Are You a Recovering Perfectionist? — Part 2

by Kassandra Lamb

measuring and cutting grass with scissors

Cutting grass, perfectionist-style. (public domain, Wikimedia)

Last week, I talked about how perfectionists become that way. Today, the second installment:

Seven Steps to Recovery from Perfectionism

First, set your goal: You are going to perfectly break yourself of being a perfectionist. 😀

Second, acknowledge that perfect is not a good goal. Of course you know that nobody’s perfect at anything, much less everything! So why are you setting yourself up for failure with an impossible goal?

Third, make a list of the three to five most important roles (no more than five!) in your life, in which you want to do the best job possible. These are not in order of importance since they are all extremely important to you. Here’s my list:

I want to be the best possible:

  • Mother
  • Spouse
  • Friend
  • At my profession (psychotherapist, professor, author)

(See how well I’m doing this task! My list only has FOUR roles on it. 😉 )

Fourth, look at other, less important roles/tasks and actively give yourself permission to be just okay at them. It can help to make a list of these as well.

I’m okay with being a mediocre to good, but not a great:

  • Cook
  • Gardener
  • Housecleaner
  • Swimmer
  • Dancer
  • Seamstress

And the list goes on….

Then when you’re doing those tasks, and the results are less than perfect, say out loud: “That’s good enough! It’s just cooking (gardening, cleaning, etc.). It’s not that important.”

Fifth, go back to the important roles list, and acknowledge that you will NOT be perfect at these either. So set a realistic goal for each, based on what is truly important. And give yourself permission to be less than perfect, i.e. human, even in those roles. Again, here’s my list as an example:

  • Mother: Goal – My kid has a much better childhood than I did and is saner than I was coming into adulthood.
  • Spouse: Goal – Our relationship remains caring and we stay married, which is more than my parents accomplished.
  • Friend: Goal – I am a friend “in need.” I’m there for my friends when the chips are down.
  • Professionally: Goal – Most of my clients get saner (those who do their part); most of my students learn (those who do their part); my readers are entertained and enriched in some way by my books.

Sixth, let go of caring emotionally about what others think about your performance. (Have you notice these get tougher as we go along.) If you know you have done something well, then don’t let others’ criticism get under your skin. This doesn’t mean you ignore their feedback if you think it will help you do better. But the approach you need to take is: I did well, but changing this will make it even better.

Authors have to do this with reviews and feedback from editors and readers. Good, great and excellent are very subjective concepts. Some people are not going to like something you thought was pretty good, or they may suggest changes that don’t feel right to you. Consider the feedback of others, but ultimately trust your gut about what you think is good.

~ Why? Because you’re a freakin’ perfectionist! You’ve spent your whole life setting excruciatingly high standards. So if you think it’s “good,” it’s probably great! ~

Seventh, (by far the hardest of all, but well worth the effort) separate being from behavior. You are not a human doing! You are a human being, and you don’t have to be perfect, or even great, at ANYTHING AT ALL in order to be an okay person.

Feeling ashamed of yourself because you didn’t do something to a certain standard is counter-productive. If your self-worth is based on success at tasks, when your performance falls short, you will either give up or approach that task in the future with so much angst and trepidation that you won’t do much better.

But if you tell yourself, “I’m a good person, and I know I can do better than that,” then you will be motivated to pick yourself up and reapply yourself to the task, determined to improve. And your stomach won’t be tied in a knot of shame while you’re at it!

So in the interest of doing things the best you possibly can, you CANNOT let failure at a task undermine your sense of worth as a person! 🙂

My guess is if you are reading this post, then you or someone you know is a perfectionist. Do you have any other helpful hints for overcoming perfectionism?

P.S. Please check out my new release, Cruel Capers on the Caribbean (cover to the right). Just $1.99 on AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE, KOBO, & APPLE. (It’s not perfect but it’s as close as I could get it. 😉 )

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week,  usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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  • Reply
    K.B. Owen
    June 24, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Great post, Kass! I really like the idea of two lists. It works even for non-perfectionists, because it helps prioritize the level of time and effort we put into things when both are in short supply!

    My suggestion? When it comes to how others perceive us/give feedback: that other guy is the center of his/her own world, and any less-than-ideal interaction or impression we’ve left is quickly forgotten by him/her. No one is walking around constantly thinking about you and dwelling on your flaws. They’re busy thinking about their own lives.

    Not sure if I explained that well, but reminding myself of that has been oddly comforting…especially after I’ve made a social gaffe of some sort. 😉

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      June 24, 2014 at 11:15 am

      That’s a great addition to the list, Kathy! And absolutely true.

      I used to point this out to my depressed clients. Depression often goes hand-in-hand with an exaggerated sense of one’s flaws and an excruciating level of self-consciousness (like the kind all of us experienced as teenagers). Assuming I had a good rapport with the client, I would laugh a little and say, “People are focused on themselves. They’re not paying that close attention to you. You’re just not that important to most of them.”

      This little double bind forced them to either let go of the mistaken belief that they were worthless (i.e., not worthy of others’ attention) or the mistaken belief that everybody was focused on their flaws. The latter belief usually had shallower roots so out it came!

  • Reply
    Vinnie Hansen
    June 24, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Free therapy! Thank you, Kass.

    When I fall short, I remind myself that we learn more from our failures than our successes. (I think JFK said that.) As a teacher, I’m all about learning; therefore failure is a good thing.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      June 24, 2014 at 10:21 pm

      Yes, that appeals to the teacher in me as well, Vinnie. If you succeed right off the bat, you’re not real sure what you did to make that happen, or was it just dumb luck? If you fall and scrape your knees a little along the way, you have a much clearer sense of how you got there.

  • Reply
    CC MacKenzie
    June 24, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    Thank you for this, Kass.

    When I don’t live up to my expectations for me, I try to remind myself that we move forward and learn from mistakes. As a society we need to lose the fear of failure, to even embrace it, because to fail can bring us to the right path.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      June 24, 2014 at 10:25 pm

      You’re welcome, Christine, and so good to see you here!

      I don’t even like the word failure, because it sounds so permanent. I’d really like to see that word replaced with mistakes. We try, we make mistakes, we learn from them, we try again, we get better. And more than once in my life a “failure” did exactly what you said. It pointed me toward a different and better path (my current writing path comes immediately to mind 🙂 )

  • Reply
    Shannon Esposito
    June 24, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Though I really expect a lot from myself, I’ve definitely mellowed out over the years. Especially with kids. I used to have to have a perfectly spotless, organized house or I felt anxiety. This is the result of growing up with a perfectionist father. My boys have taught me that there will be messes around me and that’s just life. I can walk by them now and do something more important like play Go Fish with the boys. After all, it’ll still be there when I’m done. 😉

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      June 24, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      LOL Those dang dust bunnies just refuse to get up and walk away on their own. They will definitely still be there when you’re done playing with your boys, but those kids will grow up and and move out all too soon. Sounds like you have your priorities just right!

  • Reply
    Kirsten Weiss
    June 25, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    I’m no perfectionist, but this list is great just for time management!

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      July 3, 2014 at 9:32 pm

      I agree, Kirsten. It helps to prioritize things.

  • Reply
    Karen McFarland
    June 27, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    “Because you’re a freakin’ perfectionist! You’ve spent your whole life setting excruciatingly high standards. So if you think it’s “good,” it’s probably great! ” Lol Kassandra! That is freakin’ hilarious.

    Yes, I think perfectionists have a warped view of their self worth. The constant battle between good and great. Ugh, it’s such a battle. I thank you for all the encouragement! 🙂

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      June 27, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      Glad I gave you a chuckle, Karen. 🙂 That’s always been the challenge for me to figure out what can be just good enough and what needs to be great.

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