I'm a recovering perfectionist. I've always had the tendency to be really hard on myself. I suffered the stifling "not good enough" syndrome and paralyzing self criticism that accompanies unrealistically high standards.
Over the years I've come to learn that perfectionism is unattainable and unhealthy. It's been an ongoing practice to give myself the permission that good enough is good enough.
Don't let perfect be the enemy of good
The paralyzing thought that "if I can't do it perfectly it's not worth doing" is simply our ego attempting to sabotage us. It's our small self holding us back for the fear that our less than perfect self be a reason to not be loved and accepted. It stems from our fear of being judged, ridiculed, criticized, and rejected.
When we're afraid of not being perfect or doing something perfectly, we procrastinate, we make excuses, we give up or we don’t even try.
In Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly, she writes:
"Research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life-paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people's expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds."
To let go of perfection is not the same as not trying doing a good job. We should always strive to do our best. The key is to accept that our best is good enough.
In The Pursuit of Perfect, Tal Ben-Shahar makes the distinction between a perfectionist and an Optimalist:
"While the Perfectionist rejects failure, the Optimalist accepts it as a natural part of life and as an experience that is inextricably linked to success.
The perfectionist is never satisfied. She consistently sets goals and standards that are for all intents and purposes impossible to meet, thereby from the outset rejecting the possibility of success…. The Optimalist also sets extremely high standards, but her standards are attainable because they are grounded in reality. When she meets her goals, she appreciates her successes and takes time to experience gratitude for her accomplishments."
So how can we shift from perfection to healthy striving, and from self-criticism to self-acceptance?
Do something. Something small can be build upon, nothing will always remain nothing
Start before you're ready. You'll learn and refine along the way.
When you fail, see it as a growth opportunity. Examine it without judgment and find out how you can do better next time
Practice self-compassion and speak to yourself with words of encouragement and love, as if you were speaking to your best friend or your child
Embrace the process and the journey, and let go of the results
It's a practice. Recognizing our self-sabotaging tendencies is the first step to uprooting them. Our awareness enables us to identify, re-circuit and ultimately transform them so that we can do the work of becoming ourselves.