The other day, someone asked me why don’t I blog more frequently or consistently.
I mumbled something about not having enough time and how the articles I write involve extensive research.
But having said that, I was left unconvinced by my own excuses.
I noticed how many of the writing ideas I get, simply perish.
I do make a note of them, and at times even start writing, but a majority of them just remain ideas or incomplete drafts.
In fact, I have had nearly 100 writing prompts, but as you may have noticed, I only have a total of 12 articles, since I started this blog.
So, what stops me from bringing these ideas to life? Why do I feel blocked even when I have plenty of topics?
The answer is simple — Perfectionism! Admittedly, I am scared of publishing articles that are not ‘perfect’.
When I first learned that perfectionism might be blocking my creative process and work, I felt confused. I thought to strive for perfection = perfect results and always believed that I could never reach excellence.
So, I decided to write an article on perfectionism with the hope to offer some awareness to those who can relate!
What is perfectionism?
It’s the unrelenting quest of getting things done in accordance with ‘unreasonable standards’ a person places on themselves and on others.
Perfectionists often spend a lot of time finalizing trivial elements, leaving little energy and time for important tasks.
It is also common for some perfectionists to avoid performing a task because they believe that they can’t do it perfectly.
Basically, perfectionism commonly leads to procrastination. The fear of not reaching perfection creates hesitation and avoidance, preventing an action from taking place.
According to psychologist Dr. Seltzer, children who are raised in a critical and negative environment are more likely to develop this tendency.
Typically, critical parents place very high standards on their children and show them approval and support only when these standards are met.
Consequently, children attempt to do everything exceptionally well.
Critical parents have high standards for academic achievement and social conduct and such parenting style centers on the child’s accomplishments, rather than her/his progress and efforts. Because of this, the child grows up considering his own capabilities as ever inadequate.
Also, the parents’ modeled perfectionist behavior can, in-turn, be a reason for children developing the same tendencies.
Essentially, perfectionism can be a result of academic pressure, competitive jobs, roles demanding accuracy, or fear of failure and disappointment.
Furthermore, psychotherapist Sharon Marti says that cultural expectations and the media’s influence are also some reasons for developing dysfunctional perfectionism. Expectations about how people ‘should’ be in order to be accepted or admired can cause immense pressure on individuals to strive and meet these standards, whether it is in appearances, career and success, relationships, or lifestyle. In fact, Sharon further states that perfectionism can also be self-imposed.
The Love for Excellence vs. Dysfunctional Perfectionism
There is a difference between aspiring for excellence and dysfunctional perfectionism. Dr. Monica A. Frank explains the primary differences between the two in the following manner:
The Pursuers of Excellence
Focus on the outcome
Focus more on their progress and the process
|Set unreasonable requirements||
Set clear realistic and challenging goals
Consider mistakes as failure
|Consider mistakes as a learning experience|
|Achieve goals for recognition from others||
Achieve goals for their personal satisfaction
Avoid taking risks for fear of failure or rejection
|Take risks as an opportunity to learn|
View others as possible critics and avoid feedback
View others as partners in their success and seek advice
|Impatient with results and give up on their goals||
Patient and continue to pursue their goals consistently
Unable to enjoy the process and get paralyzed by the fear of failure
Able to enjoy the process of pursuing excellence
It’s good to know there is someone to blame for our perfectionist tendencies — our parents, culture, media, jobs and so on. We can say:
– They did this to us! Not our fault.
– Have you met my 2nd-grade teacher?
I can blame everything that I feel is wrong with me on so many people. I can even find something to blame on my school nurse!
It feels good to know someone is responsible for our perceived flaws and misery. But you know what, I found something that feels even better…
Being accountable and in charge of my world has made a huge impact on my life.
Instead of sitting idle and pointing fingers, I choose to take charge of what I am experiencing.
Now, I still blame the smell of fries for every order I have placed and believe that it wasn’t my fault, nonetheless, taking responsibility means effective introspection to decide how things will be for me.
Ironically, since I identified myself as a perfectionist, I wanted to ‘perfectly’ get out of the trap of perfectionism. I got frustrated that I am not suddenly all ‘relaxed’ about my writing or my work. I was like these guys below!
The challenge is patience. I know as humans, we believe life is short, time is money and we don’t have time to keep calm and goosfraba! But there is no secret, magic button or sacred prayer that could just flip something all around. All we have is our commitment, self-compassion, self-awareness and our sense of humor. I am sure, as a perfectionist, you have much more 😉
Not to digress, my point is I am learning to make peace with all things ‘Not Perfect’,. because when I was questing for perfection, this is what happened:
➢ I put myself under so much stress when sending out a PowerPoint presentation (to the point of breaking into a sweat while picking the right font and background theme) that I even skipped my lunch break.
➢ I stopped cooking because I couldn’t master rice!
➢ I never painted my nails myself, because God forbid I color my entire face in the process!
➢ I freaked out about having a cat as I had a job from 8 till 5!
➢ Speaking of cats, I avoided cat-liner as I always ended up creating the puppy-liner. Yeah, not too funny when you show up to work with two sad eyes for no good reason!
➢ I stopped piano lessons because I was not Mozart at week-two.
➢ I dropped out of dancing classes, because, let’s face it I can get only as good as Eddie Murphy dancing in Beverly Cops 3.
➢ Of course, let’s not forget the time I dropped Journalism as a second major because I did not believe I could excel in it.
The point is I gave up a lot in the pursuit of flawlessness and put myself under extreme pressure to reach perfection in my education, creativity, appearance, relationships, and expectations, in general.
This is where I tell you I have had enough!
I have had enough!
And you know what? It’s going to take me some time to let go of all of my absurd standards, but I am fine with it.
I am ok with the mess, the mistakes, the crappy eyeliner, the not-so-perfect article I am writing now, the sticky rice, the horrible presentation, the pace of my success and let’s not forget my dancing skills.
Self-compassion is not about treating yourself to a haircut or a massage; it is really about how you treat yourself when you’re not able to meet your standards.
It is how you feel when you don’t perform well, get negative feedback, not reach your goals soon enough, not get the recognition you want or when the outcome is bad.
Not long ago, if someone offered me feedback I used to hide somewhere and lick my wounds. Guess what, I just came out from an hour of critique with one of my mentors (you can imagine it as a trainwreck), but, not only did I survive it, I actually paid to receive it.
So what has changed?
I decided my well-being is far more precious than reaching the unreachable. I love to deliver excellence, but I don’t aim for perfection because perfect does not exist. My self-awareness, thanks to my life coach, has given me an idea of what is really happening within me. I took charge of how I want to react and feel in my world. More importantly, I am compassionate with myself and not just by treating myself to a manicure, but also by continuing to love myself after an epic fail!
So, what have you decided to do?
Disclaimer: This blog provides general information about psychology and self-improvement. The content is not a substitute for professional treatment or medical advice.
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Excellence vs. Perfection by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D. (n.d.). Retrieved June 10, 2017, from https://www.excelatlife.com/articles/excellence.htm
Martin, S. (2016). What Causes Perfectionism?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 12, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/imperfect/2015/12/what-causes-perfectionism/
Seltzer, L. F. (2013, October 16). How Do You Know What’s Good Enough? Retrieved June 10, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201310/how-do-you-know-whats-good-enough
Sheldon-Cooper-Freaking-Out-Reaction-Gif-On-Big-Bang-Theory.gif. (n.d.). Retrieved June 12, 2017, from http://vevmo.com/image/sheldon-cooper-freaking-out-reaction-gif-big-bang-theorygif