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Perfectionism – Friend or Foe?

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Perfectionism – Friend or Foe?

Many people see the start of a New Year as an opportunity to make resolutions to better themselves or to work toward new goals. By the end of January, most of us have abandoned our efforts because we haven’t been perfect enough in our attempt.  Perhaps we forgot about the resolutions for a couple of days, we slipped up or became impatient with the time it was taking to complete the goal.  Sadly, most of us lose sight of the importance of ongoing attempts and efforts and only see the failure, misses, and flaws. Essentially, this all-or-nothing approach is what breeds perfectionism.

We often imagine “perfectionists” to be those over-achieving, super organized, uber-successful people.  It may be that those people are in fact perfectionists.  However, what we often don’t realize is that perfectionism also looks like procrastination, spinning our wheels, not knowing where to start and giving up.  Some perfectionists feel so trapped by “never good enough” that they cannot even get themselves motivated to begin a project.

There is a difference between perfectionism and healthy striving.  Perfectionists hold themselves to unattainable goals and/or ideals.  Anything short of these goals is perceived as a failure. They are often more concerned about others’ perceptions of them (i.e. what grade they achieve, coming in ahead of their competitors, or not allowing someone to surpass them in skill) than they are of their own internal sense of satisfaction or learning.  They focus solely on the outcome/achievement and not on the process or journey to get there. They spend much of their time making comparisons to others’ work, lives, families, bodies, successes, etc.

Those individuals who fall into the category of healthy striving aim for their personal best and see shortcomings as lessons and opportunities for growth.  They value challenging themselves with realistic goals and timelines. They recognize that mistakes, failures, and struggles are a normal part of being human and they have the resilience and courage to cope when they happen.

Don’t be fooled, perfectionism is dangerous.  While it can disguise itself as a motivator, it most often has the complete opposite effect.   Perfectionism can steal our creativity, our innovation, and our authenticity. Worst case scenario, it can lead to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, aggression/violence, compulsive behaviors, burnout, isolation, shame, and even suicide.

Overcoming perfectionism is a process.  It takes time and regular practice of self-compassion, which is, essentially, the way we speak to ourselves.  It is regularly reminding ourselves that we are human and that it is ok to be imperfect. It is speaking to ourselves with kindness as we would to our friends/children/pets/loved ones.  It is accepting mistakes, failures, and flaws and looking for the lessons in each one.

This New Year, consider setting an intention to be kinder to yourself.  Contemplate the nature of your ideals/standards and whether they are achievable or whether they induce stress and pressure.  Expect to wax and wane in your effort to shift away from perfectionism and toward healthy striving, as anyone would. Practice reflecting on your mistakes/failures/flaws, without judgment, and learning from them.  Initially, this will be challenging and may feel unnatural. Know that this will take time and you will do it imperfectly.

From all of us at Synergy Counselling, we wish you a beautifully imperfect 2019!!!

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