HOW TO OVERCOME PERFECTIONISM

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1 HOW TO OVERCOME PERFECTIONISM Mst peple wuld cnsider having high standards a gd thing. Striving fr excellence can shw that yu have a gd wrk ethic and strength f character. High standards can als push yu t reach yur peak level f perfrmance. Fr example, athletes ften train lng and hard t reach excellence in their sprts. Perfectinism, n the ther hand, invlves a tendency t set standards that are s high that they either cannt be met, r are nly met with great difficulty. Perfectinists tend t believe that anything shrt f perfectin is hrrible, and that even minr imperfectins will lead t catastrphe. Fr example, mst peple believe it is imprtant t try t d ne s best and nt make mistakes. Hwever, mst peple als believe that making mistakes frm time t time is inevitable and that making a mistake des nt mean they have failed smething entirely. Hwever, adults with perfectinism tend t believe that they shuld never make mistakes and that making a mistake means they are a failure r a hrrible persn fr disappinting thers. Thinking like this makes it really scary fr them t make mistakes. Trying t be perfect is als likely t make yu feel stressed and maybe even disappinted with yurself much f time because yu are nt able t meet yur standards easily r at all. Over time, yu may even start t believe that yu are nt as capable as thers. Therefre, it is wrthwhile t cnsider lsening up yur standards a bit t ease the stress and anxiety yu may feel frm trying s hard t be perfect. Here are the Steps t Help Yu Overcme Perfectinism Step 1: Learning t Recgnize Perfectinism This is an imprtant first step, as it helps yu t figure ut whether yu have a prblem with perfectinism. Remember, there is nthing wrng with having high standards, but when these standards are t high, they can really get in the way f yur wrk/schl, relatinships, and enjyment f life. If yu have truble figuring ut whether yu have a prblem with perfectinism, yu might find answering the fllwing questins helpful: 1. D I have truble meeting my wn standards? 2. D I ften feel frustrated, depressed, anxius, r angry while trying t meet my standards? AnxietyBC 1

2 3. Have I been tld that my standards are t high? 4. D my standards get in the way? Fr example, d they make it difficult fr me t meet deadlines, finish a task, trust thers, r d anything spntaneusly? If yu answered Yes t any f these questins yu may have a prblem with perfectinism. Perfectinism affects hw ne thinks, behaves, and feels. If yu have difficulties with perfectinism, the fllwing examples may be familiar t yu: Examples f perfectinistic feelings: Perfectinism can make yu feel depressed, frustrated, anxius, and even angry, especially if yu cnstantly criticize yurself fr nt ding a gd enugh jb after spending a lt f time and effrt n a task. Examples f perfectinistic thinking: Black-and-white thinking (e.g., Anything less than perfectin is a failure, If I need help frm thers, then I am weak ) Catastrphic thinking (e.g., If I make a mistake in frnt f my cwrkers, I wn t be able t survive the humiliatin, I can t handle having smene being upset with me. ) Prbability verestimatin (e.g., Althugh I spent all night preparing fr a presentatin, I knw I wn t d well, My bss will think I am lazy if I take a cuple f sick days. ) Shuld statements (e.g., I shuld never make mistakes, I shuld never cme acrss as nervus r anxius, I shuld always be able t predict prblems befre they ccur. ) Examples f perfectinistic behaviur: Chrnic prcrastinatin, difficulty cmpleting tasks, r giving up easily Overly cautius and thrugh in tasks (e.g., spending 3 hurs n a task that takes thers 20 minutes t cmplete) AnxietyBC 2

3 Excessive checking (e.g., spending 30 minutes lking ver a brief t yur bss fr pssible spelling mistakes) Cnstantly trying t imprve things by re-ding them (e.g., rewriting a wrk dcument several times t make it perfect ) Agnizing ver small details (e.g., what mvie t rent) Making elabrate t d lists (e.g., when t get up, brush teeth, shwer, etc.) Aviding trying new things and risking making mistakes TIP: Yu might want t write dwn the realistic statements n cue cards and carry them with yu. This can help yu when yu have a hard time thinking realistically. Step 2: Tls t Overcme Perfectinism Tl #1: Changing perfectinistic thinking a) Realistic thinking Because adults with perfectinism are ften very critical f themselves, ne f the mst effective ways t vercme perfectinism is t replace self-critical r perfectinistic thughts with mre realistic and helpful statements. It is a gd idea t practise these helpful statements regularly. Even if yu d nt believe them right away, enugh repetitin will turn psitive realistic thughts int a habit, and help crwd ut the negative self-talk. Sme examples f psitive realistic statements Nbdy is perfect! All I can d is my best! Making a mistake des nt mean I m stupid r a failure. It nly means that I am like everyne else human. Everyne makes mistakes! It s kay nt t be pleasant all the time. Everyne has a bad day smetime. It s kay if sme peple dn t like me. N ne is liked by everyne! AnxietyBC 3

4 b) Perspective taking Adults with perfectinism als tend t have a hard time seeing things frm anther persn s pint f view. That is, they tend nt t think abut hw thers might see a situatin. Fr example, yu may believe that yu are lazy because yu are nly able t exercise 1 hur instead f 2 hurs every day. Learning t view situatins as ther peple might see them can help yu t change sme f these unhelpful beliefs. Ging back t the I m lazy example, yu can challenge this thught by asking yurself the fllwing questins: Hw might smene else (e.g., a clse friend) view this situatin? Mst peple prbably wuld nt think they are lazy if they d nt exercise 2 hurs everyday. Kelly, my best friend, nly has time t wrk ut fr 1 hur, 2 t 3 times a week, and feels pretty gd abut it. Are there ther ways t lk at this? Maybe nt being able t wrk ut 2 hurs every day is understandable given my busy schedule. Nt being able t meet this standard des nt mean I am lazy. Mst peple cannt d it. What might I tell a clse friend wh was having similar thughts? It is kay t nly wrkut fr 1 hur per day r even less. Wrking ut regularly, say 2 t 3 times a week, is gd enugh! c) Lking at the big picture Adults with perfectinism tend t get bgged dwn in details and spend a lt f time wrrying abut the little things (e.g., what fnt t use in an ). One helpful strategy t wrry less abut details is t ask yurself the fllwing questins: 1. Des it really matter? 2. What is the wrst that culd happen? 3. If the wrst des happen, can I survive it? 4. Will this still matter tmrrw? Hw abut next week? Next year? d) Cmprmising This is a particularly helpful tl fr dealing with black-and-white thinking. Cmprmising invlves lwering r being mre flexible with yur very high standards. Fr example, if yu believe that making a mistake during a presentatin means that yu are stupid. Yu might try asking yurself, What level f imperfectin AnxietyBC 4

5 am I willing t tlerate? Frm there, yu can try t cme up with sme lwer and mre reasnable standards that yu are willing t accept. Because it is quite anxiety prvking when yu first start trying t lwer yur standards, yu can d s gradually, in steps. Fr example, the first step t mre reasnable standards in this example might invlve spending 3 hurs instead f 5 preparing fr a presentatin, allwing yurself t make a mistake during 1 ut f 5 presentatins, r being kay with having fewer than 5 peple praise yur perfrmance. Once yu are cmfrtable with lwering yur standards a bit, lwer them sme mre. Fr example the next step might invlve spending 1 hur preparing fr the presentatin, allwing yurself t make a mistake during 1 ut 2 presentatins, r being kay with nt knwing what thers think f yur perfrmance. Tl #2: Changing perfectinistic behaviurs Having a prblem with perfectinism is a lt like having a phbia f making mistakes r being imperfect yu are terrified f making mistakes. Facing fears in a gradual and cnsistent manner is the mst effective way t vercme phbias, and is called expsure. Fr example, the best way t vercme a dg phbia is t gradually spend time with dgs, t learn that they are nt as scary and dangerus as yu initially thught. Similarly, vercming yur phbia f making mistakes r being imperfect invlves ding just that gradually and purpsely making mistakes and cming acrss as imperfect. This technique als invlves gradually putting yurself int situatins that yu usually avid ut f a fear that things wn t wrk ut perfectly. Fr tips n hw t reduce yur fears, see Facing Yur Fears: Expsure. Here are sme examples t help yu brainstrm items fr expsure practice: Shw up fr an appintment 15 minutes late Leave a visible area in the huse a little messy Tell peple when yu are tired (r ther feelings that yu cnsider it a weakness t have) Wear a piece f clthing that has a visible stain n it Purpsely allw several uncmfrtable silences t ccur during lunch with a c-wrker Purpsely be a few cents shrt fr bus fare Anther helpful hint: Stp yurself frm engaging in excessive behaviurs designed t prevent imperfectin. Fr example, if yu tend t repeatedly check written dcuments fr mistakes, stp yurself frm checking mre than nce. Or, spend 30 minutes instead f 2 hurs t prepare fr a 15- minute presentatin. AnxietyBC 5

6 Lse yur train f thught during a presentatin Send a letter r that includes a few mistakes Talk at a meeting withut first rehearsing what yu are ging t say in yur head Try a new restaurant withut first researching hw gd it is Repeated and frequent practice! Yu will need t practise the technique yu chse several times befre yu start t feel mre cmfrtable with making mistakes. Dn t be discuraged if yur anxiety desn t cme dwn right away at first, as this is nrmal and expected. Keep trying and repeating the expsure as frequently as yu can. Mre abut setting realistic standards: Are yu scared f lwering yur standards because yu wrry that yu will let t many f yur standards g and make mistakes all the time? Here are sme helpful tips t address yur wrry: Tip 1: Remember, lwering yur standards DOES NOT mean having n standards. The gal is never t make yu becme careless in life and perfrm prly all the time. Realistic standards are standards that can actually help yu t d yur best withut csting yu things that may be imprtant t yu, such as family life, physical and mental health, and leisure time. D yu feel ambivalent abut lwering yur standards? If yu are nt sure whether yu shuld lwer certain standards, it is a gd idea t make a list f prs and cns fr lwering these standards. What are the csts t hlding nt these standards? Keeping the csts in mind can help yu t take the brave steps twards changing. Tip 2: It is kay t ask fr help. Smetimes, it is difficult t knw hw t lwer an unrealistic standard t a mre reasnable level. It is a gd idea t ask a supprtive persn wh des nt have prblems with perfectinism t help yu with setting new realistic standards. AnxietyBC 6

7 Tl #3: Overcming prcrastinatin Many adults with perfectinism ften cpe with their fear f making mistakes by prcrastinating. When yu set perfect standards fr yurself, smetimes it might feel easier t prcrastinate carrying ut a task rather than spending hurs trying t d it! Fr example, yu might find that yur huse is usually messy even thugh yu have very high standards f cleanliness and rganizatin. Or, yu might put ff writing a reprt fr wrk because yu are afraid that yu wn t be able t cmplete the task perfectly, r yu might be verwhelmed by hw much wrk yu have t put int it and dn t knw where t start! Hwever, prcrastinatin is nly a temprary slutin, and it tends t make yur anxiety wrse ver time. Here are sme ways t help yu t vercme prcrastinatin: Creating realistic schedules. Break dwn larger tasks int manageable steps. On a chart r calendar, write dwn the gal r deadline, and wrk twards it, setting small gals fr yurself alng the way. Dn t frget t reward yurself fr reaching each gal. It is als helpful t decide in advance hw much time yu will spend n a task. Remember, the gal is t cmplete the task, nt t make it perfect! Fr mre infrmatin n hw t set realistic and dable gals, see the Guide t Gal Setting. Setting pririties. Perfectinists smetimes have truble deciding n where they shuld devte their energy and effrt. Priritize yur tasks by deciding which are the mst imprtant t accmplish, and which are less imprtant. It is O.K. nt t give 100% n every task! Step 3: Reward yurself It is hard wrk t face yur fears and change ld ways f ding things. S, make sure t always take the time t reward yurself fr all the hard wrk yu are ding. It is very mtivating t give yurself a treat nce in a while. A reward might include ging ut fr a nice meal, taking a walk, ging ut with friends, r just taking sme time t relax r pamper yurself. Sme helpful resurces fr mre infrmatin n vercming perfectinism: When Perfect Isn t Gd Enugh: Strategies fr Cping with Perfectinism by M. M. Antny & R. P. Swinsn (New Harbinger Publicatins) Never Gd Enugh: Hw t Use Perfectinism t Yur Advantage withut Letting It Ruin Yur Life by M.R. Basc (Simn & Schuster) Perfectinism: What s Bad abut Being T Gd? By M. Adderhldt-Ellitt, M. Ellitt, & J. Gldberg (Mnarch Bks) AnxietyBC 7

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