4 Ways to Stop Chasing Perfect and Transform Your Life
How to train your mind toward perfectionistic sobriety.
Posted Sep 25, 2019
It’s not unusual to hear people describe themselves, or their significant others, or their children, as “perfectionists.” This often comes across as half apology and half overconfidence: “I stayed up late again working. What can I do? I’m a perfectionist.”
Touting your perfectionism or that of your children is analogous to being an alcoholic and bragging about your latest binge-drinking episode. Make no mistake, being a perfectionist does not mean you are perfect, that life always goes your way, or even that you are productive and accomplished. And most importantly, working to make yourself—your work, your partner, your children, your dog, your closet—perfect will not increase your sense of self-confidence or peace of mind. Perfectionism is a quicksand that oftentimes keeps people stuck, unable to pull out and yet unhappy with where they stand.
Chasing perfect means that each new idea or challenge you encounter is immediately accompanied by a mental to-do list and obsessive analysis of how to get it just right. Instead of experiencing and accomplishing you are stuck in indecisiveness about what you should accomplish, what you should produce, what you should look like, act like, live like. All of these machinations and mental gymnastics around getting things perfect are the ego’s way of trying to maintain a sense of self. In reality, chasing perfect is self-defeating.
Here are four ways to stop chasing perfect and transform your life:
1. Bring your real self to the table. When we are caught in self-appraisals about how we come across and how we rank in the minds of others then we are not our real selves. We don’t experience our social events and relationships; we get through them. Later we think of how we did or if we received any positive or negative feedback. But we don’t enjoy the experience and in the long run are left feeling empty. When you are real and open you will connect better with those around you. These deeper connections fill you up and will help you to feel less lonely and more fully known by the people in your life. When you find your mind ranking yourself or noticing who is better or worse off than you, pull back and remind yourself that ranking and judging brings stress and distances you from the world around you. Train your mind to focus on what fulfills—attention to this moment right now
2. Focus on what you can get out of your experiences: When we only focus on being the best—the hardest worker, the hottest body, the smartest, the funniest—we exist in a never-ending anxious state. We can’t feel at ease because there is always something else to scrutinize, to worry about, or to do. Focus your attention less on what you are doing that is right or wrong and more on what you want to feel and gain from your experiences. For example, the next time you take on an event/social interaction/work project, focus on what experience you want to come from that endeavor—i.e. to connect with others, learn something new, enjoy interesting scenery, produce, or try out a new way of thinking.
3. Get ‘er done. Stop analyzing how to do things, the right method, the wrong method, where you went wrong previously, where others are going wrong, the shade of light you need to start a project or the clothes you need to take on a new endeavor. These are all delay strategies when you don’t actually want to start because you are terrified that it won’t be perfect. Your mantra going forward needs to be “Get ‘er done!” not “Do it perfectly.” Let yourself take on new challenges and take risks. If it isn’t perfect it still may, and likely will, result in something positive in your life. If nothing else you are trying to do more and self-criticize less, so you’ve already succeeded!
4. Grow from your setbacks. If you decide to stop chasing perfect you will be vulnerable. Now your real self is before you and you will make mistakes. People may not like you back, you will have setbacks or errors or get negative feedback. To be successful in perfectionistic sobriety, you must look at each of these “mistakes” as opportunities for growth. Instead of living in fear of the next error or failure, you welcome it and simply go back to the drawing board. Go at it again and again, taking what you learn with each misstep along with you. Eventually, you’ll see you have created an enriched life—full of close friends, enjoyable experiences, and accomplishments—a life that is meaningful and makes you proud.
In my book, Building Self-Esteem: 5 Steps, I offer more tools for helping you to feel better about yourself.