My whole life I thought perfectionism was a positive, that absolute refusal to accept any standard short of it was a good thing. I mean surely it meant people could rely on me more, no bad impressions could be formed and I was increasing my chances of success, right?
I think back to a vivid moment in time, many years ago. I completed a piece of work and received feedback of missing attention to detail. I could have kicked myself, for not doing that all important sense check. The self-talk was mean, I was beating myself up but what I realised is that it wasn’t the actual event that was the problem. It was the fear of failing, of being criticised, of being incompetent. That was the real anguish.
You see, perfectionism takes no prisoners. It can affect anyone and you would be surprised just how many people this impacts. I recently listened to an episode from The High Performance podcast where high performing individuals share their life experiences. It was an interview called How a mental health crisis led to a life of exploration with Jonny Wilkinson, a professional rugby player. He openly shares how being obsessed with being perfect led to mental health issues. High performance to him used to mean being obsessed with outcomes, with stats. This is what he thought defined who he was at that time however after going through a journey of discovery this view has changed. It is now about being present, being fully engaged and enjoying every moment of what he is doing. He likened this to childhood and the belief you can become anyone you want to because there is no pretence, no other pressure. Kids have the ability to engage fully and put everything they have got in to things.
So much of this podcast was relatable. Whilst I am no high performing sportsperson, I most definitely apply the same pressures to both my personal and work life. Getting into those skinny jeans, achieving the most workout calories, reaching the target weight, they are all outcomes rather than immersing myself in the experience, the moment.
I realised that in lockdown 1.0 the perfectionism was rife. Weight loss was the goal and I enjoy structure so tracking calories and exercising numerous times a day became an easy non-negotiable. It gave me the focus I needed, a brilliant distraction from lockdown but in actual fact this precision and execution of perfectly balanced meals, exact calorie and macro splits and maximum calories earned from working out was only raising the stakes higher. I was too focused on the outcome, did the scales and measuring tape give me the results I wanted, was there a change yet? It quickly became an obsession. Yes I got results and quite quickly but the process could have been less intense if I hadn’t been so determined on having the perfect workout day and kicked negative self-talk in the butt when the scales weren’t moving quickly enough or had indeed decided to plateau.
Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect
Perfectionism is more universal than you think. High achievers set goals and take active steps to reach them, the satisfaction from the journey to success and the goals being just within reach are rewarding in itself however perfectionists just won’t accept anything less and can see it as a failure. This can then lead to low self-esteem, self defating thoughts, procrastination, burnout alongside increased stress, anxiety and depression.
I think I will always strive for perfectionism, for high standards and will reach for the stars as part of my DNA but keeping it in check is what’s important and not losing sight of successes, big or small along the way and remembering to appreciate the journey. There are a few things I am working on right now which might help if you are a fellow idealist.
BEING MORE SELF-AWARE
Acknowledging I am a perfectionist. Taking a step back before starting something helps me manage those high standards. Lockdown 2.0 is now about toning and building muscle but without squeezing myself and accepting that I am allowed to enjoy the process.
I have more empathy, not giving myself a hard time because in actual fact I am already achieving great things. So what if I have a rest day? My body is allowed to have a break from spin classes and lifting weights. In fact it is recommended to give your muscles a chance to rebuild. And yes I am allowed that pizza! One thing this pandemic really has hit home is that we only get one life, it isn’t a dress rehearsal and it is to be enjoyed.
Don’t be hard on yourself.
PUNCHING NEGATIVE SELF-TALK IN THE FACE
That inner critic! It’s the worst one of all. It can prevent us from living our best life and can often lead us to seek comfort in the very things we are trying to break away from. I can guarantee no one else thinks any of the things that we say to ourselves and we would never say them to our loved ones so why should we say them to ourselves? Putting myself in the shoes of my best friend, asking what she would say has helped me kick that gloomy self-talk in to touch. So no more self-judgement!
What are your thoughts on this? Have you ever been labelled a perfectionist, or consider yourself to be one?