How to Stop Being a Perfectionist with Joy, Fun, & Ease
Have you ever just laid in bed thinking about everything you need to do or all the “mistakes” you’ve made? Yeah, me neither (just kidding). Being a perfectionist is EXHAUSTING & creates tons of anxiety. Despite this, it can be so hard to learn how to stop being a perfectionist.
After all, there’s an idea out there that perfectionism is a good quality.
Have you ever been afraid that without your perfectionism you would be lazy & never accomplish anything?
The truth is that your passions & drive are authentic to you. These aspects of your personality do not disappear when you recover from perfectionism. The only thing that your perfectionism actually does is drain you or make you procrastinate. Or both. You’re actually much less effective in your life when so much of your energy is consumed with trying to do everything perfectly & fighting with that inner critic.
Silencing Your Perfectionist Critic
It isn’t easy to overcome that negative voice that tells us what we do must be perfect or we won’t be good enough. That being said, it is possible to stop listening to that voice & start having more fun. It’s also possible to do this work in simple ways rather than creating another project for yourself. Silencing your inner critic & learning how to stop being a perfectionist actually requires boundary setting.
In a recent study, they’ve found that perfectionists have a hard time being flexible in their thinking. As a recovering perfectionist, I almost laughed when I read that study. For most of my life, if something didn’t come easily for me, I completely avoided it. The perfectionist in me wouldn’t allow me to try doing something I’d “fail” at.
Perfectionists often see life in black and white. Therefore, when a perfectionist inevitably makes a mistake since they are human, they feel like a total failure. This sort of all or nothing thinking creates a lot of stress because it does not allow for the natural rhythm of life, creativity, & learning. In life, we sometimes “fail” & make mistakes, this is actually an essential part of the learning process. Unfortunately, when a perfectionist makes a mistake, they waste a lot of time being consumed by their self-criticism instead of just updating their plan of action in life or business.
All or nothing thinking
For most of my adult life, I didn’t cook because I believed I was “bad” at it. Throughout my entire 20s, I lived off frozen meals which was expensive, unhealthy, & not very tasty because I didn’t want to be “bad” at something. On the few occasions I did try to make a meal, I was overly ambitious for a beginner trying to make, from scratch, eggplant parmigiana, cream of mushroom soup, & Palak paneer. When they all turned out objectively gross, it reinforced my idea that I was bad at cooking & therefore, I should just give up.
Over time, my value of eating whole foods won out enough that I would cook but only by rigidly following recipes.
While dating, when my now-husband would recommend a twist to the recipe, I’d get a wave of anxiety. “But that’s NOT what the recipe says!” I’d exclaim. He shared, he knew, & it was ok to have fun with cooking. That was a new insight for me: I’m not being tested & I could have fun playing with my creativity while cooking!
Since then, I’ve learned to relax & actually use cooking as a way to express my creativity. Just the other night, I made a meal almost completely without the guidance of a recipe. This is huge progress for me.
I actually enjoy cooking now & think trying a new recipe is fun! I genuinely never thought I would experience this & it only became possible because I let go of trying to be a perfect cook. I prepare food for the love of nourishing ingredients & caring for myself & my loved ones. I’m not going to be featured on a home chef cooking show & I realized this is totally fine – I never had this dream to begin with!
You get to just enjoy yourself
By being alive, we have a vast array of pleasurable, fun, & relaxing activities available to us. It’s actually quite amazing all the adventure & exploration we get to have. We miss out on so much of life’s gifts when we try to ensure we are operating at full potential in everything we do.
This quote by Kurt Vonnegut summarizes what I’m trying to say more beautifully than I can:
“When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of ‘getting to know you’ questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.
And he went wow. That’s amazing! And I said, ‘Oh no, but I’m not any good at any of them.’
And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: ‘I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.’
And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could ‘win’ at them.”
Act as if You’re Not a Perfectionist
Ultimately, perfectionism detracts from your ability to be as successful as you want to be. After all, success isn’t just a certain level of income. It’s about enjoying life while we are here. One way to break the soul-crushing cycle of perfectionism is to allow yourself time to play, explore & be creative. It’s essential you give yourself time to be more creative & playful to recover from perfectionism. Also, I know this may be more motivating to you so I’ll throw this in: Research proves one of the best antidotes to stress is actually having fun. It can be hard though after years of being so hard on yourself to connect with play.
Therefore, I ask you consider the following questions:
What is something you’ve always wanted to do or you want to do more often but you avoid because you’re not an expert at it?
If you allowed yourself to do this activity – say, ballroom dancing or painting – what is the worst thing that would happen?
If you let yourself finally play & do the activity you dream of what is the best thing that could happen?
I encourage you to consider 30 years from now. What will you regret more? Missing out on the full experience of being alive because of your perfectionism? Or allowing yourself time to explore and be creative?
I imagine the answer is obvious to you.
Therefore, I want to support your healing to recover from perfectionism with a simple tip. We heal by setting boundaries around the voice that says, “You’re wasting your time.” Or “Your creative work is ugly or useless.” Or “You should focus on earning money all the time.”
We set boundaries by saying to this voice, “I hear you but I have the right to choose how I spend my time. I choose to have fun, & explore. I am choosing to do [insert your activity such as dancing, playing the guitar, swimming etc.] because I am worth it. I don’t have to work all the time to prove I’m enough.” And then, you act as if you’re not a perfectionist by doing whatever it is that will bring you joy! Negative inner critic be damned.
As a recovering perfectionist, I know this work is ongoing. We keep setting boundaries on that voice. We keep choosing life over the illusion of perfection.
Action Step Invitation
I want to ask you to commit to setting aside a little time at least a couple times a month to give yourself the space & freedom to do the activity that you authentically want to do (but aren’t perfect at).
Please let me know what you choose to do. I’m here for you!