Is Perfectionism Your Problem?

Photo credit: Unspash

My view of perfectionism is slightly different. Trying to be the best version of themselves, trying to do the best possible work often spurs people on and motivates them. The problems lie not in this this desire, but in the emotional landmine that comes with it.

We are all too familiar with that emotional landmine. It is the judgemental voice in our head that tells us our work (and therefore we) are not good enough. There is also a spiritual component of perfectionism, that is often overlooked. Perfectionism is often accompanied with rigidity — an insistence that there is only one correct method or one best output. It is these two things that make us miserable and get us stuck. blocking the flow of life and energy.

I am a big believer in working with what you have and turning your defects into assets. So here is a road map for making perfectionism work for you. It comes from the lessons I have learned in trying to make myself whole again.

IT’S NOT A MONSTER: Make friends with your perfectionism. That desire, and the shadows that come with it, is very much a part of you. Acknowledge it. Embrace it. This is your starting point. This sounds counter intuitive but accepting your flaws with compassion and without judgement is the most important first step. However, making friends does not mean getting comfortable with it. Making friends means seeing yourself as an equal to it. The minute you stop seeing it as a powerful force that subdues you, and instead you see it as a pesky irritant that hangs out in your head, you will be free. Then you can look your perfectionism in the eye and laugh at it. You can say to your perfectionism — ah there you are trying to make me miserable again with your half baked opinions. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book BIG MAGIC, gives a great example of this approach when she talks about how the process of writing for her is like going for a drive with her fear and her creativity. Only fear stays in the backseat. That is the best description I have seen of how to deal with the nasty voices in your head. I would say BIG MAGIC is perhaps a must read for anyone who is burdened with perfectionism.

WHOSE VOICE IS THIS?: Next time the voice in your head says you are not good enough, just pause and ask “Whose voice is this? Where in my life did I first feel this way? Whose opinion did I absorb as my own?” Chances are you absorbed this idea from some task you attempted when you were very little. Either you felt that way yourself or some possibly well intentioned adult told you so. Gradually this became a guiding idea in your conscious and subconscious. Thinking about whose voice it is that you are hearing acts as a circuit breaker. Do this often enough and perfectionism will start to loosen its grip on you. Journaling, Morning Pages and contemplating on this issue is the way to work with this aspect.

EXAMINE YOUR SENSE OF SELF: Ask yourself these two questions: “Why it is important that I should be perfect? Why would it it be so horrible to fail?” Your examination of whose opinions you have imbibed will naturally segue into this examination of your sense of self. Chances are what is driving your need for perfection is a poor sense of self-worth. Somewhere along the way you came to believe that you would be loved in the way you want to be loved if only you could be perfect. Take a clear-eyed look at the evidence life is presenting you. You will find that being perfect hasn’t brought you love. So trying to be perfect and hoping it will bring you love is as dumb as repeatedly stepping on a banana peel hoping you won’t slip. Then there is the whole enchilada of ‘deserving’. If you have learned to believe that unless you are perfect, you do not deserve to be loved. That is just wrong. The very fact that you are here, living and breathing, means there is a divine spark within you. And that is what makes you worthwhile. That gives you the right to be. That makes you as important and valuable as anyone else. This is a hard concept to grab and even if you get it intellectually, it takes a while for this shift to become emotionally real. Be patient with yourself. Keep asking those two questions and you will find that your fears around not being loved and not being perfect are actually rather hollow. Remember, these are ideas you have learned and you can unlearn them. It might take heavy lifting. But it’s doable.

IT’S ABOUT THE JOURNEY, NOT THE DESTINATION: As the years roll by, chances are you are not going to remember each perfect poem you wrote or each perfect report you tendered. What you are going to remember, is whether your life felt joyful or not. Life is not a series of outcomes. Life is about doing and finding the joy and bliss, the ananda in everything you do. That is a crucial paradigm shift that needs to be made. When your life is guided by this principle, you will stop being a bottleneck in the flow of your own life. A deeper spiritual contemplation of this is in the BHAGAWAD GITA which expounds on the idea of detachment to the outcomes of your actions and doing everything as God’s Work. Detachment does not mean you don’t care. It means your sense of your identity is not tied to the outcome of your work.

So go ahead, put your best foot forward but remember it’s about the doing, not the outcome and when the “you are not good enough” narrative pops up in your head, treat it as the ad that plays before your YouTube video. Say hello to the voice, laugh at it, put it in its proper place and get on with the job. And as you do it, be fully alive to the experience of doing it.

Flower Essences That Could Help: If you are working on your sense of self worth, Buttercup is a good essence to use. If you are trying to tame the “you are not good enough voice”, Goldenseal can be very helpful.