Instead, try adopting a “better than perfect” mindset that embraces life’s imperfections without guilt or shame. A clean enough house or a good enough job is in many ways better than perfect. Here are helpful approaches to reframe the internal discussion.
Remember what matters. In planning a big birthday party for her husband, one wife was so stressed trying to manage every detail that she had to stop and ask herself: What is most important —having everything look perfect, or having a fun party they would enjoy and remember for the rest of their lives? Thinking about our values keeps things in perspective and perfectionism in check.
Perfection isn’t likable. We often try to be perfect to gain other people’s attention and approval, but no one wants to be around a person trying to be someone they aren’t.
No one’s life is perfect. Social media often present idealized versions of people’s lives. Few post about fighting with their partner or coping with an unhappy infant; we most often hear about vacation adventures and baby’s first word or step. We can avoid feelings of dissatisfaction by avoiding comparisons with others.
It’s not failure, it’s data. Rather than personalize a perceived failure, take it on as an opportunity. If a New Year’s resolution to work out more isn’t kept, ask why: Is the exercise location too far away or is the class schedule inconvenient? It feels better to adopt a more successful strategy than to beat ourself up about falling short.
Perfectionism is a treadmill. People often think, “I’ll be happy when I weigh this or achieve that,” always seeking the next level of self-improvement. Appreciating who we are right now is a path to happiness.
Perfectionism is a learned behavior, and anything learned can be unlearned at any age. As we continue to strive for excellence, we can learn to embrace what’s good.
Take a perfectionist self-assessment quiz at Tinyurl.com/PerfectionismQuiz.
Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the author of Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love plus A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. Connect at ElizabethLombardo.com.
This article appears in the January 2015 issue of Natural Awakenings