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For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a perfectionist.
And for the last several years, I’ve been working to break out of this mentality.
I’m still not fully free of it, but I’m working on it. It’s a process.
It helps to develop ease and comfort and gentleness with ourselves—to become present with ourselves and learn about ourselves. It helps to observe ourselves, our thought processes, our habits, our triggers, our reactions. It helps to reflect and consider the reasons why we may have developed this type of thinking, to consider what benefits some part of us may feel we’re getting from it.
What are we seemingly getting out of it? What are our real motivations through seeking perfectionism? Do we think we’ll be safe or secure or that we can’t be hurt?
Of course we know we can’t be perfect—logically. We know that no one is perfect or can be—logically. But for perfectionists, there’s still a deep part of us that craves it, wants it, and feels it just has to be possible.
One of the biggest things that has helped me is to become acquainted with the tender places within me, the places that ache. It’s helped to learn about my limiting beliefs and about the ways that perfectionism limits me. It’s helped to get comfortable with sitting with uncomfortable emotions. And it’s helped to watch how and where this type of perfectionist thinking shows up in my life.
There are also three practical things that have helped me.
Here are three things we can do to break out of the perfectionist mental trap:
1. Say the words, “It’s good enough.”
We have to train ourselves to understand that sometimes things are “good enough.”
Wanting to excel is wonderful, wanting to do our best is wonderful, wanting to put our whole heart and soul into something we care about is wonderful—but at some point, no matter what, some part of us will have to be able to say, “It’s good enough.”
This especially comes up for me with writing. Did I say everything I wanted to say? Did I cover all angles? Did everything flow? Over the last few years, I’ve noticed myself consciously say, “It’s good enough.” Maybe something feels a little disjointed or could have been phrased differently, but it’s good enough. Maybe I could have said more or described something better, but it’s good enough.
I also remind myself that I can always write another article that talks about a particular thing in more detail if I didn’t do it in this particular piece.
This can be something we keep in mind with anything. Did we get everything done in the exact way that we wanted to do it in a day? Maybe not—but what we did do was probably good enough.
2. Think about your true motivations.
Perfectionism has a “performative” aspect. We want to do well; we want to be seen doing well. But the focusing on the end result of “perfection” is fake and surface and just causes stress. And it isn’t even really the point.
It’s helpful to realign to our heart and come back to why we’re doing what we’re doing.
For example, if we’re studying something, are we really studying it just to “do well”? Are we only focused on the end result of seeming like we’re good or perfect at it, hoping we’ll “perform” well? Or are we studying because it’s something we genuinely want to learn? If we want to learn, then it’s easy to reframe and get excited about the learning aspect, the process of learning, why we want to learn—rather than on having to “be perfect” at it as the outcome.
3. Say these words, “I’m doing the best I can.”
We’re always doing the best that we can. Every time I remind myself of this, I feel calm because I know I’m doing my best.
We’re doing the best to balance everything that we have going on in our lives. We’re doing our best to balance the responsibilities and the things we enjoy.
We’re doing the best with each task, with each moment.
All of us, every single one of us, are doing the best we can.