One of the most common pain points for perfectionists is that they no longer have a clear sense of what is “normal.” What exactly is healthy and realistic goal setting?
What is a normal level of drive and focus? What does a normal body look like? What is a normal process for aging well? What does a normal relationship look like? What is the definition of a super successful, yet normal day?
What nonperfectionists understand about life is that what’s normal is imperfection. Believing anything different is a set-up for disappointment and failure. In fact, I would say that the day perfection became our normal is the day that the internal barometer by which we distinguish between good, great, or excellent was destroyed. We lost the gauge that could show us what realistic (a.k.a. normal) expectations should look and feel like. Good and great were now viewed as failures because the new normal, the new metric for what we saw as acceptable, was nothing short of flawless.
A perfectionist can’t distinguish such nuances because her mindset is so fixed on the outcome. She is further inhibited by the false belief that if she lets go of striving to be perfect in everything, she will no longer be perceived as successful or “good” at anything. That’s what my clients tell me. They share their fears that come with being wrapped up in perfection, and their concern that if they let go of perfect their lives may unravel.
The scientific data, however, strongly implies the opposite—that recovering perfectionists become better at jobs when they let go of rigid outcome expectations and concentrate instead on being diligent, productive, and effective.
When they stop trying to be faultless, they not only become more focused workers, they become better friends, parents, and bosses. They work more fluidly and become more authentic in their leadership positions, enjoy more quality time with their children and complete their tasks on time. They work just as hard to attain their goals, but releasing the expectation of perfect outcomes fuels them with joy instead of fear. Outside the suffocating echo chamber of isolation, where they can hear voices other than the one belonging to their inner critic, they find freedom, growth, and opportunities for enriching collaboration. They shift away from the distress of the end goal to the rich rewards inherent in the journey itself.
If we start to transition ourselves into the mindset of a passionist, as is the intention of this step, we can learn to focus on who we already are instead of who we think we should be. This does not mean that you will no longer face disappointment when things do not work out as you had hoped, but you will be disappointed, not devastated. It is time to reclaim a life where we can work hard, coast every now and then, and be able to fail and flourish and find joy along the way.
Excerpted from The Perfection Detox: Tame Your Inner Critic, Live Bravely, and Unleash Your Joy by Petra Kolber. Copyright © 2018. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.