Wouldn’t it be great if we could all be perfect? Imagine a world where everyone always performs flawlessly, always interacts in perfectly socially appropriate ways, always makes the perfect choices. No…that doesn’t sound great to me. It sounds boring, robotic, non-human. It doesn’t sound perfect, because it would be entirely too predictable. It doesn’t sound perfect because it would be stagnant, without growth, without hope. But so many times we are hard on ourselves for not achieving perfection. In fact, perfectionism often leads to depression and anxiety in individuals. The negative and super-critical self talk that always comes back to the story line of “I’m not good enough” leaves a person’s emotional reserves depleted.
Highly intelligent people are capable of convincing themselves that they are not worthy of love or success or even basic acceptance, because they see their own imperfection as a fatal flaw. “If everyone saw me the way I see me, they would hate me” becomes the story they believe. And from that vantage point, they are most likely to create scenarios that reinforce their negative beliefs. The stories we tell ourselves have more power than we know. When a person gets caught up in perfectionism, it limits their ability to be creative. Without creativity, we have a stagnant world. With perfectionism come negative thinking, second-guessing, often crippling anxiety and black and white thinking.
In 2009, Dr. Heidi Halvorson demonstrated that simply by changing the way a task is framed, we can manipulate the motivation of the individuals involved. In her experiment, she assigned two groups a series of intellectual tasks. One group was told the goal was to “be good”. This group faced the challenge of proving their “goodness” based solely on their ability to perform. The other group was told that they were to show “improvement”. The group that was striving for improvement over mastery functioned better….performed better and accomplished more. Working toward improvement with the understanding that perfection is not achievable not only improves performance, it decreases stress. When we let go of the need to be perfect, we open up space for growth. We give ourselves permission to learn through our mistakes, instead of thinking we must shamefully hide them.
My husband works as a software engineer. Earlier this year, he told me with a very stressed tone, that he had written and released a program with a major flaw, that had cost his company a lot of money. He didn’t lose his job over this error. He was transparent about the mistake, didn’t try to hide it or deflect blame. He worked to correct his error, of course. He learned from his mistake, on many different levels. But one of the most important things he learned was that making mistakes is a part of the creative process. He and three other colleagues, who have all made million dollar mistakes, have dubbed themselves “the million dollar club”. They have all learned that making big mistakes is a part of making big progress, and that perfection is an illusion which stifles creativity.
When you are contemplating the coming new year, and thinking of resolutions, think of this: You don’t have to strive for perfection. Let go of this impossible job. Let that be your resolution.
If you would like some help letting go of perfectionism, and finding ways to nurture yourself, call me at: 831-214-8087.