Fear: Fear is often the core reason why you may get stuck. Are you afraid of making a mistake, failing, being judged, appearing incompetent or ‘less than?’ If these are core reasons keeping you stuck, try making a positive resolve to help transform those fears. The word “resolve” means to find a solution to a problem. With practice, perfectionists learn how to take another view, reframe an unhelpful perspective and minimize unproductive emotional attachments. Here are a few examples:
Many successful people are perfectionists. At the same time, they have the ability to say “Done is Better Than Perfect” and just complete and wrap up a project. What is the best way to overcome the stalling and procrastination that perfectionism causes? How does one overcome the fear of potential critique or the fear of not being successful? In this interview series, called How To Get Past Your Perfectionism And ‘Just Do It’, we are interviewing successful leaders who can share stories and lessons from their experience about “how to overcome the hesitation caused by perfectionism.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Gibbs.
After years of working for media, higher education and non-profit organizations, Beth Gibbs, M.A. is ‘free-tired’ and pursuing her passions of writing, teaching, and leading workshops on yoga, personal growth and self-awareness. She has published a children’s book, Ogi Bogi, The Elephant Yogi, and a personal growth book for adults titled, Enlighten Up! Finding Clarity, Contentment and Resilience in a Complicated World.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was raised in a middle class Black family in a small New England factory town. We were not middle class by profession; my dad was a janitor and my mom, a secretary but we owned property. We were middle class by values. Because of the work ethic of my mom’s family in earlier generations we had two houses on two lots side-by-side. Both mortgages had been paid off long ago.
My mom worked during the day and my dad worked the night shift. Because my father needed to sleep during the day, my brother and I would go next door to Aunt Lucy’s house after school for snacks and hugs. My mom and my aunt were the foundational rocks on which my view of life as an adult was built. The message I got from them was, “You have to amount to something. You have to get an education, a good job and be a credit to the race. You must always be independent and self-reliant because you will face a world that is stacked against you.” I will be forever grateful for those life lessons even though as a result they helped grow me into a people-pleasing over-achieving perfectionist but I’m in recovery!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Voyager, there are no bridges, one builds them as one walks.” — Gloria Anzaldúa
I first read this on a calendar of inspirational daily quotes many years ago. It was printed on the December 28th page. I ripped it out and stuck it on my refrigerator. It has been with me through three moves and four refrigerators.
It resonated because it matches the life lessons I got from the women in my family about being self-reliant, independent and hard working. It also provides me with a crucial reminder that no matter what happens, I have responsibility for how I walk through life and relate to others.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott made a huge impact on me as a shy introspective child who liked to read, and write poems and stories. It was my favorite at the time because of Jo, a young woman who was less interested in learning ‘womanly ways’ and more interested in exploring her own interests, which were reading, writing and her individuality. I so related to Jo. She was a lot like the women in my family — strong, fierce and independent. They were role models for the woman I wanted to be and hope I’m in the process of becoming (it ain’t over ’til it’s over!).
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
1. Self-Awareness. For many years, I suffered from low back and hip pain. Gradually, I began to notice that the pain appeared most often when I was feeling powerless, stuck and not in control of a situation. That was a wake-up call! Using my self-awareness practices I gradually traced it back to a fear of calling attention to myself, embarrassing myself in public, being rude, or making a scene, which I recognized as a lamentable hangover from my good girl training as a Black woman raised to be a people pleasing over-achiever.
Once I understood the connection between feeling stuck, my physical pain, and its emotional source, I was able to (for the most part) avoid a fear-based, stressful reaction. Instead, I could make one of three conscious choices to respond: change the situation, change myself, or leave. This lifted a huge burden off my shoulders and helped be become more self-aware in my responses to difficult situations.
2. Authenticity. Being your authentic self requires finding clarity between who you are internally and how you interact with others. Like self-awareness, authenticity is a state, not a trait. The process of determining what your authentic self is can be confusing, amusing, defining, surprising, inviting and exciting, especially when to discover your truth and find ways to express it authentically and compassionately.
It took me until I was fiftyish to start living authentically from the inside out. What being authentic meant for me was dropping the ‘credit to the race, good girl, over-achieving perfectionist, put everyone else first’ syndrome. If I had started my self-awareness journey earlier, I might have avoided some of the social backlash but the juice was worth the squeeze.
3. Compassion. When you have compassion, you’re putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and working toward understanding their point of view even if you strongly disagree with it. Compassion toward self is the first step. The next is compassion toward others who may be blocking, judging or rejecting you based on their criteria of your self-worth. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is hard but when you have compassion for yourself (warts and all) it becomes a bit easier. And remember it’s a process.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Let’s begin with a definition of terms so that each of us and our readers are on the same page. What exactly is a perfectionist? Can you explain?
Perfectionism is a multidimensional personality characteristic. There are three main types:
- Self-oriented perfectionism — having high expectations of self.
- Socially prescribed perfectionism — embodying perfection to gain approval.
- Other-oriented perfectionism — expecting others to hold the same standards.
Anyone can embody one or more of these types in a variety of combinations.
Perfectionism has been defined both as a talent and a trap. Talented perfectionists embody a mix of high personal standards along with balanced levels of self-evaluation and self-judgment. For perfectionists who cannot do this perfectionism becomes a trap of black and white thinking, which can lead to believing that everything must be done perfectly or not at all.
The premise of this interview series is making the assumption that being a perfectionist is not a positive thing. But presumably, seeking perfection can’t be entirely bad. What are the positive aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
The positive, or adaptive, perfectionist sets goals and enjoys the process of getting there. They can manage emotional attachments to the outcomes of their efforts. These perfectionists understand that there are only four outcomes to any action taken. They are:
- What you expect
- Less than you expect
- More than you expect
- The unexpected
Although these perfectionists work to influence outcomes they recognize that ultimately what happens is subject to other factors and influences they cannot control. Success doesn’t make them overconfident and they are able to reframe and learn from experiences that don’t turn out as expected. They have high standards along with a healthy sense of self-worth.
What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?
The maladaptive perfectionist’s effort is on achieving a perfect outcome, rather than the process of getting there. They often suffer from low self-esteem and have a high level of self-criticism and self-judgment when things don’t turn out as expected. This can manifest even when they push through to ‘done’ and things turn out as planned. Holding an unhealthy view of perfection can result in being stuck, which is another form of procrastination and a way to cover up a deeper emotional issue. Nothing, especially themselves, is ever good enough. As you might imagine, this can have a major impact on one’s mental health and well-being.
Before I began my personal process of recovery, I was obsessed with organizing and controlling everything around me to avoid being rejected or judged. I suffered from skin rashes, bald patches, and TMJ (temporal mandibular joint dysfunction). But as I began to move through my self-awareness journey, I realized that I was the one doing most of the judging and ‘should-ing’ on myself and others. Being a maladaptive perfectionist was exhausting.
Slowly I came to the realization that I needed to face life, work and family from a place of balance and health while maintaining a realistic personal standard of excellence. It’s a process and I am still working on it.
From your experience or perspective, what are some of the common reasons that cause a perfectionist to “get stuck” and not move forward? Can you explain?
From my perspective, the main reason perfectionists ‘get stuck’ is the inability to address five obstacles standing in the way of moving forward. The obstacles, sourced from the yoga tradition, are: clouded perception, ego, unhealthy attachments, unreasonable dislikes and fear. Once these obstacles are faced and addressed moving forward to ‘just do it’ becomes easier.’
1. Clouded perception is the inability to understand the ‘why’ behind unhelpful perfectionist behavior that results in becoming stuck and not moving forward. It’s the inability to see one’s situation clearly.
2. Ego is an important aspect of the mind but one that needs to be managed with balance and clarity. An unbalanced or mis-managed ego is often the prime reason behind difficulty in getting along with others and letting perfect become the enemy of good enough and getting to ‘done.’
3. Unhealthy attachments to achieving perfect outcomes can result in perfectionists getting stuck. A friend of mine calls this, ‘the paralysis of analysis;’ when obsessive thoughts and feelings about perfection and what perfection must look like stops someone from taking action.
4. Unreasonable dislikes are those things, situations or people we avoid and push away. For example, we all need help but perfectionists often refuse help and ignore valuable advice even when it’s necessary in order to move forward.
5. Fear is generally defined as an uncomfortable feeling resulting from something we recognize, or perceive as an immediate danger or threat. Perceived fear shows up in our body-mind the same way as legitimate fear. Anodea Judith, in her book, Creating on Purpose describes perceived fear as a False Event Appearing Real (F. E. A. R.). In terms of perfectionism the perceived fear may be due to the imposter syndrome, defined as an internal experience of believing you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. This, of course can keep perfectionists frozen and stuck.
Here is the central question of our discussion. What are the five things a perfectionist needs to know to get past their perfectionism and “just do it?” Please share a story or example for each.
The five things perfectionists need to know to move from ‘stuck’ to ‘just do it’ are answers to the following questions based on the five obstacles to self awareness. They are:
- Clouded Perception: Why am I stuck?
- Ego: Is there a problem in the way I view myself, and my relationship to others?
- Unhealthy Attachments: How strong is my need to achieve a perfect outcome?
- Unreasonable Dislikes: Am I resisting or pushing away help or advice from others?
- Fear: What am I afraid of?
The idea for this exercise comes from Stuart Saves His Family, a movie former Senator Al Franken starred in while working as a comedian. Regarding the need to get to the root of a problem, Stuart says, “Face it, trace it, and erase it.” I’ve added two more steps to help perfectionists find answers to those five questions or any others that need addressing. They are:
- Face it
- Trace it
- Erase it
- Embrace it
- Replace it.
The Mind Drift
Allowing the mind to drift holds space for answers to your questions to bubble up from the deeper layers of the mind. Start with the first question, ‘Why am I stuck?’ Feel free to change the other questions to meet your specific situation. Let the mind drift to see what thoughts, memories, beliefs, feelings or insights surface. Your mind will wander and there will be distractions but this practice asks you to notice distractions when they arise and hold space for them as well.
You may need more than one session to get comfortable enough to embrace all you uncover. Go slowly. It’s a process. Sometimes insights pop fully formed. Sometimes you catch a slim thread of thought and follow it to an insight while at other times nothing comes but more confusion. This is an organic and fluid practice. It takes time, but it can be a satisfying and productive use of your time and energy.
If you experience too much discomfort or resistance at any time during the practice, imagine or visualize a thick glass wall between you and anything making you uncomfortable. Allow the focus of the practice to be on the process even though the answers you discover may call for some type of action or response to move you forward to ‘just do it.’
Face It. Clarify any clouded perceptions around the question — Why am I stuck? Something is preventing you from moving forward. clarifying the type (or types) of perfectionism that relate to your current situation is a good starting point. Are you facing it as a:
- Self-oriented perfectionist — having high expectations of self.
- Socially prescribed perfectionist — embodying perfection to gain approval.
- Other-oriented perfectionist — expecting others to hold the same standards.
Write down or silently state the specific condition, issue or situation keeping you ‘stuck.’ Then bring yourself to a comfortable position, seated or lying down. Play soft soothing music if that helps your process. Let your mind drift. See where your thoughts take you. Notice how you talk to yourself. What words do you use? Try writing down what comes up. This will help you gain gaining clarity around your situation.
Trace It. Ego: What is the nature of your relationship to other people involved with this project, task or situation. How are you viewing their presence or participation? Are you a good team player or do you need to be in charge to be comfortable? What are you feeling in your body and mind as you think about this? As you drift, know that many body sensations, thoughts and emotions even contradictory ones, can be present simultaneously. Can you welcome all that presents itself with compassion and without judgment or do you notice resistance? Write down or record any new awareness of, or resistance to, the role of your ego in your relationships.
Erase It. Unhealthy Attachments: By erase, I mean can you ease, release or let go of overly strong attachments to your need to appear perfect at all times. See if your drift uncovers the answer to ‘why’ must things be done a certain way or not at all? Is this feeling keeping you from moving forward to ‘done?’ However, if it’s too soon or too hard at least be aware of your resistance to easing, releasing or letting go. That’s a good first step and a key awareness on the path forward.
Embrace It. Unreasonable Dislikes: Do you feel that asking for help from others is a sign of weakness and imperfection? Do you resist accepting help when it is offered? Could this be one reason you are stuck? If so, can you embrace this as part of your current truth and view it as a guide and teacher especially when it bumps up against your comfort level? Can you find your way to asking for help when you need it and accepting it with gratitude when it is offered?
Replace It. Fear: Fear is often the core reason why you may get stuck. Are you afraid of making a mistake, failing, being judged, appearing incompetent or ‘less than?’ If these are core reasons keeping you stuck, try making a positive resolve to help transform those fears. The word “resolve” means to find a solution to a problem. With practice, perfectionists learn how to take another view, reframe an unhelpful perspective and minimize unproductive emotional attachments. Here are a few examples:
- I’m not good enough I’m good enough as I am, warts and all
- I’ll never get this right I do my level best
- I can’t trust anybody I trust myself
- Everybody judges me I accept constructive feedback
Notice the present tense wording, “I trust” and “I accept,” instead of “I will trust” or “I am going to accept.” Making a resolve asks us to assume what we hope to achieve is already true. This process can be helpful in moving forward from a foundation of self-awareness and healthy internal standards that we set for ourselves.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could inspire a movement to bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people it would be to help others develop self-awareness on all levels of BE-ing through the five-layer model of self-awareness, which proposes we are much more than a mind interacting with a body.
Understanding ourselves through the five layers of BE-ing provides a 360-degree view of what it means to be human and gives us a broader foundation for self-awareness and exploration than the more well known mind/body model. The five layers of self-awareness are:
- Physical — This includes your body and your environment. This is you: your size, shape, gender identification, race and ethnicity, anatomy, physiology, your home and the planet we all share.
- Energetic — This includes your breath and energy levels. The oxygen you breathe and the invisible life force that animates you at all levels enabling you to think, create, move, love, work and navigate all that life brings.
- Mental — Your thoughts, beliefs and emotions. This is how you think, what you think about, what you believe, and how you experience and express your emotions.
- Intuitive wisdom — This is the witness, the ability to observe all of your layers and your life with compassion and without judgment to consciously make (or not) more informed choices.
- Bliss — This is your connection to something larger than yourself. This can be spiritual, religious, or a deep connection to a healthy passion or the natural world.
The first known mention of the five layers of self-awareness (the koshas) comes from the Taittiriya Upanishad, a 3,000-year-old philosophical text from India.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I recently read, No Matter What by Lisa Nichols, a motivational speaker. Her perspective and writing on self-awareness and self-reflection relates in many ways to mine. I would welcome an opportunity to chat with her about the similarities as well as the differences.
How can our readers follow you online?
My website and Enlighten Up! blog can be found at: www.bethgibbs.com
Yoga for Healthy Aging: yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!