Are you a perfectionist? Well I am or was, maybe still am a little.
Did you know that you can learn not to be? I was really surprised to find out that it was possible after all these years of trying to prove myself…or improve myself for others and get it right. Scared tomake a mistake, being forever dissatisfied with myself, comparing myself and never feeling good enough. I couldn’t reach my own standards, let alone allow others to. I am not sure I even knew my own standards.
As perfectionists we constantly wait for this or that to be right, or have this or that, more qualifications, more talent, better knowledge….. Wow being a perfectionist for me was exhausting. It’s ironic but finally I can say it is perfect to be imperfect. What a joy, I am human, I am normal, I am a budding imperfectionist, learning to learn from her mistakes and loving every minute of it.
So here goes my attempt to do this trial and error thing.
Having waited months to get my blog started writing lots of articles, only to put them aside, thinking I needed to get my website perfect before producing them I thought it apt to start with this article. How to release being a perfectionist and start learning to make mistakes!!!
I finally feel happy to get it out there and learn to be ok with making mistakes and that the world won’t end!!! That I will still be loved and accepted and no longer worry about criticism.
When I first let go of being a perfectionist, I felt disappointed in the whole human race, having idealised things for so long, I thought society was perfect and suddenly realised this wasn’t the case. Nobody was perfect, we all make mistakes and struggle to get things right. That was a hard notion to accept, that we all want an ideal world but
we can’t seem to get it right. However the first step to change is awareness. I did accept it and began to celebrate that finally I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. It’s really important to learn through trial and error and it appears that the human race is doing just that and now me to!!
So what else defines a perfectionist ? Becoming aware of how we function helps transform things. We don’t really change we transform what we do, to make a choice to do things differently.
Perfectionists look at what they do wrong far quicker than what they do right, are far too dependent on what others think, end up with a negative self-esteem because they judge that they can never seem to improve enough, find it hard to accept their weaknesses and are disappointed in themselves when they make a mistake, pushing their self-esteem even lower. They don’t want to disappoint so try to please, see others as better than themselves or even perfect. Their standards are high and others cannot live up to them either. They have to do more or get more but this is fruitless and they don’t get what they need because they hate asking for help and are pretty bad at receiving. To ask for help is to lose control. They may also devalue themselves because their values may have come for the wrong things, saying I am not a good enough friend, I am not loving enough, did I perform well at that social event. They want feedback but are always anxious about it being negative ,because that would mean criticism but without feedback they feel empty. They hear their inner voice but don’t act on it because they are unsure about making mistakes or of other peoples’ reactions and end up not listening to their own emotions
I learnt that this is what is also known as a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is often a trait of a perfectionist. People who think that success is innate, instead of a learnt skill. They think that because they are talented they must be smart(I was a talented swimmer)and will achieve with no effort. If they don’t succeed they assume it was because they weren’t talented or smart enough instead of striving to learn how to achieve their own success
Finally I understood what my brain was doing to me and why I would give up on my projects instead of diving in deeper. I thought that I was either not talented enough or I picked up stuff so quickly there was no challenge involved. But the challenge is in becoming an expert and staying focused on what you want. It was time to celebrate my efforts not just my talents. Stop waiting for people to recognise my talent and tell me that I was good enough and decide that I could do it by working through it – the trial and error bit! What a liberation a different way of looking at things, it is called a growth mindset. I decided to stop taking things personally and believing that I was the problem if things didn’t work. Instead I see that it might have been down to the way I was doing it and so a change in tactics and finding a new plan of action was the course to take without feeling useless for asking someone to show me a way round instead of giving up.
How did I become a perfectionist?
Very often from our childhood when we try to find praise, be loved, please, the image of feeling that their was no room for me so I had to be perfect and not disappoint. We may have been praised more for our talents then our efforts and therefore we began to rely on being talented. Being talented then equates to not having to make effort like others do, it’s easy, believing that being smart is nothing to do with effort. We became scared of making errors, believing if we made one then we weren’t smart enough to succeed and scared to try in case we were criticised. Making more effort never crossed our brains, doing it differently was never a choice. My theory is that I had been acting this way because I wanted recognition, from my father, my family or others around me and the only recognition I really needed was from myself!
Dr Carol Dweck (professor of psychology) tells us we can learn instead to cultivate a growth mindset a way to look at effort and strategies instead of results and performance, trial and error and what we say to ourselves to achieve.
Here are my 5 tips to learn to making mistakes a strength:
- Awareness is the first step, so accept that you are a perfectionist. Stop relying on your talents and develop other skills instead. Accept what you are not good at and find ways to work on it. Focus on your efforts and strategies rather than on your talents alone. Celebrate your efforts and congratulate yourself every time you tried and what you tried.
- Ask yourself these questions: What is the upside of being perfect? If you don’t keep it altogether what’s going to happen? you might fail, if I fail that means I am vulnerable, vulnerable also to attack and criticism and that is personal, that means I am no good. How can I turn that around so it isn’t personal? Where will I be rejected if I am not perfect or I make a mistake?
How does being perfect protect me and keep me safe? Who am I trying to be perfect for or try to prove it to and please? Who am I trying to be recognised by? What would happen if I wasn’t perfect? What’s the fear or the consequences? Can I be ok with those?
- Stop trying to do it alone. If you don’t know how to do it find the courage to ask instead of thinking you know it all or giving up. Put your ego in it’s box and ask to be shown how to do it. You may find that at the same time you create some amazing new connections, friends and skills. I did.
- Push yourself to find the courage to do something that you know that you are not going to achieve, where you are sure to make a mistake. Do it in front of others and you may realise that no one cares if you do it wrong. That you will be accepted. Allow yourself to show your cracks! and then learn from what went wrong, productive error making. Learning to fail, learning from your failures, learning how to bounce back and deciding you can do it differently
- Accept your disappointments and your weaknesses and forgive your failures and others too. Say out loud I am disappointed, I am disappointed. Deal with any frustrations, anger or resentment. It is the attitude in meeting the disappointments and failures that dictates if you get back up or not and who you want to be. Maybe list your standards and work out if they are yours or others and ask if you want to stick to those standards. Find your own model of success and not someone elses.
This video about fixed and growth mindset might also help….. you may already have many of the qualities of a growth mindset hidden in you, let them out!! https://youtu.be/aNWA3ZwJdLk
I still have standards but I have found it easier to accept my errors. I have given up the struggle of being perfect and decided just to be me. So far so good. I have so much more energy, because my energy is not wasted on trying to prove things to others. I have found it easier to accept and stop judging myself, humanity and others and forgive instead. I have chosen to let go of what’s not working and let what is develop.
Feedback is most welcome!!! so I can learn to improve if I want to!!! and thanks to all those who may be reading and saying wow I never knew that. Let me know what you learnt and what you are now going to do with that.
Look out for my next articles – from a dreamer to an achiever!!! And Is it ok to have desires and needs….?