K- Here's the truth: There can be a lot of great qualities that come out of people who tend to be perfectionists. They do their work with excellence, they are always striving to improve, and they pay attention to all the little details. These are skills that you will often see listed as the strengths on their resume. However, when their desire for excellence becomes a need to be the absolute best, these great qualities quickly become the chains with which they are tied down.
Unhealthy perfectionism is the death of all creativity, motivation, and success. It's not pleasant. It is a force that drives many away from action and it is the string that is constantly pulling some back from freedom.
If you struggle with perfectionism, you can probably relate to the feeling of being unable to move forward because you are constantly critiquing the work that has already been done. I know the struggle. I am a recovering perfectionist myself. I have been there, done that, and it can easily become super frustrating. But wanna know someone else with perfectionism tendencies that make mine blur in comparison? My husband, Ron. He is an enneagram 3 and the description of perfectionism describes him so precisely.
So I've struggled with this myself, but I also live with someone who really wrestles with this.
What Is Perfectionism?
Many people think of perfectionism as an obsession with having your room look great or needing the bow on your dress to be an even length. But the truth is, perfectionism goes a lot deeper than that and spans across a wide range of categories. Perfectionism can show up in your career, your relationships, your outward appearance, how you are perceived by others, and your personal qualities. It is not simply having the pictures on your wall lined up just right- it is a deeply rooted issue of the heart.
What is this issue of the heart, you may ask?
Perfectionism is the need to be in control of it all. You may not be able to control other people or external circumstances but you can control yourself, what you do or how you look and behave. The root cause of the need to control is fear. Fear that you will never be good enough, fear of what people think, fear of what could happen if you don’t keep it all together. So what is perfectionism?...It is fear.
The Lie Of Fear
I want to begin by saying ... Fear. Is. A. Liar. There is this new jam that came on the radio by Zach Williams called "Fear Is A Liar" and I'm humming it while typing this all out right now.
That Christian radio song is not only a good tune, but it's also spot on. Fear is not a God given gift. It is not something that we are meant to live by. Yet, Satan does a great job making us believe that fear should guide our decisions and our lives.
One of my favorite scriptures that combats this lie from Satan is 2 Timothy 1:7 “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”.
The simple truth is that fear is not from God and it is not something we need to listen to. I know that this is all easier said than done- but here are some practical tips on how to deal with this tendency that you have towards perfectionism...
Lower Your Expectations
We walk through life with these high expectations of ourselves and don’t even realize how unrealistic they really are. We walk around thinking that we are super humans capable of doing everything perfectly all of the time. But the reality is that we are not capable of doing it all. If we were, we would be a God. And we'd all make pretty lousy gods.
You need to stop expecting yourself to be at a certain place in your life by now. You need to stop being so hard on yourself. Life takes time. What you've set out to do can't be done all at once. It may take years for you to get to where you want to be in your career, life, fitness, etc. You need to text a trusted friend and ask them this: "Is what I am trying to achieve realistic for where I am right now or am I putting unrealistic expectations on myself?"
Also, picture what you would tell your friend if they asked you the very same thing.
If you wouldn’t want your friend running around with the weight of your expectations on their shoulders, then it is probably safe to say that your expectations are too high.
Think of some areas in your life where you are putting too much pressure on yourself. Is it in your relationships? In your career? Is it in your outward appearance?
Say them all out loud, bring them to the cross, and lay them down.
What Do You Really Value?
Think for a second about the things in your life that you would say that you love. These are the things that you want to prioritize.
Do you want secure relationships? Do you want a healthy body? Do you want to be a loving person?
If you said yes to the questions above, that's awesome.
But do your actions in your every day life line up with what you say your desires are?
For many of us, the answer to this question is no.
You may say that you want secure relationships but instead of taking the time to develop two or three close friends, you spend all of your time trying to look like the girl who everyone likes. You spend your nights striving for the approval of people you don’t even really know. Your need to be seen a certain way hinders your ability cultivate the types of relationships you say you want.
And when it comes to your health? You may say you want to take care of your body and treat it well but everyday you starve yourself and spend hours at the gym because you feel like that is the only way you will be “pretty enough”.
Maybe you want to be a loving person- a godly woman even... You want to be the person that is known for the love you have for others and who drops everything to comfort a grieving friend. But when you get a text saying from a friend saying they need to talk, you ignore it because you have to get everything on your to-do list done. You really want to be that loving person but your desire for success takes a front row seat when sacrifices need to be made.
It is important to know what you value and to hold yourself accountable to those values, so that you can stand firm when your perfectionism threatens to control.
I want you to make a list in your head or on paper of what is most important to you.
Memorize that list and bring it out when making decisions.
Ask yourself, “will this bring me closer to what I ultimately want for my life or is this decision being made out of fearful perfectionism?”.
Let Yourself Fail
Failure is the mortal enemy of all perfectionists. Failure leaves a bad taste in your mouth and creates an even bigger fear that you truly aren’t good enough.
All the greatest inventors, entrepreneurs, and characters in history failed way more than they succeed. Think of Albert Einstein, it took him 1,000 attempts before he got the light bulb to work…1,000! I usually give up after one failed attempt.
Failure isn’t the opposite of success, instead, it is the key ingredient to lasting success. You learn way more in your mistakes and failure than you do from easy accomplishment. Failure teaches you what you would never have willingly learned if you could have skipped right over the hard stuff and straight to success.
Now here comes your challenge...
I want you to look for an area of your life that is a bit risky - one where you are not assured to have success. Choose something that you are not sure you will accomplish perfectly in the first attempt…and then try it. This may be taking a leap and starting that blog, it may be applying for a job you feel unqualified for, or initiating a friendship with someone you don’t know yet.
Whatever it may be, give it a try. It may go well or you may land flat on your face.
Either way, you will have taken that first brave step forward to conquering your fear of failure.
Do this over and over again in different areas of your life and you will slowly begin to quiet the voice that intimidates you. You will begin to realize that failure is not as bad as you may have thought it to be and that there is real value in learning to make failure your friend rather than your enemy.
Stop And Celebrate
As perfectionists, we tend to forget what we have done well, while chastising ourselves for the areas in which we have not yet succeeded. We push ourselves so hard to reach an end goal, and then when we reach it, we act like it is of no value and proceed to push ourselves harder towards the next goal.
No wonder why we all struggle with feeling like we are never good enough! While we can easily look past the things that we have accomplished, we readily remind ourselves everyday of all the ways we have fallen short.
It is time to stop ignoring these moments of success and start celebrating them!!!!
I want you to write down everything that you have done well or areas in your life that are thriving. Include the positive things that have come out of your failures, lessons you have learned, or areas you have grown.
Once you have them all written down, open up to that page once a day, and remind yourself that you're growing, and gradually becoming a better you.
Let it be a reminder to celebrate the good things in life and be grateful for where you are at.
If you are the type of person that likes to randomly break out into dance, well this would be a perfect time to do so. Allow gratitude to overflow and wipe out self doubt and criticism.
I know the struggle with perfectionism can be hard and it isn’t always easy to break out of, but I hope that these tips I shared with can be helpful in your journey to overcoming it.
Don't forget to give yourself grace.