Being a perfectionist comes in many forms and impacts us all in different ways. One of the most common ways that perfectionism creeps into our lives is when we rely on the opinions and validation from others to make us feel satisfied with ourselves. When we put too much focus on what others think, we usually fail to uphold or show up as the ‘perfect’ version of ourselves and often feel disappointed. This need to be perfect usually leaves us feeling overwhelmed, worried, and most importantly, never fully fulfilled or satisfied in life.
In an interview with Oprah, vulnerability expert, and research professor Brené Brown once said that perfectionism is, “a way of thinking and feeling that says this: ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame, and judgment.”
Brené Brown’s quotes always seem to hit the nail right on the head and this one is no exception. Because at the end of the day, if we spend too much time trying to do and be what everyone around us wants, instead of spending time doing what we truly desire, it can make us burnt-out, overwhelmed, and unhappy. Attempting to maintain this glorified version of what it looks like to be perfect is often the type of pressure that is expected in our culture that in turn, prevents us from living our most authentic lives.
So, I want to take this opportunity to highlight the downside of perfectionism and the different things you can do in your everyday life to overcome it. Why? Well, you can still strive for excellence on your personal growth journey but, it’s important to also make room for the happiest, most joyful, and rewarding life you are more than deserving of, while still allowing yourself to be vulnerable and imperfect… and I’m going to show you how!
So what is perfectionism?
Perfectionism is defined as the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection or liking to do things so perfectly that you’re never satisfied with anything less.
The definition of perfectionism may look slightly different to each of us but generally speaking, when you see it spelled out this way, you’re able to get a glimpse into its dark side and its association with scarcity and lack. When we put the kind of pressure on ourselves that causes us to never feel good enough or smart enough or successful enough, we leave little to no room for a truly rewarding life.
The thing about personal growth and development is that it’s an ongoing journey, so you’ve got to be able to give yourself the breathing room you need to acknowledge markers, milestones, and accomplishments that happen throughout life, no matter how imperfect they may be.
When you lean too much into maintaining perfection, this can lead to a road of shame and constantly comparing ourselves to the achievements of others. And it’s these factors that can then lead to stress, anxiety, unhappiness, and even more serious health conditions like high blood pressure.
So what causes perfectionism? When did we become so obsessed with the need to be perfect?
Since perfectionism is more of learned behavior, we know that its causes can stem from a variety of different internal, social, and environmental factors like low self-esteem, the fear of failure, or being a high achiever in school. It can also develop from overthinking, being highly critical of oneself and others, and even procrastination.
And today, in a culture that revolves heavily around our online or virtual personas, the need to show up and appear to be the most perfect versions of ourselves can be crippling to our ability to show vulnerability – a concept that is crucial for personal growth. And unfortunately, we may be unaware of our perfectionist tendencies because, throughout life and even today, we may still feel programmed to make sure we never show up less than perfect.
So how can we overcome perfectionism and live a more fulfilling, joyful life?
Well, you must remember that there is no need to feel shame if you feel like perfectionism is causing trouble in your life. So by first acknowledging the fact that you may be a perfectionist or have perfectionist tendencies is a great place to begin. Then at that point, it’s all about allowing yourself the permission to loosen the leash on the need to be perfect. And you can do this by:
Untangling yourself from the comparison trap
This is when we use the achievements or accomplishments of others as the meter for our own success. The problem with this mindset is that we ultimately always come up short or second best when our instinct is to compare ourselves to someone else. You are already choosing in your mind that there is someone else that can do it better.
But when you rid yourself of this limiting mindset, you open up the doors toward your own growth and success to nearly infinite possibilities. You see, it’s the missteps and even the falls that we take along our own journey that provide us with the greatest opportunities for growth. This is why you must let go of the idea that someone else determines your success, when in reality, the answers lie in your own path, even if it’s a bumpy road along the way.
Talking to yourself compassionately
Often it’s our inner voice or negative self-talk that’s forcing us to not accept anything less than perfect. But guess what? You have that the personal power to talk back to that inner voice that’s keeping you from living your most authentic life. This comes from being mindful of the way you’re thinking and talking to yourself regularly.
When you find yourself getting stressed or worked up over being perfect, call it out and take that moment to show yourself some compassion. Maybe that looks like taking a moment to show gratitude for how far you’ve come or indulging in a little meditation or yoga. This could even be doing some reflecting in your journal. It’s important to catch your inner voice right in its tracks and shift that self-talk to that of kindness and compassion.
Replacing perfection with progression
When you wipe out the word perfection from your vocabulary and replace it with words like progress and growth and courage, you are instantly able to let your guard down and see your life ahead as a journey instead of an unrealistic end goal.
It’s important to embrace all of the steps you’re taking on whatever life path you’re on right now, instead of not taking any steps at all due to the constant urge to do and make things perfect. When you can come to terms with the fact there is no perfect description of what it means to be perfect, you’ll see that reaching perfection can always feel unattainable. But progress is always something you can reach!
So I’ll end this by saying that it’s the limiting beliefs we have for ourselves that can cause perfectionism to take the reins on our lives. And it’s these beliefs that, in turn, can, unfortunately, poison us with self-doubt, fear, and the inability to live a fulfilling life.
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Natalie Ledwell is a best selling author, speaker and successful entrepreneur. She's passionate about helping others to achieve their greatest dreams and ambitions through her personal development programs and her online TV show, The Inspiration Show.