I was twenty-four when I first suspected that my ‘perfectionist’ tendencies might be unhealthy. What else was I…? Determined to the point of being obsessed? (Yep). Super passionate? (Tick). Terrified of failure? (Bingo).
Up until this point, all of these qualities had helped me to succeed. So how could they be bad? I mean sure, I’d developed a tremor in my hands, I wasn’t sleeping and felt sick most of the time. But that was ok didn’t mean anything right? (My 2012 very public breakdown suggested otherwise).
It wasn’t easy to undo over a decade of set behaviour, and during my recovery, I struggled to accept that so much of what came naturally to me was faulty. After all, aren’t we encouraged to ‘trust your instincts’ or something like that? My ‘instincts’ had been praised and rewarded my whole life… by family, teachers, employers. A university tutor once said; “You have an incredible line of sight.” (A military reference I think).
It was a mode of behaviour that I knew achieved positive results and made me feel safe. It became a cycle. Being ‘successful’ was my identity.
Still, in the days following my breakdown, as I lay sedated on my parent’s couch. I finally questioned whether my instincts were in fact a detriment to my health. I was attempting to brainstorm at the time, bulleting ways to… and I quote, ‘get well faster.’ Based on my handwriting, (I still have the notebook,) I’m guessing I was having trouble gripping the pen.
Well, this isn’t working is it? The thought randomly popped into my head.
If you broke your leg you couldn’t brainstorm your way out of that. You would need to rest.
It turns out that recovery was one of the few things I couldn’t be ‘perfect’ at. Not everything can be controlled.
I had to make my peace with watching TV and doing NOTHING. Which was excruciating and like many things, took practice.
It took a long time, but slowly I began to heal, and obviously, I needed to make some changes.
Top tips for keeping perfection in check
- Remember something simple… YOU’RE HUMAN! Perfection is impossible and leads to constant self-criticism, which will impact your mood. Check out my post on kindness.
- Failure… try it. Sure, the initial feelings are deflating and uncomfortable, but they pass. Making a mistake is an opportunity to learn. (Sounds cheesy, but it’s so true). Failure is just another way to obtain more wisdom.
- Know when to stop. Set yourself time limits/fake deadlines for certain activities. E.g. At 5pm no matter what, I have to finish. The brain responds to boundaries.
- Don’t expect others to live up to your ‘standards,’ or you’ll forever be disappointed. Accept that like you, other people are human and therefore have free will. In life, there isn’t one way of doing anything.
- When all else fails and you find yourself becoming obsessed with something…. DISTRACTION! Find something to engage your brain and put some space between you and your perfection urges!