There’s a Darker Side to Perfectionism
In preparation for my first job interview, I rehearsed my answers for a list of commonly asked questions.
One question I remember was, “What do you consider to be your strengths?”
My self-assessment included traits like hardworking, dedicated, a good listener, a fast learner. And a perfectionist.
And while my attention to detail has its merits, my perfectionism can inhibit becoming who I want to be and doing what I want to do.
Has this been your experience, too?
The Downfall of Perfectionism
Perfectionism enlists a critical part of our brains, the part that seeks to preserve the best in us by monitoring what we do and how well we do it. From an evolutionary perspective, this part of our brain was important for human preservation (survival!).
Yet, in modern times, this part of the brain can stir up feelings of self-doubt, inhibition, and even stress and anxiety.
I can recall many moments when perfectionism led to a record of missed experiences:
· Those times when I wouldn’t allow the paintbrush to touch the canvas, to avoid the disappointment of my own paintings.
· The many ideas I've left on the table after staring at my jewelry beads and findings, quitting on an idea before ever starting.
· Fear of joining a team or trying something adventurous for fear of public embarrassment
· Not speaking up or publicly sharing my ideas and talents, instead overly concerned about what others might think of me as a person, or of where they might find fault with my work.
What about you? What experiences have you missed out on because of perfectionism?
Take a moment to count the cost.
Managing the Perfectionist Mind
Perfectionism appears to be helpful in that it helps us avoid mistakes, embarrassment, or disappointment. Yet as we’ve seen, it also deprives us of rich experiences. The standards are set so high that everything we do is not good enough.
It’s hard to have a celebratory moment when the bar keeps moving on you, isn’t it?
The perfectionist part of our brains is responsible for assigning meaning to everything we do. The assigned scores create our perception of our worth and utility. This score, by default, is based on our past experiences. It’s what that part of the brain knows. (This part of our brain is not very creative!)
Perfectionists tend to see things through a harsher lens; we tend to low-ball our worth and utility. It’s important to know this about ourselves! This lens clouds our ability to see our true value.
Know which Lens You Are Choosing
Perfectionist thinking is harsh, so it makes sense that we would prefer that it just quiet itself and go away. But remember, this chatty brain is a part of us! So rather than try to banish it forever, we need to learn a way to accept it, yet give it less airtime.
For me, the key is to understand our tendency to choose this harsher lens.
And then choose a kinder one instead. Through the kinder lens, we begin to own our excellence. We develop the courage to create. We begin to risk putting our work out into the world. We connect with others who enjoy and appreciate our contributions.
With practice, we spend less time thinking about having to change lenses, and automatically choose the kinder lens through which to experience life.
We learn to seek value and experiences that boost our well-being. We still fear failure – that’s our brain’s natural instinct – but we aren’t as paralyzed by it.
We grow in our understanding of the lenses through which we’ve been viewing the world, and decide if they are worth keeping.
Now when I hear my brain saying that I should have done something better than I did, or hear it stopping me from making something new, I see it as a part of myself, but not my truth.
I choose a different lens through which I can feel commitment, compassion, and inner peace.
Take a moment to check in with yourself here: Are you ready to choose the kinder lens?
If you feel conflicted – as though part of you wants to, but part of you is scared – that’s normal.
Perfectionists like us love to overthink! It’s what makes us such great planners; we’re so thorough and careful. Yet this very attribute which we have been priding ourselves on also hinders our healing.
It stops us from taking action, paralyzing us with unhelpful thoughts.
If that feels familiar, here’s what I want you to know …
The unhelpful thoughts can be there.
And you can still do amazing things.
My brain is like yours, so I get it. But through coaching, I’ve been able to create a new set of lenses for myself.
I’d love to help you do the same.
To book your free consult, visit the Contact page.
Together we'll explore how perfectionist thinking has been holding you back, and how to reach your future goals, (even with an overthinking mind).