Sometimes I think I’m a perfectionist. At least that’s what a part of me says when I don’t want to take a risk. If you’re going to do this, you better do it right. (Hello, pressure!) What if I don’t do it right? What if this doesn’t work out?
As human beings we subject ourselves to two kinds of perfection: self-imposed and externally imposed. Externally imposed perfection is easier to deal with because the standard is usually clear. You (or someone else) can tell when you’ve met it, usually in terms of quality, time, or dollars.
There’s another breed of perfection, a trickier, stealthier kind. Self-imposed perfection is borne from our internal expectations, ideas, anything that’s been planted in our brains during our lives. The standards are vague, even concocted. What you should do. What the right thing is. The white-picket-fence-Stepford-kinda-way. (Yikes!)
Self-imposed perfection rears its head when there is something you really want to do. A dream. A big idea that keeps you up at night. The career change you’d love to make but other people wouldn’t understand.
Ultimately, perfectionism arises because of fear. It’s not the standard you hold yourself to that is relevant. It’s actually about the underlying thing that you’re doing – the task, the action, the project you want to do but haven’t started. That thing is what matters to you.
Without external motivation or built-in repercussions, it’s up to you. You’re scared. You’ll fail. You’ll look stupid. People will judge you. You’re afraid you’re not good enough. It has to be amazing. You won’t make money from it. You’ll end up on the street. The list is endless.
Uncertain outcome + “It matters” + “It’s up to me” = Fear à Perfectionism
It even denigrates you for not trying. No wonder it easy to procrastinate or just plain not do it.
What’s at stake? Actually, not everything. The status quo, a comfortable but unfulfilling job, feeling half-dead, and not having to risk anything are not at stake.
Big things are at stake. Knowing you are capable (confidence). Making that dream a reality. Trying to make that dream a reality and learning new things about yourself along the way. Learning and growing. Being 40, 60, 80 years old and knowing that I have no regrets. Feeling alive and fully engaged with the one life you have. Being true to what’s important to you.
If the Lotto were knew your inner perfectionist it would say, “You can’t win because you don’t play.” More times than not, we don’t play.
If you do want to play (and I hope you do, because it’s what life is all about), here are a few strategies for getting your inner perfectionist to shut up for a while:
--- Be aware of your inner perfectionist. Get to know this character up close and personal: what s/he looks like, how old s/he is, when s/he tends to show up, what s/he is afraid of, when s/he gets pissed off, what s/he says over and over again. When you get familiar with your perfectionist’s qualities, you recognize the voice in your head when it starts talking. Look for this character immediately when you begin to think something is not possible.
--- Become friends. Talk to your perfectionist as if you’ve known him or her for a long time. “Oh, HI! It’s you again. Thanks for the input but I’m not interested in your opinion right now.” Or, “Hey, I know you! I know you don’t want me to get hurt but this is something I have to do, so please butt out.” Be persistent because the perfectionist doesn’t give up easily. Sometimes it’s helpful to send them to a place they’d have lots of things to do. If your inner perfectionist likes to judge everyone’s appearance, try sending her to a fashion show to write a review.
--- Ignore it. When you notice that perfectionist chatter, say Stop, literally turn your head the other way, and refocus your thoughts on what you were doing before that voice butted in. Then keep going.
--- Find other people who are doing what you want to do. Not to compare yourself to anyone else. Comparisons are a habit of your perfectionist. Instead, seek out other people doing what you want to do to with the intention of gathering evidence that it can be done and is being done! Allow yourself to be inspired. They are doing it, and so can you. Build up your confidence more and more.
When your inner perfectionist is quieted, ask yourself: What do I want/need to do now? Listen, and see what comes up. Then do it. I invite you to take one small step, and then repeat.
Yours in wildness ~~