Constantly striving for perfection, in any endeavor, is a set-up for failure. First, perfection in anything you do is nearly impossible to obtain. So, when you attempt something and you don’t get ‘perfect’ results or do it “100 percent,” you have no choice but to see those results as a failure, no matter the outcome.
There are good sides and bad sides to perfectionism. All of us want our work and most other things we do to be the best it can be. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having high standards. In some professions such as pro sports, medicine and science, perfectionism is encouraged. No one wants their surgeon to perform a “just ok” appendectomy.
But here’s the downside. Holding yourself to an impossibly high standard, always demanding perfection and never allowing for mistakes, doesn’t serve you and is going to practically guarantee your unhappiness. This is nowhere more evident than when you begin a wellness program.
Many people are tempted to adopt an all or nothing attitude when they begin a wellness program. That is often a recipe for disaster, as the first time they succumb to a tempting treat, they throw up their hands and their nutritional plan is out the window. Or maybe they don’t exercise one day, so they just give up and stop exercising altogether. They didn’t “do it perfectly,” so now it’s totally out the window. Maybe this has even happened to you in the past. As a somewhat “recovering perfectionist,” I know it’s happened to me!
If you recognize this perfectionistic trait in yourself, how do you overcome it?
The first thing to do is recognize that this trait was instilled in you at an early age by what Transactional Analysis (TA) recognizes as a Parental authority figure. This figure is often your actual parent or parents, but could also have been another significant authority figure in your life – a teacher, Scout leader, religious figure or other important adult. As children, we want so badly to please these authority figures that this Parental voice is instilled into our heads. Even if your parents or other authority figures are long gone or are no longer a major influence, their ‘parental voice’ can still speak to you. So, if you can’t always be perfect (no one can!) you end up feeling like a failure, fall into all or nothing thinking, and are haunted by a sense of never being “good enough.”
In coaching, we call this voice the “inner critic.”
If this sounds familiar, do you need full-fledged therapy to get you on the right track and out of your perfectionist trap? Probably not. Working with a good coach, especially one trained in positive psychology coaching with a good understanding of the inner critic, can help you set realistic goals and a plan to reach them, imperfections, detours and mistakes included. And we all have them!
Change your mindset when it comes to so-called “failure” or mistakes. Some of our best opportunities and learning come from what we might first view as a failure. If you look it as an opportunity to learn and grow, it only becomes a detour on your road to success. It’s a result of what you have done at this time. It’s not who you are! Maybe you will decide to do it differently next time and that will be the key.
I like this quote from Dr. Brene Brown which is good advice for all of us:
“You’re imperfect and you’re wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging.”
You are good enough.