Are you a perfectionist? Do you see mistakes as failures and work until every detail is ‘right’? Do you feel highly anxious when things aren’t working out exactly as you imagined or seem to be out of your control?
Studies show an alarming increase in the prevalence of perfectionism in our modern society. This is a particularly concerning trend because of the strong link between perfectionism and serious issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, early morbidity, suicide ideation and the act itself.
Perfectionism is about judgement. We each have a set of standards that we live our life by; some of these standards we have chosen for ourselves but many others we have inherited or absorbed from family, peers and society. From these standards, we learn to judge ourselves and our adherence to these expectations: How did I perform? Where do I fit in the larger scheme of things? How do I compare to others, and to my own standards?
Perfectionism occurs when we forget to balance the striving for these standards with a healthy appreciation for mistakes, miscalculations and misfortune. When we choose to ignore the value of perceived ‘error’ and chase imaginary, ideal results, we make inevitable mistakes and missteps wrong – and make ourselves wrong in the process.
It’s easy to see, therefore, why chasing ‘perfection’ is potentially very limiting in terms of your capacity for joy, fulfilment and success. When functioning as a perfectionist, your mind becomes hyper-focused on the desired result and on every detail of your project or task. This draws you out of yourself and into the elements that you are desperately trying to control – elements, ironically, that are actually controlling you. You become a victim of external circumstances. In doing so, you lose the anchor within yourself, and limit both your personal power and your creativity.
The good news is that it is possible, with time, practice and a little self-nurturing, to liberate yourself from the grip of perfectionism. In order to do so, it’s vital to step out of judgment (of yourself and others) and learn to see perceived failure and mistakes as valuable feedback -not unforgiveable imperfections. In addition, it’s important to focus on being more you. Instead of chasing the standards and ideals that others have created for you, learn to acknowledge, embrace and express every part of your personality – even and especially the parts that you have deemed as unworthy or imperfect.
Finally, and crucially, it’s vital that you learn to see the possibility in every experience – even those in which you fall, ‘fail’ or miss your intended target. The most powerful way to do this, is to ask a question. When you ask a question, your mind begins to explore all the possibilities available. To be most effective, don’t look for an immediate answer. Let your mind stay in a state of ‘query’; searching, wondering, inquiring and allow the possibilities to find their way to you.
If you are a perfectionist, effective questions to ask are:
“How can I use my desire for ‘betterment’ to my advantage in this situation?”
‘Better’ can be a judgment when it comes as a comparison, but if you choose to better yourself from the simple joy of creating greater, then it becomes a potent capacity. Rather than suffering in the limitation of trying to meet certain standards, this question empowers you to find joy in the experience of creating (and becoming) greater.
“What capacities of ‘never give up, never give in, never stop’ do I have, that I can acknowledge now?
When things don’t work out the way you have envisioned them, don’t conclude that ‘it’s wrong, it’s never going to happen’, Instead, just keep going. See obstacles and mistakes as both feedback and a springboard to something greater. This question frees you to experience the inevitable bumps in the road without judgment. Importantly, perfectionism is often time-bound; you expect to get everything right, every time and on time. Asking this question allows you to remove yourself from any perceived time constraints and gives you the freedom to create your dreams and achieve your targets in whatever timeframe is required.
“How can I use this mistake to my advantage?”
This question is a powerful turn-around question that will take you, every time, from wrongness to strongness. It allows you to see what benefits you are gaining from any mistake or perceived failure. Vitally, it opens your mind to acknowledging and accepting the learnings and benefits from each ‘mistake’, ‘mishap’ and ‘failure’.
The irony of perfectionism is that it can prevent you from becoming the very thing that perfectionists crave – to be the greatest version of you possible. However, by tapping into the possibility of questions, you can set can yourself free to enjoy life in all its messy, flawed and imperfect glory.
Susanna Mittermaier, born in Vienna, Austria, is a psychologist educated at the University of Lund, Sweden, where she worked at the university hospital in the psychiatry department with psychotherapy and neuropsychological testing. She is the founder of Pragmatic Psychology and author of the #1 international bestselling book, “Practical Tools for Being Crazy Happy.” She is a certified facilitator for Access Consciousness® special programs including, Being You. A highly sort after public speaker, Susanna has been featured in magazines such as TV soap, Women’s Weekly, Empowerment Channel Voice America, Om Times, Motherpedia, Newstalk New Zealand and Holistic Bliss. Susanna offers a new paradigm of therapy called Pragmatic Psychology and is known for her ability to transform people’s problems and difficulties into possibilities and powerful choices. Follow on Twitter @AccessSusanna