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Cheri Timko On How To Get Past Your Perfectionism And ‘Just Do It’

An Interview with Tyler Gallagher

Talk to yourself kindly. If you wouldn’t say something to a small child, you are being too hard on yourself. When you catch yourself saying harsh things to yourself or others, don’t beat yourself up for the thoughts, just gently redirect your thoughts and remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect.

Many successful people are perfectionists. At the same time, they have the ability to say “Done is Better Than Perfect” and just complete and wrap up a project. What is the best way to overcome the stalling and procrastination that perfectionism causes? How does one overcome the fear of potential critique or the fear of not being successful? In this interview series, called “How To Get Past Your Perfectionism And ‘Just Do It’, we are interviewing successful leaders who can share stories and lessons from their experience about “how to overcome the hesitation caused by perfectionism.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cheri Timko.

Cheri Timko has specialized in couples counseling at her psychotherapy private practice for almost twenty years. She recently started a coaching business to provide support and education to couples who want to have an extraordinary relationship. She has been happily married for over twenty years and is a homeschooling mother to three daughters.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I am an oldest child with three younger siblings. Like many eldest children, I was frequently reminded that my younger siblings were following the example I set for them. My parents modeled hard work, dedication, persistence, and frugality. They taught me that I could accomplish whatever goals I set for myself. They encouraged me to be independent and self-reliant from a young age.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Theodore Roosevelt

I first heard this quote from Brene’ Brown. It immediately spoke to me. I have learned that I am happiest when I do my best without comparing myself and my accomplishments to others. People are more likely to share their success stories than the messy parts of their lives. So, I can’t even make a fair comparison. The only comparison that is helpful to me is to look back and see how much I have grown. Whenever I find myself comparing myself to others, which unfortunately happens a lot, I repeat this quote to myself.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

When I first read “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene’ Brown, I knew in my gut that the author was speaking directly to me. In it, she examines how perfectionism robs us of true joy and connection in our lives. However, it felt like she was speaking a foreign language. I knew it was for me, but I couldn’t quite understand the concepts. It took me several years (and a few more of her books) to really understand and incorporate the idea that perfectionism doesn’t make me a better functioning person. I continue to work to shift my thinking to strive for excellence rather than focus on being perfect.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Perseverance: It is hard for me to quit something that I have decided to do. There are many situations when I could have changed directions, but I kept working towards the goal because I knew I could reach it if I really focused on it. Last year I was working on a certification process that required intense attention to detail. I was half way through the process when I realized that I didn’t need to finish the certification to do the work I want to do. Yet, I understood that I would have a hard time living with myself if I didn’t complete it. So, I kept pushing through until I was successful.
  2. Authentic: I am who I am. That means that sometimes I think I am funny when others don’t, I know what I’m good at and what isn’t within my skills, I am somewhat sarcastic and snarky, and I am likely to honestly share my opinion even if its not a popular opinion. In my work, I do my best to focus on what works for me and ignore how others interpret or value it. I need to put into the world the things that I believe will make it a better place. So, if we have a conversation, I am going to show up as who I really am.
  3. Competitive: I am a bit competitive. When I don’t have a natural competitor, I will compete with myself. Sometimes I like to see what I can do. Right now I am trying to see how many times I can be quoted in an article or interviewed on a podcast. This obviously helps my business, but it also gives me joy because it I am pushing myself to see what I can accomplish.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Let’s begin with a definition of terms so that each of us and our readers are on the same page. What exactly is a perfectionist? Can you explain?

A perfectionist is someone who believes they and others have the ability to be perfect. If you ask them, they will state that they realize that no one can be perfect, yet they think and behave like perfection is possible. They develop very high expectations for themselves, others, and situations. When things fail to meet those expectations, they can be very hard on themselves for failing to achieve the ideals they had imagined.

A telltale sign of a perfectionist is to listen to how they speak to themselves. They typically will have a lot of self-talk that berates themselves for failing to catch all of the mistakes. Often, they evaluate themselves as being “stupid,” “a failure,” or “broken” even when a situation turned out well. They tend to focus on the small details that did not go well rather than the parts of the situation that were a success. Sometimes it can be hard to be around a perfectionist because they expect so much of themselves and others. They spend a lot of time and energy planning so that even the smallest details are taken care of.

The premise of this interview series is making the assumption that being a perfectionist is not a positive thing. But presumably, seeking perfection can’t be entirely bad. What are the positive aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?

For a long time, I believed that there were positive aspects of being a perfectionist. I thought that having very high expectations of myself meant that I would achieve more in life because I would push myself further. In fact, I do achieve a great deal, but it is probably in spite of my perfectionism. I thought I could harness the benefits of perfectionism if I limited the drawbacks. Instead, the benefits all come at a steep cost.

  1. I push myself harder because of very high standards but I don’t let myself rest. Sometimes rest is where clarity and creativity are found.
  2. I try to plan even down to the individual details. This means that I am often prepared for situations that others are not. It also costs me a lot of time and energy because I consider many things that never happen. Plus, it is hard for me to relax and go with the flow because I haven’t cultivated easygoingness in my life.
  3. Perfectionists often leave things to the last minute. That last-minute pressure often comes with laser focused and accuracy that is difficult to achieve at other times. However, it also means that they may miss important details or run out of time to complete a task to its fullest.
  4. Perfectionists can look at a system and pick out the part that is not functioning well. In fact, it often looks like a flare going off in an otherwise calm landscape. This is a great asset when they are working in a system. It comes at a great cost in relationships because most people want to feel loved and accepted by their friends and families, not given feedback so they can address their shortcomings.

What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?

There are so many difficulties with perfectionism. I won’t be able to list them all because the negative parts of perfectionism far outweigh the benefits.

  1. Perfectionists get stuck when they can’t see the path to a good outcome. Often, they need to see how all of the pieces fit together before they get started. If they are missing a piece, they have trouble even taking the first step.
  2. Perfectionists get frustrated when they can’t complete a task from beginning to end. They tend to wait until they have a large chunk of time to work through a problem. This may mean that they put off a task that could have easily been achieved in short chunks if they managed the frustration of starting and stopping several times.
  3. Perfectionism is very hard on relationships. The perfectionist often feels dismayed that others can’t see what they see or aren’t bothered by inconsistencies and inefficiencies. It is hard for a perfectionist to keep what they can easily see to themselves. Instead, they often believe that they are doing family, friends, and coworkers a favor by pointing out their flaws so the others can work on themselves and become better people. To others, that feels like criticism. Perfectionists often struggle to understand how others can accept themselves the way they are.
  4. If you could listen into the thoughts of a perfectionist, most people could scarcely stand it. Many perfectionists keep many of their critical thoughts in their heads. It is helpful to understand that they are probably only letting about 10% of the criticism cross their lips. They can get used to having a tirade of critical and judging thoughts assess every aspect of every situation they encounter. This barrage of thoughts often plays in the background of their experiences making it hard for them to truly experience events as they happen. It can also be demoralizing and demotivating to listen to all of the negative comments. Perfectionist often believe that they don’t measure up and are not good enough, even if they are successful.
  5. Perfectionism can stop a person from trying new things. They can imagine everything that could go wrong and they can’t get started without seeing how things will end. Therefore, it can limit their ability to achieve the goals they set.

From your experience or perspective, what are some of the common reasons that cause a perfectionist to “get stuck” and not move forward? Can you explain?

Perfectionists often “get stuck.” In fact, this is one of the things that they use as evidence that they are not perfectionists. They can’t get started on a project when they can’t visualize the end of it. They feel stuck when they realize that they are not enjoying much of their lives. They get stuck when they try to change their perfectionistic ways because it triggers their perfectionism. You can’t perfectly stop being perfectionistic.

Here is the central question of our discussion. What are the five things a perfectionist needs to know to get past their perfectionism and “just do it?” Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Talk to yourself kindly. If you wouldn’t say something to a small child, you are being too hard on yourself. When you catch yourself saying harsh things to yourself or others, don’t beat yourself up for the thoughts, just gently redirect your thoughts and remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect.
  2. Break tasks down into small steps. This allows you to make progress on the project without waiting for enough time to do the whole thing. For instance, if your goal is to clear off your desk, work on smaller steps such as 1) throw away the trash, 2) make folders for different types of papers, 3) sort the papers into each folder, 4) go through each folder to deal with the problem it holds. This way, you feel success with each step. Also, you can re-evaluate the plan over time and adapt as you work through it.
  3. Listen carefully to the feedback of others. If they are reacting to you like they feel like they were being criticized, understand that no matter what your intentions were, you gave them too much feedback. This gives you a chance to soften your message or even pull back on giving it to them. This will help you preserve the relationship.
  4. Frequently do things where you are likely to fail. Learn a new skill, do something creative, or practice something that you are not good at. This will help balance out the perfectionistic tendencies because it will remind you that you are not supposed to be good at everything.
  5. Where there are no deadlines, set your own. These will allow you to reach a finished point so you won’t continue to deliberate and tweak a project forever. When we don’t reach an end to projects, we don’t ever get them out into the world, and no one can benefit from them.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I specialize in working with couples. I really believe that just about every couple can have a great relationship, and it’s not even that complicated to make it happen. I want to start a Date Night movement to help couples practice investing some time and energy into their relationship every week. We now have a Facebook group dedicated to supporting happy couples who want the support and encouragement of other couples through date nights.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I saw Brene’ Brown speak at the National Cathedral a few years ago. If I had been bold, I had the chance to shake her hand. I have always regretted missing that opportunity. I would love to have lunch with her. For years, she has been one of my mentors, even though she has no awareness of it.

How can our readers follow you online?

www.cheritimko.com

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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