It’s the enemy of creativity, productivity, and, well, sanity. In The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron writes: “Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop — an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are writing or painting or making and to lose sight of the whole.”
But you don’t even have to be creating anything to be crippled by perfectionism. It can also frustrate your efforts as a mom, a wife, a friend, and a human being. Because no one and no thing is perfect in this blemished world of ours.
I tackle this adversary everyday. And although my inner perfectionist clearly has hold of my brain many days, I do think I am handcuffed less often by the fear of messing up than I used to be. Here are 10 techniques I use to break out of the prison of perfectionism in order to live and create as freely as I can in an imperfect world.
1. Remove yourself from the competition.
Don’t make life any more difficult than it already is. Most perfectionist’s are extremely competitive… because being perfect means being the best at, well, EVERYTHING. So choose your friends and your groups wisely. For example, some professional organizations–writing clubs, publishing groups — can be extremely supportive. But some can be horribly competitive. And as a perfectionist, you don’t need folks feeding you the very message you are trying to forget: “you are nothing without total success… and if you don’t get there, I will!” Do this: check your heart rate before one of these meetings, and just after. If it’s up ten beats or more, don’t go back!
2. Make up some rules.
Of course you can’t avoid all competitive situations. Which is why you need to make some rules. For example, I can now gauge when I’m going through a period of insecurity … when I feel like I need to be the best at something in order to feel okay about myself. During these periods, I don’t check out Beliefnet’s homepage where it lists “most popular blogs,” “most e-mailed posts,” “most popular features,” because if I don’t find my name somewhere in there, I mope around the house with that tight knot of disgust and angst in my stomach. Why torture myself? So here’s my rule: I can only visit the homepage on the days when I don’t feel like my popularity as a blogger is the definitive statement on who I am as a person. The result? I haven’t been to the homepage in months!
3. Do a reality check.
Unrealistic expectations are perfectionism’s trophy wife. Think about it. They always show up as a pair. So I try my best to distinguish realistic expectations from unrealistic ones. I list them all on a sheet of paper or (on a good day) in my head and then revise them about 2,035 times during the day. Under “unrealistic expectations” are cataloged things like this: “penning a New York Times bestseller in my half-hour of free time in the evening,” “being homeroom mom to 31 kids and chaperoning every field trip,” and “training for a triathlon with a busted hip.” Under “realistic expectations,” I index things like: “do 30 hours of good work in 30 hours of working time,” “reading to David’s class and having lunch with him once a month instead of being homeroom mom,” and “skipping the triathlon, but continuing to work out four times a week to keep the brain and body happy.” Recording the different possibilities of actions I can take to inch toward my broad goals (being a good mom, an adequate blogger, and a healthy person) can be extremely liberating.