As a confirmed perfectionist, I can personally attest to the many problems caused by an unbending desire to get everything right all of the time. Sure, perfectionism can drive you, but more likely it's keeping you from taking risks, thinking big and starting to learn messy and difficult (and therefore interesting) things -- all of which often mean looking silly or not knowing the answer. Plus, it's an exhausting time sink to obsess about minutiae and performance.
So if you're also afflicted with this hard-to-combat personality trait, what can you do to ease up and accept that, like every other human on the planet, you will occasionally make mistakes? Michelle Russell, writer of the blog, Practice Makes Imperfect, has some suggestions in an interview on Psychology World:
- Compare yourself to others. This probably sounds surprising when the prevailing wisdom says not to. But we perfectionists need frequent reality checks. Think about whatever has you firing on all cylinders and what you're hoping to achieve. Now notice how many people are doing quite well, thankyouverymuch, without raising the bar so high.
- Use the 10-Year Question. If you catch yourself ruminating about something you think you've done or might do less than perfectly, ask yourself, "Ten years from today, will I even remember this, let alone care about how well it was done or whether it was done at all?"
- Take some time out. Perfectionists over-commit to others and to themselves. See if you can find a way out of an upcoming obligation (or two, or three) that you don't really want to do but think you "should." Also, look at your own to-do list and see what you can defer for now, or even take off your list entirely. Now don't just fill up this time with other stuff. There will always be more stuff. Allow it to be "white time" during which you have absolutely no agenda.... Perfectionism stems from an overly self-critical mind. Give your mind a break and let it rest.
- Take one tiny but direct step. There's a direct link between perfectionism and procrastination.... we often feel such pressure to do things perfectly that we overwhelm ourselves before we even start. Try picking one very tiny thing and just doing it. Make the thing so small that it doesn't intimidate you. Don't browse the Internet for workout shoesâ€"go outside and walk around the block. Just once. But do it.
- Ask yourself what you'd say to a friend. I have a friend who calls me on this whenever she observes me going into overdrive. "If I were handling everything you are right now," she asks me, "and I started criticizing you the way you're criticizing yourself, would you stand there and take it? Or would you tell me to go fly a kite?"