How to deal with perfectionism?
Updated: Jan 11
Today I wanted to talk about perfectionism. I think everybody struggles with this in one way or another (I surely have done and still do). As I always say, I am not a psychologist nor therapist, these are my thoughts and it’s an open debate. I’d love to hear your opinion.
The dictionary defines perfectionism as:
The doctrine that humankind can attain perfection in this life
The demand for the highest standard of excellence
This raises a lot of questions:
In my opinion, perfection is a human construct that comes from fear, competition, envy, trauma and the feeling of not being good enough. Perfection doesn’t exist as a long-term event but only can be seen (if in any) in punctual situations and only in comparison to imperfection and messiness, and it’s a subjective and individual thought. Ok so perfectionism is a human thought.
Also, beauty comes from imperfection. Art is raw and imperfect, nature is messy, life is delicate and we are born and die. Beauty can’t be perfect, it just can’t, nature is diversity. Ok, so beauty doesn’t equal perfection.
You may think, perfectionism helps us because that way we do a better job. But then again, doing your best is different than perfectionism, isn’t it? I can do my best and love and embrace the result of those actions. And I can still learn for the joy of learning and achieving new and different results.
The problem is that we have grown up with this since school days. Nowadays it’s easier than ever to compare ourselves with others and to feel that whatever we do, there’s always somebody better at it. That perfectionism makes us tense when working or doing what we love because we feel it’s not going to be good enough, we may fuck it up, we stop believing in ourselves. Once we have finished whatever we were doing, it brings a feeling of dissatisfaction, it’s never up to our own standards. And the worst thing of all: it can actually stop us from trying altogether because it’s just easier that way. And don’t get me wrong, I also get these feelings and I need to constantly remind myself to push through them.
So, I could say, common guys lets just drop the perfectionism. But as I said, I know it’s not that easy. It’s a constant reminder to yourself. What do I find useful when I get these thoughts (specially related to creative endeavours)?
· QUESTIONING MY THOUGHTS ·
Remind yourself that perfection doesn’t exist, that nature and beauty are imperfect. Question the thought that says that somebody else’s creations, job, etc. is perfect and yours isn’t. If you pay attention, in each piece of art (or whatever else you like/do) there’s always imperfections, and these are used to our advantage to make things more interesting and unique. Uniqueness is what we want, not perfection. It would be so boring if everybody was perfect!
· GROUNDING AND BEING PRESENT ·
If we are present in the moment, present in our bodies, then the thoughts stop (even if just for a while). Personally, I love dancing while painting or cooking. Yoga and meditation always bring me to a calm mind and help me let go. I also love writing whatever is in my mind and creative writing. Lately I have also started burning sage and spending time lighting candles before painting. Playing instruments, singing, going for a walk, exercise, nature... These things stimulate the senses, bring us into our bodies and make us feel joyful and at ease.
· FOCUS IN THE PROCESS AND PLAY ·
Whatever you do or enjoy doing, just enjoy while you do it. Let it flow and do what comes in the moment. Follow your intuition, you already know it. Try things and see what happens. This only brings growth even if the current project doesn’t end well. My best paintings are those that I didn’t overthink and in which I just played. I have learnt that I don’t have to work out the whole project from moment one, I can do one step and let that guide me to the next. You may surprise yourself if you let it flow and have fun.
· TIME ·
Sometimes we don’t have to finish things straight away. I find that if I don’t know how to continue with a painting or I’m not happy with it, I’m better off just letting it rest for a while and coming back to it when I feel like it. If I get obsessed with making it “better”, I get anxious and usually end up doing too much to it, changing it completely and/or having a bad time, and not once I got a better result.
· KEEP GOING!·
Don’t give up on an idea because half way it looked bad, you can let it rest, but keep at it! Don’t give up because the first time you did something it didn’t turn out as you expected, do it more and more and more! And also, don’t give up on a piece/song/project because you don’t fully like it, others may actually love it! I understand that “failure” makes us feel shitty (it makes me feel shitty) but we need to fail to grow and learn, and we will only get better if we keep at it. Failure is also a human construct, but I think we can have another post about that.
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Are you a perfectionist? What do you think about perfectionism? Does it serve you or does it stop you? What helps you? Please comment or email me with your opinion! I’d love to hear what other people feels about this and what you found helpful.