If there was one trait that perpetuated anxiety more than any other, it would be perfectionism. Perfectionism is learned when one is valued only for doing, and parental acceptance and love are based on performance. The performance is always related to what is outside of the self. The child is taught to strive onward. There is never a place to rest and have inner joy or satisfaction. (Read my post, Perils of Perfectionism.)
Perfectionism is a common cause of low self-esteem. It also causes you to drive yourself to the point of chronic stress, exhaustion, and burnout. The more perfectionistic you are the more likely you are to feel anxious.
Below are 7 strategies for overcoming perfectionism.
Let go of the Idea that your Worth is Determined by your Achievements and Accomplishments
Be willing to recognize and affirm that you are lovable and acceptable as you are, apart from your outer accomplishments. When self-reflective people are near death, there are usually only two things that seem important to them about their lives: (1) learning how to love others, and (2) growing in wisdom. If you need to measure yourself against any standard, then use these rather than society’s definitions.
Recognize Perfectionistic Thinking Styles
Perfectionism is expressed in how you talk to yourself, such as “Should/ Must Thinking”, “All or Nothing Thinking,” and “Overgeneralization.” Spend one week noticing all the instances when you engage in these perfectionistic thinking styles. Keep a notebook with you so that you can write down thoughts as they occur to you. Examine what you are telling yourself. Pay special attention to the words, should, must, have to, always never, all, or none. After you have spent time writing down perfectionistic self-statements, compose a counter statement for each. For example, “I should be able to do this right.” Counter statement: “I’ll do the best I can.”
Stop Magnifying the Importance of Small Errors
One of the most problematic aspects of perfectionism is focusing on small flaws or errors. When you think about it, how important is the mistake you make today going to be in three months? In 99.9% of the cases, the mistake will be forgotten within a short period. There is no real learning without mistakes or setbacks. Read my post, “Mistakes as Teachers.”
Focus on the Positive
When dwelling on small errors or mistakes, perfectionists tend to discount their positive accomplishments. They selectively ignore anything positive they have done. One way to counter this tendency is to take inventory of the positive things you’ve accomplished each day. Think of any small steps you have taken toward achieving your goals or how you’ve been helpful or pleasant with others during the day.
Work on Setting Realistic Goals
Are your goals realistically attainable or do you set them too high? Sometimes it is difficult to recognize that the goals you have set are unrealistic. It is important to do a “reality check” with a friend or counselor about the goals you set for yourself. You might ask yourself, “Are you expecting too much from yourself and the world?”
Cultivate more Pleasure and Recreation in your Life
Perfectionism tends to make people rigid and self-denying. Your needs get sacrificed in favor of the pursuit of external goals. Are you taking yourself too seriously and not allowing yourself time for leisure and pleasure? Take time each day to do at least one thing you enjoy!
Develop a Process Orientation
Are you channeling your energies to excel at all costs or are you enjoying the process of living day by day? Remember the journey is more important than the destination! Pay attention to the journey and find pleasure in day to day experiences. Developing a process orientation will go a long way in helping you overcome perfectionism.