Perfectionism comes with the desire to take on only those tasks that are guaranteed to be successful. And it's not that they are afraid of hard work. Perfectionists are known to be workaholics. They are just very afraid of failure.
Besides, Perfectionists tend to drag things out. They constantly ruminate about things that happened or will happen. That's why they either focus on the past or worry about the future. It is difficult for a perfectionist to let go of the situation and accept what has already happened.
Thinking about the events of the past and blaming ourselves or others for something that cannot be changed is not helpful. It is very important to learn from past experience. But it is equally important to accept what has happened and not resist it.
Let's say that the project you've been working on didn't succeed. Instead of ruminating about the "failure," try asking yourself the right questions and getting the information to make improvements. If a company's sales are lower than expected, no one gets stuck on the fact of failure. People are trying to figure out how to improve the situation next month.
The perfectionist has a lot of experience in worrying about the future. Asking her to stop worrying is like asking her to stop eating. Some perfectionists think that by worrying, they're getting ready for what may happen." They have superstitious ideas about anxiety per se. They think that anxiety helps them to prepare for the worst, "If I worry, bad things won't happen." It's like thinking, "If I take an umbrella, it won't rain." But nothing supports this theory. There is no guarantee that your "preparation" will work. So don't cross the bridge until you come to it.
To reassess the situation, ask yourself these questions:
- "In what other way can I interpret the situation?"
- "How would a person whom I admire look at this event?"
- "What advice would I give my friend in similar circumstances?"
- "What are some positive aspects of the situation?"
- "Is it helpful to think the way I think now?"
- "How would I take it if I were calm?"
Instead of worrying about the past or the future, live in the present: be aware of what is happening here and now. Try to calm the pessimistic internal dialogue. Focus on what is around and within you. What's happening at the moment. Mindfulness is a powerful tool that can help us reduce stress and feel happier.
We all have positive and negative aspects to us, and we are all fallible. Learning to accept yourself (and others) warts and all is an important lesson in life. Accepting that nothing is certain, nothing is perfect is important if you are to live a fulfilling life without unnecessary pain. You can either try to be perfect and end up miserable, or you can aim to be human and imperfect, and feel empowered and enriched by life.
Even if your performance doesn't reach the highest standard, the situation is likely to be manageable. You can practice by deliberately putting yourself in situations where you would previously have felt ashamed or anxious. It will almost certainly help if, before doing it in real life, you repeatedly vividly imagine dealing with the situation.
Leave the house untidy when you go to work.
When playing sport, deliberately miss a shot or lose a match.
Invite friends over and provide food that is “ok,” rather than “perfect.”
Show up for a meeting with your boss at the wrong time.
Send an email without checking it.
Do a “good enough” job on a piece of work.
Go to work without ironing your shirt/putting on make-up etc.
Take comfort from the knowledge that each time you expose yourself, you're getting closer to your goal of reducing anxiety. You may feel more stressed or irritable temporarily, but gradually the discomfort will reduce.
Work at giving up control. Being over-controlling is irrational and born out of deep-seated insecurity. It tends to make us increasingly rigid and judgmental in our attitudes. It makes us difficult to work with. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to change long-standing habits, but little by little, you will find it gets easier.
Keep the big picture in mind! That means being careful to notice when you are becoming too bogged down in details.
Get into the habit of standing back and rechecking priorities. Ask yourself, “What's the best use of my time right now?”
Take care not to be too demanding or judgmental of others. If you know you are prone to this, remind yourself of the need to be realistic and reasonable. We are all fallible.
Never, ever humiliate anyone on your staff team. If you are annoyed with someone on your team, or have done something wrong, make sure you keep your cool. If you humiliate or patronize, or criticize excessively, he or she will hold a grudge against you for a long time, and their work will suffer too. This type of behaviour spreads ill-feeling in teams, creating a negative atmosphere and reduced productivity.
Remember that you are likely to feel some anxiety whilst making these changes. This anxiety is a sign that you are making progress. So if it feels uncomfortable, remind yourself that it will get easier, and the benefits will make it all worthwhile.
Focus on the other person, not yourself. Ask them questions and really listen to them. People generally love talking about themselves – after all, it's a subject they know well. When we show we are interested in others, they usually find us really interesting too – yet we might have said very little about ourselves!
This is the end of lesson 14. In the next lesson, you'll learn how to change Perfectionist attitudes and behaviors.