If you’re constantly thinking about your to-do list, have unrelenting expectations for yourself, an inner voice full of “shoulds,” and think you don’t have time to read this: Welcome! This article is for you.
During times of crisis and uncertainty, people tend to cope by swinging in one of two ways: They tighten their grip and buckle down or they give up in a state of overwhelm. While the former might sound like the healthier route to take, for some it can lead to over-regulating, over-controlling, and over-thinking their way through. This is often the case with perfectionists and overachievers. This is unhealthy perfectionism.
There is a saying: Would you rather be right or be happy? To which I would add a corollary: You can be perfect or you can be human.
[Read: “How Letting Go of Expectations Enables You to Live Better.”]
Discovering Healthy Perfectionism
To clarify, there are two types of perfectionism. Healthy perfectionism means striving for reasonable and realistic standards because you want to reach your potential. Unhealthy perfectionism means chasing excessively high standards, motivated by fears of failure and concern about disappointing others. The latter is exhausting, mainly because you never feel like you’re enough.
Unhealthy perfectionism can show up in different ways. Are you a neat freak? Do you always compare yourself to others? Is your performance only measured by the approval of authority figures? Do you hyper-focus on other people’s faults? Are you too afraid of failure to try?
Unhealthy perfectionism is also hard on relationships. If your expectations for your friends are as high as the ones you have for yourself, you will end up perpetually disappointed and push people away.
As Brené Brown says, “True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.”
[Read: “Let Go of Pandemic Perfection.”]
It’s never too late to shift your less healthy, perfectionistic tendencies. Psychologist Carl Jung said that healthy perfectionism comes out of the desire for wholeness, fullness, and the human need for individuation and spiritual growth. Healthy perfectionism is when people measure against themselves and not others, sets goals they believe they can reach, throw themselves into what they’re doing, and value the process rather than focusing only on the outcome. This last part is key: Enjoying the process means riding the wave, playing with your edge, and having a sense of wonder along the way.
Let yourself forever be a student of life, learning from your experiences. As the Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi stated, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.”
6 Tips for Banishing Unhealthy Perfectionism
Here are some tips to encourage a more flexible mind and spirit:
- Notice your intentions. It’s often the kind, not the amount, of effort that truly matters.
- Sometimes less is more. Give yourself permission to do 20 minutes of exercise rather than the 60 minutes you originally planned. This prevents you from skipping it altogether, and you still get the benefits of movement.
- Keep your attention in the now. Perfectionism is a product of the grasping mind. Find moments where you can take five belly breaths to embrace your present experience as it is rather than trying to control or change it.
- Adopt a mantra. Here are few examples: Good Enough; I’m letting go to be well; and inhale curiosity, exhale judgment.
- Less thinking and more sensing. Practice getting out of your head by using your body as a resource. Find spaciousness within the body to counteract all that contraction. When unhealthy perfectionism shows up in your life, explore where it resides in your body. Then bring your hands to that area of the body to soften it and move your energy to your core and your feet to get centered and grounded. Slow down your reactivity with exhalations that are twice as long as your inhalations. If you need something more vigorous, shake your hands and then each of your legs for a few minutes to physically discharge the tension. Plus, letting your mind drop into your breath and bodily sensations gives you a break from overanalyzing.
- Strike a pose. Legs up the wall is wonderful pose to shift your perspective and regulate your nervous system. It’s a way to find balance between being and doing and between effort and ease.
It’s time to banish unhealthy perfectionism. You can practice living from your heart or you can live from your ego. This week celebrate all the parts of you that feel a little imperfect, recognizing that they contribute to your essence, and what makes you beautifully you.
Want more on embracing imperfection? Read: “17 Affirmations For Embracing Imperfection.”