Could it be that perfectionism is holding you back from achieving what you really want in life? Not many people appreciate that perfectionism is a coping strategy for dealing with anxiety.
People often view perfectionism as a positive trait. It is defined as the desire to be seen as perfect which in turn leads to success and high achievement, however setting ourselves such unrealistically high standards can actually hold us back from achieving our goals. It can lead to procrastination and self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours and make it even harder to achieve what we are aiming for.
Brené Brown, the research professor at the University of Houston, has done extensive research in this area. She is clear to distinguish that "Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth." She explains that perfectionism is used by many people as a coping strategy to protect against the pain of blame, judgment, or shame.
Trying to be the best we can be in certain areas of our life can be totally ok, but it is not healthy when perfectionism dominates our lives and we feel overwhelmed or paralysed. Perfectionism causes us to stay stuck in the idea that we cannot make mistakes, which can result in us saying “No” to new opportunities, avoiding trying something in the first place, comparing ourselves to others or putting something off until the last minute when the deadline is looming and we have no choice.
Perhaps you have found yourself writing and then continuously rewriting the same email, or rehearsing a conversation over and over? Maybe you have felt you were not good enough if you didn’t get top marks in a test, and were unable to see that you did your best with the resources that you had at that point in time? Possibly, you constantly compare yourself unfavourably to others, and focus on the end goal rather than what you can and have learnt along the way?
Perfectionism damages our self-esteem and results in constant self-criticism, fear of failure, and a feeling as though nothing is ever "good enough,” including ourselves. It can result in excessive anxiety, stress and burnout.
It is most commonly seen in our workplace or school life, and the belief that we need to be perfect may come from our own beliefs or those of others around us such as parents or teachers, or even our peers and colleagues. Perfectionism may also spill over into our relationships, and we try to continuously people please, putting everyone else’s needs above our own, or placing unrealistic standards on our friends and family. Our hobbies may also exacerbate perfectionism, especially individual sports where one is competing against oneself.
It's normal to be intimidated by the unfamiliar or the unknown, but that is where we grow the most.
When we feel fear or anxiety about something, ask yourself what is the worse that can happen? How realistic is that thought? Give it a score out of 10.
How will you remember this event in two weeks time? One month? Five years? Is the time that you are spending on it going to make a difference to your life in the long term?
What skills do you need to complete this task? Where have you used those skills before? What did you learn about yourself then?
I am all for us trying our best, but I have learnt to be realistic. If I wanted to go back to trying to be perfect all the time, I know I would only achieve a third of what I can achieve now. I’m ok with posting a blog that is not perfect, my goal is to reach as many people as possible, so they know that anxiety does not need to dominate their lives.
So instead of aiming for perfection, I ask you, with love, to try aiming for 75%. I can honestly say this has been a game changer for me.
Have you struggled with trying something new, or that you are finding daunting, due to a desire to be perceived as perfect? If you strive for perfectionism due to anxiety or low self-esteem, or out of feelings of inadequacy or failure, you may find it helpful to speak with someone who can help you manage excessive self-criticism.
If anxiety is something you or your loved ones struggle with regularly, then please get in touch to discuss how I can help you overcome the underlying cause of your anxiety. You can book a FREE 45 minute discovery call here