Imagine attending a party where everything is perfect. The entire house is spotless. Decorations adorn the walls. Everything matches the theme from the decor to the fancy dress down to the napkins.
To prepare for the party the host sends out very specific instructions on what to wear, to add to the ambiance of the event. The host considers asking for help putting everything together, yet decides to do everything themselves. They think delegating tasks may run the risk of something not being just so, and that just would not do. Besides, they want very specific foods prepared in very specific ways. The host considers telling everyone what, how, when, and where to do everything, but thinks better of it. They refuse to leave anything to chance, and reason that it’s easier to do everything themselves than to fix mistakes in the event that something is not good enough.
The host really outdid themselves, and you can tell. They look completely exhausted. You’d say disheveled, except nothing is out of order per se. It is as if every hair had been glued in place.
Everything about the party is perfect, everything except one detail: it is not fun. It is a disaster. The host focuses on doing everything by themselves, and trying to make sure everyone else stays happy. The forced happiness leaves all the guests cringing in discomfort.
It’s as if no matter how controlled and perfect everything is, it’s never good enough to the host. The host appears terribly upset that guests do not appear appreciative enough of all their hard work to make them happy.
The pressure to excel, to succeed, and in turn to be accepted feeds on anxiety. With anxiety about an inherently unpredictable future comes misguided perfectionistic behaviours focused on feeling in control. These behaviours can take many forms: obsessions, compulsions, or habits. Rather than providing long-term relief, these behaviours play into a damaging cycle of fear, procrastination, and self-sabotage. Maladaptive control tactics ironically end up controlling us rather than freeing us. Seeking help is a vital step to recovery for anyone experiencing eating disorders, self-harm, or dangerous behaviours; therapy provides tools to regain a healthy control over your life. Anxiety, fear, control, and perfection are all connected.
Take a long exhale
Let it go. Let go of any fears that are holding you back in life. Let go of self-doubt that prevents you from starting a project. Let go and push aside any fears of not being or doing enough; you are already enough. Let go of the fear of things not working out; in order to make anything happen, we must attempt it.
Notice that issues surrounding control and perfection are centered around extreme, false beliefs: “If everything is perfect, then I can relax;” “If I look a certain way, then I will be happy;” “If I do this, then I will feel loved and accepted.” In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. This type of “all or nothing” thinking is a trap. We don’t need to wait for the planets to align before allowing ourselves to relax; we need to relax regardless. Everything is available to us to enjoy in the present moment, but we need to stop and appreciate what we do have right now. We instead need to practice gratitude, in order to enjoy our improvement process.
Be gentle with yourself
Practice is the best way to improve on any skill. Practice involves doing, not procrastinating or obsessing over every step of the process being perfect. The best way to learn is through mistakes. Perhaps the best practice to accompany any goal is the practice of self-love.
There is a difference between putting stones in your path vs using them as stepping stones to get across. We can choose to look at past mistakes as a wall and trap ourselves within that boundary. Or we can be realistic, and build off of what we learned. Use your mistakes. What did you learn from this experience? How do you want to move forward? What techniques do you need to develop, in order to get the outcome that you want? Change. Optimise. Do things differently. Trial and error is not a death sentence, it’s a learning experience.
Shift your focus
Setting aside expectations opens up space to enjoy what’s going on around us. If you find yourself obsessing over something that you don’t like, take a step back and note 5 things that you do like. There is no need to focus on the negatives. If you don’t like how you look, make a point of looking in the mirror and finding 5 things you do like about yourself.
Embrace the process. Art isn’t about being good at art. Art is about making art. It’s about self expression. We dance, write, draw, paint, and create for fun and to express our emotions. Things will get messy, and that’s good. When art becomes too controlled and sterile, there isn’t much left of it to appreciate. You rarely see all the prototypes, first drafts, or journal entries. A lot of time, love, sweat, and tears go into creating anything, yet as consumers, we are often removed from that process.
Consistent small steps build lasting change. Take pride in small steps in your process. It’s never all or nothing. The benefits of small healthy eating habits far outweigh the “instant” results of dangerous crash diets. Superficial, extreme changes are not safe or sustainable.
Check in with yourself
If you ever find yourself controlling elements arounds you or even attempting to orchestrate those around you, instead, shift your attention to yourself and how you are feeling. Give yourself permission to question nagging negative thoughts about yourself. What are you trying to prove? Who are you trying to impress? If you find you are putting more energy into putting yourself down, obsessing, or acting out compulsive behaviours, it’s time to seek help in order to create positive change in your life. What is holding you back from appreciating everything for what it is right now?
We have a beautiful opportunity to explore what life has to offer, instead of focusing on unrealistic expectations of everything falling into line. Who wants to live in a boring world where everything is sterile, preplanned and predictable? It’s more fun to embrace our unique selves.
Build Your Strength
Find an activity that you do not know how to do that is outside of your comfort zone. We are by no means suggesting a dangerous activity; we are merely suggesting something unfamiliar. It could be art, dance, playing an instrument, knitting, or anything that is new to you. Don’t think about it. Just do it to have fun, and see where it takes you.