I once popped by a new friend’s house to drop something off.
She is a mom of three who owns a dance studio and teaches; I’d never been to her house before and was only there for a minute or two.
As I stepped into her house, she immediately began to draw my attention to every single thing that she believed was wrong with the space.
A broom was in the corner with some swept-up things behind it not yet picked up and tossed in the bin.
The couch pillows were askew thanks to a recent wrestling match between her sons.
There were papers all over the table because her daughter was not finished with her homework project yet.
There was a basket of not-yet-folded clean laundry because with a two working parent household sometimes things of that nature have to wait.
For real- I was just there to drop something off and give her a quick hug; if I would have noticed any of those things (unlikely) I certainly wouldn’t have given them a second thought.
As she listed out all of the imperfections of her house, her speech became faster and her voice became a bit higher pitch; I could tell her breathing was shallow.
I could literally hear the stress rising inside her.
I said, “I wouldn’t have noticed any of that if you hadn’t said anything; it’s a home with two working parents of three kids – it’s just lived-in. Take a breath.”
Her reply was to say that I’m sweet and kind for saying that but she knows people notice these things and she didn’t want me to think she was some sort of a slob or a bad mother.
Even if I were the type of person to jump to judgment like that, who cares?
What does it matter if I think she is a bad housekeeper or a bad mother?
What am I, the clean house police? The “mother of the year” committee?
No – thank the heavens. I wouldn’t want either of those jobs.
It took a lot of effort for me to get to that point, though – the point of non-judgment.
I’m a former member of the perfectionist’s club… and sometimes have to check myself for the tendencies.
Maybe what brought me to that point was being raised by parents who would only mention the lowest grade on my report card… the one B among a sea of As.
Maybe it was something else.
At some point, we have to recognize the legacy that’s taken root and do something about it.
My mindset coach has said to me, “Jane, I want you to stop at 80%. Your 80% is everyone else’s 100%.”
It’s a constant struggle – even for someone who has claimed victory over perfectionism.
Even through the process of publishing this blog post I fought with formatting and had to finally accept my limitations… perfection isn’t possible and I have to accept “good enough.”
When our mission to be the best we can be goes a step (or two) too far, we cross the line into the perfectionist’s zone.
We can’t even be at rest inside our own space for fear of being judged by people – any people – who do or do not matter in the grand scheme of things.
In our last blog, we discussed the health dangers of perfectionism and some warning signs you’re suffering from stress related to perfectionism.
If you missed it, check it out here.
A major issue with this is many (if not most) perfectionists don’t realize what they’re doing to themselves.
They’re causing chronic stress that leads to a laundry list of health issues.
Today we’re devoted to giving you some practical action steps to take so you can overcome this impossible quest for the best.
We’ll start at the top of last week’s list of tell-tale signs and give you some instruction to help break the cycle of perfectionism.
Under each point, you’ll be given a “prep” action step, which is a preventative measure, and an “active” action step for you to utilize when you find yourself in the moment of experiencing the behavior.
- Compulsive behavior a.k.a. “one-more-thing-itis”
A sign you’re struggling with perfectionistic tendencies is the constant need to tweak or add to something that’s fine as-is; yet, you aren’t seeing that it’s fine.
- Prep: Make a realistic schedule of things you will achieve during a certain time period, and set an “end” or “wrap-up” activity for yourself. Part of the reason for “one-more-thing-itis” is the need to feel resolution. If you prepare what that resolution will be your subconscious is more likely to accept it.
- Active: The most effective tool I’ve seen in combatting this in-the-moment is using a journal. When you notice the compulsive behavior coming on, “just stopping” isn’t an option – that’s what has you in this situation.
Using a journal to detail what you are feeling, why you are feeling it, and to list the things you have accomplished will help slow down your over-active brain and give you some perspective. When you have completed the journal entry, shut down your activity and go about something else. We recommend a self-care activity because perfectionists aren’t known for being mindful of caring for themselves properly.
- The need for validation from others
One reason the last action step includes journaling what you’re feeling is that perfectionists have lost touch with what they’re actually feeling. That’s because they don’t allow themselves to a pat on their own back… it has to be received from others.
• Prep: Before a project begins, define the ending. Write down what “good enough” will look like in the end, and remind yourself of that.
• Active: Ask yourself this question: “If my best friend were doing this, what would I tell him/her I thought about it… really? What words would I use? What words or phrases would I not use?”
Thinking about things from the perspective of being the outside person can help drip a bit of reality on our thoughts; of course, you wouldn’t tell your friend “This project is crappy and you did a terrible job – you never do anything right.” The reason you wouldn’t tell your friend that is because it’s not true! You wouldn’t even see the project like that in the first place.
This action step helps you to be as kind to yourself as you would be to someone else.
The fear of not doing something well enough leads perfectionists to procrastination.
• Prep: Have a plan. Start at the end (what you want your project to look like) and work backward from there. That will give you a step by step plan to get to the end that you defined.
• Active: Grab that journal and write down what you are feeling, then write down three individual things that would take steps toward what you’re wanting to accomplish.
Schedule those things, and get going on them. Do not think about or consider the other action steps past that point; usually, the overwhelm of “not knowing where to start” comes from not having a real sense of the simplicity of individual actions that seem bigger when you haven’t gotten them down on paper.
- Judging others harshly
Perfectionists don’t do this to be mean to others; it’s an effort to give themselves some slack in the misery-loves-company line of thinking. If other people aren’t doing things to their high standards, then they’re not alone at the bottom of their barrel.
•Prep: Adopt a daily practice of active gratitude. If you don’t know how to do this, use this guided gratitude practice on our YouTube channel.
•Active: Review your thoughts so you can begin to recognize when you’re being hard on people and at that moment, take a few slow and deep breaths. There is a physiological change in your body when you practice deep breathing. Your stress hormone release slows and your pleasure hormone release increases. The influx of oxygen in your brain will also help you to have a more level head for clear thinking.
- Silent, but in mental overdrive mode
When your brain is pinging like a pinball machine but your body is frozen, you’re falling prey to this side effect of perfectionism.
• Prep: Know your plan. Just as we advised for procrastination, understanding what you want the end game to be and having small bite-sized steps to get you there can help prevent this.
Also, plan for downtime. Perfectionists like to have defined action steps; having downtime (no screens – actual downtime) helps your brain to take a break and slow the release of stress hormones.
•Active: Step away. Whatever is stimulating your brain into that pinball machine mode while your body is paralyzed isn’t going to stop if you don’t change something. There are three things you need to change in this situation: (1) Your posture: if you’re sitting, stand. If you’re standing, stretch or lie down (2) Your environment: leave the space you are in for another space even if just for a few minutes (3) Your heart rate: change your activity level- go for a quick walk and change your movement patterns… rotate your arms back, up, and around in a freestyle swimming motion
6. Stuff down your feelings; negative self-talk
Perfectionists don’t like to admit when they are seeing the cracks in their work or themselves, so they stuff it down. That’s really bad.
• Prep: Have a coach, counselor, or accountability partner who can be your sounding board. If you don’t have one, get one.
Part of the issue with perfectionists is the more they stuff down their feelings, the more they train themselves to be out of touch with who they are and what’s going on inside them. That disconnection increases stress.
Having a partner invested in your journey reduces this tendency.
• Active: Pull that journal out. You’re not going to feel comfortable calling someone and confiding in him or her immediately, so confide in yourself.
If you can’t write to yourself about how you are feeling and what’s going on inside your body, then write a note to a younger version of yourself with words of wisdom to help with positive thinking.
7. All-or-nothing/Overcommitting or not committing at all
This tendency is common almost across the board with perfectionists. They want the best or nothing at all. They want to be able to do it all, or would rather live under a rock and do nothing. If it’s not going to be perfect – it’s not going to be worth doing.
• Prep: An effective system of time management & appropriate boundaries is paramount here. You have to have one in place and it has to be well maintained. The problem with this is most of the time management and boundary tools you’ll find out there won’t work – and that’ll end up making the perfectionist feel worse about him or herself in the end – and what’s the point in that? Here’s a solution GILD has for this that starts in the right spot and works for everyone.
•Active: When you realize this is happening to you in that very moment, use the deep breathing technique we touched on earlier, and then take a moment to assess the bigger picture. Understand that this present reality will be your future reality unless you make some sizeable changes. Here’s a link to a 30-minute online class that spells out our four-step time management and boundaries system that works because it takes your unique needs into account, which no other system does.
Perfectionists have the incorrect assumption that others are more perfect than they are.
That belief disconnects them from their intuition and the life they could be living.
If you know someone who is a perfectionist, please send them this blog series: last week’s edition and this one.
It may be just the thing to save that person from a life of disconnection and misery… be the hero!
I’m happy to personally walk through the circumstances of your unique situation with you in a complimentary session. We can come up with action steps that are specific to you & what you’re facing. Click here to pick a time that works.