I am a recovering perfectionist. I quit “cold turkey” a few years ago, and it was one of the best choices I have ever made! As a general rule, I feel much lighter and more peaceful now. However, I still slip up occasionally. Some of my relapse indicators include obsessing over outcomes, living for the future, negative self-talk, focusing on minute details, and worrying about what other people think. Do any of those symptoms sound familiar? If so, you, my friend, may also be experiencing a bad case of perfectionism!
I have been especially considering this idea of perfectionism in the last few days as I wrote one of my final papers. In it, I reflected on how one assignment this semester managed to spiral me right back into the thick of perfectionism for about two weeks. Thankfully, I was able to wake up and quit my perfectionism once more before anybody got hurt
Beyond my personal experience, the theme of perfectionism was also present in some of my course readings this semester. It turns out there are many places perfectionism can manifest, including spiritual practices. One of my favorite discussions of this can be found in a book I read for one of my Buddhist courses this semester:
Basically, Brach is making the point that if we replace outward perfectionism with spiritual practice, but we then expect ourselves to be the perfect spiritual person, we have simply shifted the focus of our perfectionism instead of relinquishing it. While I would argue there are less healthy things to attempt to perfect than one’s spiritual practice, Brach still makes a compelling point.
Consequently, I consider relinquishing perfectionism to be one of the most important spiritual tools. Like conscious breathing, letting go of perfectionism is foundational for spirituality. If we are judging ourselves or others, we are creating a separation, which is the opposite of Connectedness and thus the opposite of spirituality. In order to truly experience Connectedness and spirituality, to truly be peaceful and happy, we must let go of trying to control outcomes, accept that we cannot control outcomes, and learn to simply live in the present moment.
Yet, how can we relinquish perfectionism, you may ask? Well, I use two main tools, but I’m always open to learning more, so I would love to hear from you!
My two perfectionism relinquishing tools are:
1) TRUST: I still work hard, but I don’t stress about the outcome. Instead, I trust that if I put in the work, everything will work out, and even if it does not work out as I had hoped, it will still work out the way it should. (Note: Trusting requires at least a semblance of belief in something greater, whether that is God, a Divine plan, fate, and/or Karma, etc. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, perhaps it’s not the tool for you.)
2) SELF-COMPASSION: To use a term out of Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly, I “appreciate the beauty in the cracks,” or in other words, I practice self-compassion. Following the steps in Brown’s book, I choose to be warm and understanding with myself, I remind myself that “I am enough,” and I remember that feelings of inadequacy are a shared human experience—in other words, I am a flawed human, as is everyone, and that is okay.
For the most part, I have found these tools can usually “sober me up” from my perfectionist ways. Nonetheless, it often requires time and repetition.
If you haven’t tried letting go of perfectionism before, or if you’ve slipped back into perfectionism like I did this winter, I challenge you to join me! Unlike some types of abstinence, abstaining from perfectionism is highly relaxing
Happy letting go!