By Jennifer Drean, Deliberate Directions Success Strategist
How would you fill in the blank in this statement, “I Am_________”?
For most of my life I would say to the world with pride that I am an overachiever, I am a type-A personality, I am driven and determined, I am extremely detail oriented, I am a perfectionist.
In my head I was also telling myself that I am busy, I am overwhelmed, I am exhausted, I haven’t learned enough or done enough, and I am not enough.
The first set of thoughts fueled me to accomplish great things in my life, but it was never enough. I believed that the harder I worked now, one day soon I could relax and let go a little, life would get easier and I could breathe.
Brené Brown, PhD LMSW, is a researcher at the University of Houston who studies shame, vulnerability, courage and empathy. She says that “perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
Being a perfectionist comes at a great cost.
Sure, the first set of “I Am” statements above seem like positive qualities. Afterall, I began as a poor teen mother from Idaho at the age of 15 to become a doctor, business owner, and now a business and executive coach.
But since that second list of “I Am” statements are also there, I and other perfectionists tend to have difficulties being mentally and emotionally present, instead always spending our time in the future.
Our time in the future is spent planning projects of being better and proving ourselves worthy. We spend our time avoiding making mistakes because of our overwhelming fear of failure.
We want so much to do enough because that means we are good enough. The problem is we set that goal so high, to impossible standards of perfection that are unattainable or unsustainable. This leads us to workaholism and burnout. That, in turn, has negative consequences on our relationships with our family, friends and teams.
Although we are often less harsh on others, we tend to also put these high standards of perfection on our families and the teams we lead. And of course, because perfection is impossible, they fail the set standard (even when they are hitting metrics) and we are always disappointed in them, which leads to disengagement.
Brené Brown, said “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.” Alienating the people in our lives by expecting the impossible is definitely not helpful to our life.
There is also research to suggest that people with perfectionistic tendencies have a high mortality rate and high risks of serious illness. Striving for perfection creates high levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and poor life satisfaction.
Not too long ago I began to feel like I was having problems breathing all the time. My heart was racing, I felt like someone was sitting on my chest, and I was experiencing frequent body aches and headaches.
After consulting with my doctor and verifying that nothing was physically causing these symptoms, I remember leaving his office in a panic trying to figure out how I was going to work in more activities to reduce stress. Of course, never did I think about what I could eliminate from my plate to reduce my stress levels.
(Reducing stress seemed laughable as a mother, wife, business owner, doctor and new team member of Deliberate Directions.)
Other ways being a perfectionist is detrimental to your success includes loss of productivity due to procrastination or analysis paralysis, loss of productivity due to not delegating tasks to others on your team, and the stifling of creativity and innovation due to risk aversion.
Needless to say, because “I am” a highly intelligent overachiever, I figured I just needed to strategize and I could definitely figure this out because feeling like this was no longer an option for me.
I figured I am smart but the smartest people I know remember to use all their resources to solve a problem. So I sought advice from my business coach and boss, Allison Dunn, plus my personal board of advisors in my Whetstone cohort. They gave me great advice and tips from their own experiences.
But one thing that never came up from all the advice I received was changing my mindset. With this in mind, here are some mindset tips for overcoming perfectionism.
1. Strive for Excellence, Not Perfection.
As Izey Victoria Odiase stated, “Don’t aim for perfection. Aim for ‘better than yesterday’.”
2. Focus on the Journey, Not the Outcome.
Learning to enjoy the work for the work itself and not attaching as much meaning to the outcome of our work can be very helpful for increasing our productivity. And not identifying with the outcome (ie, I am a failure because the project failed) is much better for our mental health.
3. Try, Tweak and Try Again.
Practice making decisions quicker and you will learn to make better decisions and gain confidence in yourself along the way.
4. Gratitude Practice.
Writing down three things we are grateful for every day can often help improve our positive outlooks on life and reduce stress, but take this a step further and write down things (even one a day) that you love about yourself can often help you accept yourself as good enough and release you from you perfectionistic tendencies.
5. Let It Go.
Letting things go can be extremely overwhelming to a perfectionist; giving up perfection for good enough is a terrifying prospect but with the help of a little mindfulness training with apps like Calm, you can learn to let things go little by little, easing out of the need for perfection.
6. Set Time Limits.
As I mentioned, people with perfectionistic tendencies often struggle with completing tasks in a timely matter because they overanalyze everything before they start and during the process. So my rule of thumb is to start before you’re ready and before you start, both create and commit to a deadline for yourself. This will allow you to thwart paralysis by analysis or procrastination.
7. Show Yourself Compassion.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Usually we aren’t as hard on others as we are ourselves.
In summary, trying to be perfect will negatively impact your health, relationships, and productivity levels. It’s critical to embrace imperfection to really rock your life and business.
Embracing imperfection is an inside job. Nobody can completely help you with it. You have to do the work of shifting your mindset.
Utilizing the tips above will help you become the best version of yourself while drastically improving your productivity and enhancing your health and relationships.
Remember, often in business and in life, done is better than perfect.
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Jennifer is passionate about helping people grow their businesses. She can assist with:
- leadership development
- career advancement
- systems design
Jennifer continues to successfully run her own family medical practice, Gem State Family Eyecare, which she founded in 2011.