Hi, my name is Danielle and I am a recovering perfectionist.
I can argue a good case for why my perfectionism is not a bad thing and how seeking perfection has brought me many of the accomplishments I’m so proud of.
However, now with over four decades of life experience, I am able to see more clearly how the pursuit of perfection is what kept me for so long from living the peaceful life I truly desired.
Keep reading to learn what perfectionism is, how to determine if perfectionism is serving you or not, and three tools to help you overcome perfectionism to find what you really want: not a perfect life, but a peaceful one.
The definition of a perfectionist is a refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. It goes beyond just being a high achiever and can cause you to feel anxious and stressed as you go through your life trying to avoid mistakes and do things just right.
Here’s a few signs you might be a perfectionist:
If you identify as a perfectionist based on this list, don’t jump into being hard on yourself because of it! Instead, start by appreciating the good things about being a perfectionist before learning how to set aside some of the behaviors that aren’t serving you.
I can acknowledge and appreciate what perfectionism has provided for me in my life: good grades in school, a chance to live my dream as a professional ballet dancer, success in multiple iterations of my career, the family life I always wanted, an orderly house, a focused drive, being on time to things, a knowledge of where to find things quickly, and more.
Being committed to excellence gives me the determination to go after what I wanted and get it!
But what have I sacrificed with my drive and tunnel vision to get these things? Where did I sacrifice fun or time with loved ones? What didn’t I show up for? How often have I been distracted by keeping things neat and tidy and forgotten to be present with my family or take time for rest?
We perfectionists can be motivated by ego, achievement, and what people think of us. That can lead us to saying yes to things that don’t align with what we truly want, like when I took a prestigious job even though what I really wanted was to be home with my young children.
We suffer with stress, anxiety, and never feeling satisfied or content. Most of all, being a perfectionist kept me from being in a state of peace.
Our thoughts are the cause of all the emotions we feel. So I want you to take a moment to think about what emotions you feel when you’re striving for perfection. Here’s a few that come to mind:
Notice that not every emotion on the list is negative! If a feeling is serving you, there’s no reason to change it. But if your perfectionism is causing you one of the negative emotions like anxiety or stress, that’s our signal to look a bit closer.
Once you’ve determined what negative emotion is caused by your perfectionism, explore what thoughts lead to that emotion. What do you find yourself thinking when that emotion comes up for you?
Examine that thought. Ask yourself, “Is this thought true? Is it serving me? Do I want to keep believing it?” You can choose to let go of the thoughts causing pain!
When you choose to stop believing a painful thought, you can redirect your mind to something better instead. What else could be true? What could you think instead that would serve you better?
If you’re striving for feeling peaceful instead, make a list of some thoughts that inspire you to feel peaceful. Here are a few you can try on to get started:
A common question recovering perfectionists bring up is about Jesus Christ’s invitation to “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). They struggle to reconcile this with their desire to overcome unhealthy perfectionism. So what are we to believe about this scripture?
The Greek translation of this scripture uses the word “teleios” for perfect, which is better translated as “complete.”
So perhaps Christ wasn’t talking about being flawless or never making mistakes, but about finding complete-ness and wholeness in Him. Doing the best we know how and staying devoted to the One who makes our best enough. This surely brings peace!
Now that we’ve explored the mindset of perfectionism a bit, I’ll share a few practical tools you can use to help you in your perfectionism recovery journey.
If you consider the grading scale we grew up with in school where getting an A equals excellence and an F equals failure, then learn to be okay with handing in work that would give you a grade around B-.
Getting a B- grade means you did your work, you did a good enough job, but you didn’t spend as much time or energy on it as you could have to get an A.
Did you feed and bathe the kids but didn't have time to read every book they asked you to read to them? B- work.
You want to have a homemade nutritious sit down meal for your family and you managed a frozen pizza and a side salad instead of a baked from scratch lasagna? B- work.
Is your house not spotless but clean enough? B- work.
You want to go on weekly date nights with your spouse, but can only manage them once a month right now? B-work.
You get the point. Aim high, but not so high that it stops you from doing work that is good enough or from doing anything at all!
As a perfectionist, it’s likely you have too many things on your to do list that aren’t getting done because they aren’t good enough yet.
The best thing you can do in this situation? Learn to complete your work in the allotted time -- and then walk away when time is up. (Yes, even if it’s not perfect yet!)
Here’s what I mean: Make a list of all the things you want to get done. Cross off all the things you don’t have to do today, this week, or this month, and then put your remaining tasks on whatever calendaring system you use.
Choose an amount of time you think is reasonable for that task to take, and then show up and do whatever you said you were going to do. No matter what.
Here’s the key: You MUST stick to the allotted time you assigned and then move on! Walk away when the time is up, even if the task wasn’t 100% finished. You’ll learn to be okay with spelling mistakes and imperfections, knowing you can always come back to it another time.
Perfectionists often have a fear of being judged, disliked, or seen as inadequate. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for them to play small and stay stuck instead of pursuing their dreams.
What I have come to know and what serves me well on the path of perfectionism recovery is this: I am 100% worthy of love no matter what I do or do not do.
My lovability is infinite and I am as lovable now as I ever will be.
It is not based on someone else loving me or how perfectly I perform.
Once this belief is ingrained, a perfectionist like me no longer needs to play small.
“We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)
No matter how “perfect” you are or how hard you try, you will inevitably miss the mark in some way. Instead of giving up or criticizing yourself, this is the time to choose self-compassion.
Before having children, I always imagined myself as the kind of mother who would never lose her temper or raise her voice. But as every mother discovers, those things happen! And when they did, it would completely derail me and I’d feel guilty about it for days.
Now that I understand the tools I’ve shared with you, my recovery is quicker. I no longer make these mistakes mean I’m a bad mom. Instead I can access thoughts that help me show up again, reassured of my own lovability, reminding myself that I’m figuring this out and that I have access to peace all along the way.
This is possible for you too! Having peace as a front and center feeling in life is just about as good as it gets. I used to think racking up a list of things I’d done perfectly would give me the peace I sought. But the arriving never comes. It’s simply impossible to be perfect, so the more perfect choice is to choose peace instead.
If you'd like to loosen the chains of perfectionism that are keeping you stuck from living your best life, let's talk. The free consult I offer just might be the most perfect step you take this year. Click here to learn more about life coaching.