Step 5. Grieving Perfection: Tackle This and Live a Better Life A Guest Post by Amanda Ghosh
Welcome back to the Breaking into the Self-Care Mindset for Professional and Family Caregivers Series!
If you’ve been following along, you’re ready to jump into Step 5. So, let’s go!
I promised that we would begin to explore ways to replace thoughts and behaviors that impede a self-care mindset with thoughts and behaviors that support a self-care mindset.
In my opinion, the first strategy, and it’s arguably the best strategy, is to grieve perfection.
The Misery of Perfection
Perfectionistic tendencies lead to negative thoughts and feelings. If you’re striving for perfection, you’ll always be disappointed.
Perfectionism also seeps into multiple areas of our lives which means we can beat ourselves up for “failing” in many different ways.
Are You a Perfectionist?
Perfectionism is usually part of who you’ve are if you’re “Type A,” competitive, overachieving, or prone to strong anxiety.
You might also suffer from perfectionism if you’re a Striver.
Striving is an excellent character strength until you overdo it. If you’re trying too hard or striving in vain, then it might be time to let go of the ideal outcome and work on being happy with good enough.
Ways Perfectionism Manifests
All of us are prone to perfectionistic tendencies some of the time. But, if you can’t seem to let go of getting it right, achieving the top mark, or being spot on all the time, it may be time to take stock.
Here are a few ways we can experience perfectionistic tendencies in real life:
- We strive for the “perfect” body, weight, or image
- We strive for the “perfect” career
- We strive for the “perfect” personal life, spouse, or children
- We strive for straight-As in school
Perfectionism in these areas could look like:
- Focusing on achieving an ideal body weight, physique, or size.
- Focusing too much on test scores and grades.
- Wanting to change something about your spouse instead of accepting them as they are because you have an idea about how you should be living and who you should be living with.
- Searching for a career that suits you completely and improves the world. Many people I’ve come across seem preoccupied with the idea that a career should reflect who they are, but this is a flawed approach in my opinion. Your career is only ONE component of who you are. You’re far too dynamic to be equated to a single profession. And, it’s completely OK if you don’t end up changing the world through your work. Providing for your family is more than enough.
You may have noticed that perfectionism and should-ism seem similar.
Should-ism is how I describe the thought pattern where you focus on how something or someone should be.
For example, I should be twenty pounds lighter or I should climb the ladder at work.
When you give yourself permission to pursue good enough instead of perfect, you unravel your shoulds.
You know you’re no longer operating from a place of perfectionism and should-ism when you feel lighter, happier, and less stressed.
A Formula for Letting Go of Perfection
If you want a concrete approach to letting go of perfection, apply a different version of the 80-20 rule.
Shoot for 70-80% of your desired outcome and let the last 20-30% go. That’s what “good enough” means.
For items that can’t be mathematically quantified, pursue being 70-80% satisfied.
An Exercise: Practice Grieving Perfection
Identify areas in your life where you may be striving for perfection or unrealistic and unnecessary ideals.
What results are you aiming for?
Make a list.
Determine whether there are shoulds attached to these outcomes and what they are. Explore why you are striving so hard.
Determine the Opportunity Cost for each result identified in your reflection list.
Every achievement comes at a cost.
For example, deciding to pursue additional education may help you achieve a higher paying job but at the cost of more student loans and less family time.
Not every opportunity is worth pursuing.
You may love what your life could look like if you pursue an opportunity but it’s OK to not pursue that opportunity if the Opportunity Cost is too high.
Use the assessment process to determine where you can let go or ease up.
Revise your end goals to be perfection- and should-free.
Apply our version of the 80-20 rule as discussed above if it helps.
Viscerally process any sadness that arises from choosing to let go of being a perfectionist in a specific way.
If you spent a lifetime being a perfectionist, you’re going to feel sad about letting this part of you go. That’s OK!
You don’t have to dissect how you feel; you simply have to let your body process your emotions so that they can exit your body.
Not every feeling needs an explanation.
You’re making room for the person you’re becoming with all this personal growth and that’s exciting.
For every death, there is a birth.
That’s it! Until next time, stay well.
P.S. We’ll be starting to move even further away from mindset to application in the next two steps.
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