As I write this post I am imagining some of my fellow perfectionists out there searching for the alternative article on "10 Stress-Free Ways to Be Perfect without Even Trying." Sorry, no such article exists and if it did it would be a lie. I hate to break this to you but nobody is perfect. And in fact, the unrealistic quest for perfection can cause much anxiety and distress. In my previous post I talked about possible reasons why some of us crave perfection. Sometimes when you understand the source of your need for perfection, you can more readily change your behavior. It isn’t easy but I believe that taming your desire for perfection may be necessary for your physical and mental wellness.
Here are five ways to tame your inner perfectionist and live a happier and more peaceful life:
1. Realize that trying to be perfect to please other people doesn’t work
If you are living just to make other people happy then you are not really living. As an extreme example, take a look at Jocelyn Wildenstein, the woman who had plastic surgery on her face to look like a jungle cat. The reason? She knew her husband liked jungle cats and thought that if she looked like one then he would like/love her more. In her warped perception, she was trying to look "perfect" for what she felt her husband most prized in appearance. Needless to say, her plan totally backfired, and her husband was frightened and repulsed by her cosmetic surgery. If you think you have to be perfect or change who you are in a drastic way for someone to like or love you, this is not a relationship you want to be involved in.
2. Listen to your body.
Stress and anxiety usually manifest in warning signs. These warning signs most often manifest in physical symptoms including chest pain, shortness of breath, stomach pain and more. Depression can also manifest in somatic symptoms such as fatigue, body aches and pains, changes in appetite, and sleep disturbance. These are all signs that you need to slow down and ease up on over-doing things in order to reach perfection. These physical warnings may also indicate that you are suffering from either clinical anxiety or depression. Seeking guidance from your doctor and/or mental health professional may help.
3. Accept that in order to "have it all" you may not be able to have it all at the same time.
There is this notion in our society that with the proper concentration, worth ethic, and multi-tasking that we can be the best in our careers, the best partners, the best parents, and achieve all our dreams. Being human dictates that we can’t be perfect in all these realms. In order to be a super success in any one domain there will be sacrifices and compromise. It is crazy-making to think that if you give 100% to your job that you will have anything left over for your kids, your health, and your mental well being. You may have to put off some dreams in order to have time for other parts of your life. Another strategy is to re-define what it means to be "successful." You may be happier and more fulfilled with a simple life than one filled with awards and material things. One of the happier times in my life was when I quit my well paying job to stay home with my two boys. But as my boys became older then I was able to devote more time to career.
4. Designate a mandatory rest or relaxation time.
This idea comes from my friend Lene who is the community leader and head writer for MyRACentral. It is especially difficult for people who tend to be overachievers to slow down and take time out specifically devoid of work or achieving goals. Some of us may feel guilty for taking time for ourselves especially if we feel other people depend upon us. The trick is not to say, "If I have time I will try to rest" but to consciously add relaxation time to your daily schedule. The alternative is stress, burn-out, and exhaustion. Prevent the crash and burn through mandatory rest time.
5. Set realistic boundaries for what you do.
You can set boundaries by time or quantity. For example you may set aside a specific amount of time for a project and do your very best within that time frame. But at some point you have to walk away and take a break. You can also set limits on the quantity of tasks you do in a day. Many of us perfectionists love post-it notes to make our to-do lists. There are times when I have so many things on my to-do list that I am setting myself up for failure. My writing becomes smaller and smaller as I try to squeeze just one more task in the margins. Then I end up feeling bad for not being able to cross off all these goals in a day. Lene has recommended a wonderful alternative for my post-it-note self torture. She suggests purchasing post-its with lines on them. The lines provide concrete visual boundaries. Write three important tasks on it and focus on those for the day. If you complete these, great. Feel good about your accomplishments. Then you can create a new list if you wish.
Working hard, pursuing dreams, and trying to do our best are admirable feats. But they are not so admirable when we cross the boundaries into seeking perfection. When we pursue perfection we sacrifice our health, relationships, and happiness in the process. You don’t need to be perfect to be a success, to be liked, to feel worthy, or be loved.
Let go of perfection and the stress that comes with it.
Your imperfect life awaits you.