“Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." -Salvador Dali
I had an entirely different blog post scheduled for today, but I just couldn’t hit send.
I kept re-reading the post, finding holes in it, thinking there wasn’t enough research, wondering about my voice, questioning my message. It wasn’t funny enough, the story didn’t connect enough.
It wasn’t polished and perfect enough.
There it was. The word that stops progress in its tracks.
The word that keeps us from trying.
The word that scowls at us in the mirror.
The word that keeps us from going after the job, the relationship, the dream, the life, and the passion we want.
Perfectionism had reared its ugly head.
Perfectionism is a need for things to be perfect or at least appear that way. Perfect is a soul-crusher, a dream-destroyer, a fun-killer.
We see quotes all over the internet that say things like, "progress over perfection" and "done is better than perfect"...but, if you’re a perfectionist, there is a little voice inside saying, "Yeah, but perfect progress is really best. What's the point if it isn't done perfectly?"
Striving for perfection may seem like a beneficial trait. It can cause some of us to try harder. But, research shows that the so-called benefits of perfectionism are thwarted by the costs.
Perfectionism can negatively affect our health. Research has shown perfectionists procrastinate more. Studies have found perfectionists to be risk-averse, which can inhibit innovation and creativity. If that isn't enough, perfectionists are at a higher risk for eating disorders, depression, and suicide.
Ironically, perfectionists have been found to be less successful.
As said in an article for Psychology Today, “Perfectionism may be the ultimate self-defeating behavior. It turns people into slaves of success—but keeps them focused on failure, dooming them to a lifetime of doubt and depression. It also winds up undermining achievement in the modern world.”
How many of us are sitting on something just waiting for the perfect moment? Waiting for the perfect situation? The perfect time? Until everything is lined up...perfectly?
The urge to give up your need for perfect may stir up a little resistance. I get it. My resistance in this department runs high.
The thing is, perfectionism stems from fear.
Fear of not being good enough, fear of failing, fear of not being liked, fear of being abandoned, for fear of not being accepted. Fear, in this case, is just masquerading behind a perfectly pretty mask of perfection.
When we strive for perfect, we tell ourselves that nothing else will do. We put parameters on our efforts that are not only unrealistic, they are unachievable. We set ourselves up for failure, which in turn adds fuel to the fire because we are unable to see the benefits of failure, or learn from our mistakes.
When nothing but perfect will do, we give up on activities we can't be instantaneously good at. We quit sports we can't be the best at. The thought of doing something just for fun doesn't exist. When we look for perfection to validate us, we suck the joy out of life while giving ourselves an increasingly longer yard stick to measure our self-worth.
When we let perfectionism weasel its way into our life, we self-sabotage, because why bother trying when we know we can’t be perfect? Why try when we know the sting of missing the mark is waiting for us?
Perfectionism often comes at the expense of our self-compassion and self-esteem. “Perfectionistic people typically believe that they can never be good enough, that mistakes are signs of personal flaws, and that the only route to acceptability as a person is to be perfect,” says Thomas S. Greenspon, a psychologist and author of a recent paper on an “antidote to perfectionism,” in an article for NY Mag. The article goes on to share research that shows perfectionistic people are not people are not so perfect at loving themselves. (Read how to increase your self-love here.)
Perfectionism often gets it's start in childhood, growing right along with us. While we might not be able to eradicate it overnight, becoming aware is an important step.
Here are a few ways to combat perfectionism:
- Where are you driving yourself hard? Look for the places you are putting pressure on yourself to perform perfectly. Show yourself some compassion and accept your best instead.
- Look for areas in your life you can let go of black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking and the need for particular results.
- Try a new activity for the sheer enjoyment of it, like a new sport or hobby you aren't immediately the best at.
- Think about some things you have finished imperfectly. Celebrate them!
- Remember the 80/20 principle: for many events, 80 percent of our results come from 20 percent of our efforts. Take that, perfection!
- Look at people you admire. How are they perfectly imperfect? This isn't about comparing yourself or knocking others down. It's about seeing the beauty and humanity in imperfection.
- Take a cue from John Green, "I just give myself permission to suck...I find this hugely liberating." Give yourself permission to suck.
As for me? I'm accepting the imperfect nature of blogging...and hitting send.