Plan. Procrastinate. Perfection.
Do you plan or research something so much that you never actually get around to doing it because you’re scared you’ll fail?
When you finally get around to starting that something, does a little voice inside your head tell you it will never be good enough (or you’ll never be good enough?)
Do you really care what others think about you or your work?
When I first discovered I was a perfectionist (during some free counselling sessions), I was secretly impressed. I mean, in my mind, all perfectionists were super-clean, super-organised people who wore perfectly pressed clothes and spoke in a posh British accent.
I hate cleaning, my house is in a constant state of disorder, I’m hopeless at ironing, and I have an Aussie accent. I’m not super-anything.
What Exactly is Perfectionism?
In psychology, perfectionism is striving for the unattainable: flawlessness. It’s having such high standards that it can be impossible to achieve them. But it’s also being super-critical about yourself and what you do. In a nutshell, it’s trying to achieve the unachievable.
My perfectionism stems from my need for things to fit into an ideal (perfect) image in my mind that can never truly exist in reality.
It can be as simple as wanting to have a perfectly organised pantry. Or as complex as needing a perfectly organised life.
That’s the thing: Life doesn’t want to follow my perfect plan for it. Life has other plans. Messy plans. Plans that are flawed. And that makes me anxious.
Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimise or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-tonne shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight. – Brené Brown
Anxiety and perfectionism are best friends. They complement one another. But anxiety and perfectionism have a wider circle of friends including guilt, anger, sadness, disappointment and failure.
Fear of Failure
If you don’t try, you won’t fail, right? It’s why many of my fantastic plans didn’t eventuate into anything. Sometimes it all seems too overwhelming, like when there’s so much that needs to be accomplished, there’s no way I can do it all. But that’s probably because my expectations are set way too high.
Instead of focusing on completing one small task, such as vacuuming the bedrooms, I feel the need to do everything at once. If I can’t clean the entire house in my allocated 15 minutes, I feel like I’ve failed. The guilt sets in, followed by the self-directed anger. Vacuuming becomes a mammoth task that now joins the ever-growing list of Things To Do.
But there’s also the motivation of failure — the need to keep perfecting something until it’s… perfect.
This manifests itself mostly in my writing, which I’m constantly drafting, editing and redrafting so that I have 26 versions of Chapter One. I swear I’ll get to Chapter 2 one day.
It’s taken me some time to understand how perfectionism affects my life, both positively and negatively. The hard part is putting into practice the positive and avoiding the negative. It’s as though I have to rewire my brain to think in a totally different way than it’s used to. It’s something I’m working on and plan to do so for the rest of my life.
The End Result
Too often I feel as though I’ve failed at something because I haven’t reached The End. There’s no result, no mark out of 100. No one to congratulate me for a job well done.
For a long time, my writing goal was to publish a children’s book. In my mind, getting published became more important than the journey. I still have that goal of being published, but what’s changed is that I’ve started to enjoy the process of writing. I’m not writing because I have a deadline. I’m writing because I love it. As simple as that sounds, it was an enormous realisation for me to make and then to accept. I’m grateful to Kate Forster, who mentored me with her creativity coaching sessions and helped me to realise what truly made me happy.
Now it’s up to me to keep reminding myself that the process of writing is just as (if not more) important than the end result. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still determined as ever to become a published children’s author, but I’m also happy to enjoy the good things that come with having the freedom to write just for fun.
Are you, too a perfectionist? I’d love to hear your story. Comment below or for any other enquiries feel free to send me an email at email@example.com. If you’d like to read more about creativity coaching, visit: https://www.kateforster.com/blog/2019/4/14/creativity-coaching-with-kate. I am in no way affiliated with this, I just really got a lot out of her coaching sessions.