We all want the perfect house, the perfect family, the perfect hairstyle. But that pursuit of perfection is impossible, and even while we know that, most of us don’t care, and still strive for it.
Studio 5 Relationship Coach Matt Townsend says that pursuit of perfection may be one of the biggest drivers of depression in this area.
Find the “Real” Source of Your Perfectionism
Most people I know who are perfectionists recognize that the goal of being perfect is really unattainable and yet that impossibility doesn’t seem to deter them. For some the stress and anxiety caused by trying to be perfect is a more preferable problem than taking a deeper look at some of the other issues or causes that drive their need to be perfect. For example, people might excuse their perfectionist tendencies saying that they “like to know that they’ve done the best job they can” when in reality the “real” truth is that they’re fairly competitive with others and want their offering to look better than everyone else. Another example might be a parent who helps their children to write all of their papers for school because they “want them to have a better chance at success than they had.” The “real” truth is that the parent is probably less worried about the child and more worried about being embarrassed by their child’s weak writing skills or lower grades.
In order to move away from being a perfectionist, we ought to look at some of the less positive or less socially acceptable reasons why we continually chase perfection. Some of those reasons might be; personality disorders, mental health issues, patterns handed down from our parents, insecurity, overly competitive or comparative personalities, a need to control, being obsessive, being critical and judgmental, narrow minded, negative, stubborn or proud. Once we are willing to truly look at the real root of our perfectionism and begin to address it, then we’ll be more able and ready to let it go.
Focus on Momentum, Not Perfection
The problem with perfectionism is that the only way to actually create any real sense of perfection in our life is to break the thing you’re trying to perfect into its smallest, most measurable scenario. Perfection is measured in moments, not over the long term; like when a bowler can bowl a perfect game, because bowling perfect games every night for years on end is impossible. One way to overcome perfectionism is to focus your attention and energy on the momentum and growth that is accruing from your performances and not solely focusing on the momentary act of “being perfect.” Noticing and documenting the growth that comes from your consistent and productive performance is a much better focus of attention than being consumed with trying to be perfect in every minute of every day. Mastering the ability to create positive momentum in your life is a much more realistic expectation that trying to be perfect every single day and with every thing you do.
Focus On the Intangibles Just Much as the Tangibles
Some people who are raised in more religious centered cultures tend to characterize their pursuit of perfection not as something that is extreme or impossible but instead as an honorable goal to work for. Regardless of whether you’re trying to be perfect because of your religious beliefs or not, the pursuit for perfection will inevitably create stress and problems either for you or for those around you. For example, almost every Sunday my wife and I try to get our entire family ready for church so that we can leave on time and arrive unstressed and ready to truly worship together. Inevitably however, the dreams of a peaceful Sabbath are shattered when we end up losing our cool and arguing with our children over silly things like whether they should wear a belt or who will have to take the first bath.
The battle comes when our intangibles (our desire to worship, to love one another, and to feel peace) and tangibles (six kids, church on time, bathed and fully dressed) end up colliding. The collision is overwhelming because when we try to be perfect, that perfection tends to be much more focused on the tangible things of the world than the intangible. We end up worrying more about the “things” getting done, than the “beings” that need to do them. We end up forcing our children to bathe, threatening and scolding and arriving at church with very little peace and no desire to be together. In the end can I really justify my pursuit of perfect church attendance if everyone around me can’t stand to be with me? Instead, maybe we ought to focus our attention on perfecting our faith, peace and good will (all intangibles) instead of making sure we’re dressed right, cleanly bathed and on time (all intangibles). Or even better, lets learn to do them all.
Find the Peace in the Present State of Things, Not the Perfect Future or Condition
So much about the myth of perfectionism is always being lived out in the future or past, not the present. How many times have you been told how perfect the good old days used to be? Or have you ever heard someone say, “When such and such finally happens, everything will be so perfect?” The reality is that you only live one life, and it’s the one you’re living right now. To spend our entire life wishing we could go back to the good old days, or hoping for a future scenario that will be better means we’re overlooking everything that is going on right now. The perfectionist tends to miss out on everything that isn’t deemed perfect in an effort to find their happiness in the perfect.
The reality is that life just isn’t perfect, it isn’t fair and it isn’t always fun. That is why it’s challenging. Our ability to see the good in the not so good is a better predictor of long term happiness and state of mind than anything else. Healthy people don’t need perfection to feel good about themselves and others; they have the ability to find the good in every condition and to create good in less positive situations. Don’t overlook the thousands of things every day that can be appreciated as you’re waiting for something perfect to appear. Instead, find the perfect in everything you do and see if that doesn’t change things. In every difficult day, there’s still a perfect cloud, flower, smile, phone call or thought. Find them, create them and perfect your ability to see the perfect in all of the imperfect things in the world.
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