It seems like the more people I meet, the more perfectionists I know. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who isn’t a perfectionist in one aspect or another of their life. The great thing about perfectionism is it drags the best out of you, even though it may take some kicking and screaming. The bad thing is that it can be paralyzing. If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all is typically the attitude. Let’s break down this attitude.
First of all, anything is better than nothing. If you have a goal of writing a novel, at some point you are going to need to pick out a title, a general topic, and names of some of the main characters. There’s nothing wrong with spending a few minutes thinking about these little details, especially if you’re not really in the mood to write. If you have a goal of starting to exercise 30 minutes 3-4 days per week, but you just ate dinner and you can’t possibly go jogging now, spend 2 minutes doing squats and crunches. Or take a quick walk around the block. If you can’t bring yourself to do the whole sink full of dishes, do 5 items and take a break. Over time, little steps add up to big changes! Don’t let yourself think you have to do it “perfectly” from beginning to end, or you will never get started.
You don’t have to do it all at once. Again, say your goal is to write a novel. You cannot possibly do that in a day, a week, or even a month. Even professional writers take months to write and edit their work. Start by breaking up a goal into smaller steps – picking a title, developing a general idea of what you want the book to be about, some of the characters’ names and descriptions, an outline of the first few chapters, your ideas of how you want the book to end, etc. Set a goal of writing 10 pages per month. If you take a lot of small steps, you will get there. Don’t get impatient and give it up before you even try – you can do it! Same with exercise… you don’t have to go out and run for 45 minutes. Try a 20 minute walk or a 10 minute jog and build up to it. Trying to do everything at once is just setting you up to be miserable and fail, and give up before you’ve given it your best shot.
Don’t throw out all of your progress over one mistake. How many times have you been following a weight loss program, and you have a terrible day and reach for an Oreo, and the next thing you know, you’ve gained 10 pounds back?! It’s all the perfectionist attitude of well… I messed up, so this day/week/month is shot. I may as well just have fun now, and I can start over later. Look at a mistake for what it is. You ate ONE Oreo. Okay, maybe three or four. So go eat a piece of fruit or take a walk around the block. Everything is NOT ruined unless you allow it to be.
You don’t have to wait till the “perfect” time. How many times do people say they are going to start a new diet or exercise program on Monday, or when they find a new job, or move out of their current apartment? There is no time like the present. Just take one step toward your goal. Sure, maybe something will be easier if you’re at a job where you work fewer hours, but who knows when that will come down the pike. Make the best of your circumstances as they are. Do what you can. If you keep waiting till the “perfect” time you will likely find that that time never comes.
Go easy on yourself. Everyone has days that they are exhausted and the last thing they feel like doing is exercising or writing or working on a chore. Sometimes, it’s okay to sit on the couch and watch reruns of your favorite show. Just don’t let that become your new routine. Go to bed a few minutes early and get up the next morning and try again. You are your own worst critic. Think about what you would say to a friend in your situation. You would likely be much more understanding of him/her than you are of yourself.
For me, perfectionism is a huge struggle. It’s not something you just “get over” in my opinion. Just like meeting a goal, letting go of these mindsets takes effort. Do you have any other suggestions?