because you are imperfect.