What is Perfectionism?
Do you want to be perfect? Perfect at your work, perfect as a partner, and perfect as a friend? Are you afraid of making mistakes? Do you give everything to avoid failing? Do you think perfectionism is great?
On the one hand, this is great: Your life and projects are important to you. You want to deliver quality.
On the other hand, it is something completely different: an excuse. Because the wish for perfection is one of the biggest excuses for not living your creativity to the fullest. It is an excuse not to sit down and start. It is an excuse for not sharing your work with your environment.
“I will only publish something when it is perfect”. That is code for: “I am afraid of feedback from others and I protect myself from these emotions by pushing the release date of my work into the infinite future”.
Let me give you two reasons why unreflected perfectionism doesn’t serve you:
Number One: It is blocking you from you end-goals.
Think for a moment about what you really want … You want to feel secure. You want to be respected and loved. You want to create and to contribute. You want to give well – and receive well. You want to be happy. You want to be content.
These are a few of the things life is really about. These are end-goals.
The wish of being perfect is an attempt to reach reach this end-goals. But it does not work! Why? Because it stops you from actually doing the work. It stops you from making yourself vulnerable. It stops you from really connecting with other humans.
Number Two: Perfectionism goes against the laws of nature.
Imagine going for a walk. You experience impressive things again and again and thereby literally broaden your horizon – but at the same time never quite reach it, as the horizon naturally continues to move away …
“Perfection” is not natural. Everything in the universe is always changing. So nothing can ever be absolutely complete. Therefore, nothing can ever be perfect, as perfection is a state of completeness. So by trying to be perfect you set yourself up for an uphill battle.
Of course, you can improve. And you do this by doing the thing you want to improve in again and again. By doing things you will become better and better – and at the same time, your perception of perfection will shift further and further.
What’s holding you back?
Now we have to ask ourself how perfectionism serves us – what we get out of it …
Perfectionism serves us as protection against strong emotions. For example, emotions that come up when you get feedback on your work. Or emotions when you think about your future and see the gap between where you are now and where you want to go.
You will probably first think of low vibrating emotions: sadness, anger, resentment, bitterness, desperation, or shame … These emotions could come up when your work gets criticized.
Also with compliments, applause and hype we often have to learn how to receive them well. There are many people who cannot really accept a compliment without directly dismissing it. “Oh, it wasn’t that special. My new work is so much better …”
I certainly used to say things like this a a lot in the past. Just accepting a compliment was very uncomfortable for me.
To sum it up: Through perfectionism, people postpone the production and publication of their work into the infinite future and so protect themselves from ever having to deal with criticism and or recognition.
If you want to overcome your perfectionism you have to learn to accept. To accept strong emotions. To accept criticism and to accept praise. You have to accept the possibility to fail. You even have to be grateful for failure. Because – as my mentor Lisa Nichols said: Only if you are ready to fail you are ready to fly.
How can you learn to accept these feelings? For me, it was super helpful to once again reflect on where my feelings have their origin: In my thinking and through that in what perspective I choose. To make it super clear: My feelings are not created by stuff that happens in the outside world – I create them through choosing a certain perspective towards what happens in the outside world.
Let me give you an example:
A few years ago I experienced a severe car accident in which I almost died. This is where the scar on my head is coming from.
Somehow I was lucky enough to never got into the victim role. This would be a perspective that I could have chosen. I could have blamed the car driver and see the car accident as something I can’t fully recover from. This would have led to feelings like resentment, anger, doubt, and desperation.
But something in me saw the car accident as an opportunity. An opportunity for growth, development and gratitude. This perspective led to feelings of gratefulness. For example, I am just grateful to be alive and for the gift of an out of body and near-death experience. It also led to feelings of connection – connection with my parents and friends. And it led to feelings of purpose – because through the car accident I realized that I want to use this gift of a second life to support others in their missions.
If we really know that our feelings are always created by ourselves we know that an external event does not have any power over us. So it just doesn’t make sense anymore to try to protect us from external situations in order to not experience certain feelings.
I know from experience that this is sometimes a little bit tricky. We all come to the point where we can’t see the inside-outside nature of the world for a while and where our monkey minds go wild. For example, I used to worry a lot about money and carrier opportunities in the future.
Once again I want to emphasize that thoughts like this are innocent and ok – and that they do not have to last forever. Because something magical can happen: You get an insight and see the world in a new light. And all of a sudden you are back in your Homebase of a light-hearted feeling.
Letting go of perfectionism
Now I give you 2 tools that will support you in transforming your unreflected perfectionism:
The first tool is about utilising perfectionism as a warning signal.
If you feel the need for perfection this tells you that you start to get caught up in your loud thoughts. It tells you that you are about to create a feeling of insecurity – and that it is a great moment to slow down and to detach from your wild thoughts.
It is a great moment to nurture yourself and to do a small thing that gives you energy and grounds you. For me, this can be a short meditation, some yoga, or a short walk around the block. After that, I sit down, put a timer on 25 minutes, and start to do the work. Very often I get into flow and when the timer goes off I am surprised how fast these 25 minutes went by. If I still have time I maybe do another 25 or 50 minutes.
Sometimes I don’t get into flow. Then I know that it’s also OK to stop after the 25 minutes and that I come back to the task on the next day.
How can you implement this?
First: Write down small things that relax and ground you. Maybe it is meditation, walking, doing some push-ups or dancing to a nice song. Maybe it is something completely different. Choose what works for you.
Second: Have this list next to you. When our consciousness goes down and insecurity comes up it can be difficult to remember things like this. The list supports you in knowing what you can do – and then do it.
This was the first tool.
Here is the second one: It is called Mirror-Work and I learned it from Lisa Nichols. It goes like this: You stand in front of a mirror and you look into your own eyes. Then you tell yourself 7 things you are grateful for, 7 things you are proud of, 7 things you forgive yourself for, and 7 things you commit yourself to.
I think this exercise is very very powerful and doing it every day can move a lot of things forward. Why? Because first it includes being grateful for what is already present in your life. Second, it is about recognizing yourself and giving yourself compliments. If you do this you make it easier for others to be nice to you – and you get comfortable with receiving compliments. Third, it includes forgiveness. And there is nothing that clears your vision as quickly as really forgiving yourself and others. And last it is about committing yourself to your own growth.
With this exercise you train your brain on multiple levels.
On last bit inspiration:
On the deepest level, you can also remember that you are always guided. And that the right things are coming into your life at exactly the right time. This alters your confidence in yourself and in the world. So you can relax, do, and publish your work and enjoy the journey.
I hope this blog post changed your relationship with perfection and motivate you to go out in the world and create what you want to create.
And remember: It is OK if you forget about this and get stuck once in a while. It is OK to feel insecurity and shame. What I can promise you is this: If you forgive yourself and continue to raise your level of understanding, the moments where you are caught in fog will become and shorter and shorter and less in general.