Are you a perfectionist? Perfectionism can be a wonderful trait and yet it can be very limiting and overwhelming. If you need a few tips on how to make the most of being a perfectionist without letting it stand in your way, then I have a treat for you! Denver-based career guru, Aimee Cohen, is the author of the new book, Woman UP! Overcome the 7 Deadly Sins that Sabotage Your Success, and she is a great source of information. I have been granted permission to share an excerpt from her book that deals with success strategies for those that find themselves trapped in the Perfectionism prison! Overcoming perfectionism can help reduce anxiety and allow you to accomplish so much more. Here is how to stop being a perfectionist.
The book is available at most book stores or on amazon. I have included my amazon affiliate link here for your convenience.
Perfectionist And Anxiety Can Lead To Procrastination Which Can Result in Paralysis
Most people think of a perfectionist as a good thing. After all, who doesn’t want to be perfect and create perfect work. Yet, I think you can already see the trap this creates. It can be hard to live up to such high expectations and trying to do so can cause a lot of anxiety. Incredible goals can cause procrastination because of fear of failure. This perfectionism paralysis is best avoided by setting realistic expectations. There are three ways you can work to overcoming perfectionism.
The following excerpt is reprinted with permission form “Woman UP! Overcome the 7 Deadly Sins that Sabotage Your Success” from the chapter called “Deadly Sin #3: Perfectionism Prison” and the section titled “Success Solutions”.
3 Strategies for Overcoming Perfectionism
For my clients who find themselves locked inside the Perfectionism Prison, there are three main strategies I use to help them embrace their imperfections and escape their self- imposed imprisonment. Here is how to embrace the “imperfect”.
1. Play “What If ”
Sometimes the fears and consequences are real, and sometimes they’re merely perceived. It’s important to know which is which, and the best way to do that is by playing the “what if” game.
If you are waiting for the perfect time to apply for a job or write a book, it will never happen and will then just be another missed opportunity. Instead, think about the “what ifs”.
- What if you applied for the job?
- What if you only had 80% of the requirements listed on the job description?
- …you got the job or what if you didn’t get the job?
- What if they didn’t offer you enough money?
- What if the responsibilities were a stretch?
- …if you were rejected?
- What if only one person reads your book?
Think through all the possible scenarios, good and bad, and play them out to the end. Recognize that an opportunity doesn’t have to be perfect to have value. The fear of what might happen is usually greater than what could actually happen. And, trite but true—sometimes it really is about the journey, not the destination.
“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.”
2. Take a Risk
If you are paralyzed with fear to step outside your comfort zone and appear imperfect, then this is the exercise for you. If the fear of looking silly or incompetent keeps you from growing and trying new things, then this is definitely the overcoming perfectionism exercise for you.
Sometimes taking a big risk at work can be too perilous and carries negative consequences, which is why many women don’t do it. The challenge is being able to distinguish a big risk from a small risk. All risks can feel overwhelming and potentially disastrous. That’s why many women don’t take any risks at all, and that’s why they’re missing out.
It doesn’t always make sense to try to change the risk-taking behavior at work, but what about outside of work? I encourage my “perfect” clients to pick an activity they feel completely insecure about doing, and then do it. They know the outcome won’t be perfect; they have to learn how to deal with the discomfort, and then find a way to enjoy the experience along the way.
“Be fearless in trying new things, whether they are physical, mental, or emotional, since being afraid can challenge you to go to the next level.”
Here are some of the activities my clients have bravely chosen to do:
- Learning country-western line dancing
- Taking sushi cooking class
- Taking painting class
- Learning a foreign language
- Attending a networking event alone
- Going rock climbing
- Exercising in a Zumba class
- Auditioning for the reality show Survivor (that’s mine…four times!)
The goal is not to paint like Picasso or to prepare California Rolls like a professional sushi chef; the goal is to realize that even though you may feel completely terrified and uncomfortable, you will survive. You may even enjoy yourself and have fun along the way. Face your fears and do it anyway.
For instance, do I think I could build a perfect fire by rubbing two sticks together, climb a coconut tree or fish for food, or win every physical challenge designed to test the contestants on Survivor? Probably not, but I’m willing to try. We only grow when we are truly challenged, and I can’t think of a greater challenge then starving on an island with a bunch of strangers for 39 days. I’d give anything for the opportunity to outwit, outplay, and outlast my opponents and win the title of “sole survivor”. My bag is packed and I’m still waiting for Jeff Probst (the host) to offer me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…call me!
Embracing risk outside of work is a great way to start gaining confidence about taking some risks at work. You may not have complete control about the outcome, but you often
have control about the onset. If you want to take your career to the next level, it may be risky and it may not be perfect, but it can be worth it in the end.
3. Burn a Bridge
For our entire lives we’ve been cautioned to never burn a bridge and that advice has served us well in most cases. But is that always the best advice? If you want to get ahead and you’re holding yourself back, it could be time to finally burn a bridge.
In 1519, the Aztec Empire dominated more than 80,000 miles in central and southern Mexico and ruled between 5 and 6 million people. The Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortes arrived that year with every intention of conquering the powerful empire. To battle the Aztec Empire, Cortes brought with him only 508 soldiers, 100 sailors, and 16 horses.
According to the legend, Cortes burned all the ships after his men arrived on shore. His only strategy was to win or die. He wanted to send a clear message to his men that retreating was not an option. There was no going back and no giving up. The men in his tiny army were literally fighting for their lives, thus intensifying their determination and willingness to fight harder.
Not only did Cortes’ army get the message, so did the Aztec soldiers. They knew the Spaniards would fearlessly fight for their lives with nowhere to go but forward. However, the Aztecs could retreat if the fighting became too intense. They still had an “out”.
Whether they took the “out” and retreated or were out- battled by the Spanish army, the outcome remains the same:
Cortes and his unfathomably small army conquered the powerful Aztec Empire in 1521.
The lesson is that sometimes you should burn a bridge (or a boat). When retreating or staying stuck in one position is not an option, there is a greater sense of urgency, a deeper commitment, and a stronger determination in surging forward and achieving the goal. There are no excuses, no exit clauses, and failure is off the table. It’s full steam ahead without looking back.
“Above all, be a heroine of your life, not the victim.”
Burning a bridge (or a boat) also provides an added layer of accountability. You are forced to take action even if it scares you. If you buy a non-refundable membership to a diet program and tell all your friends you’re going, you’re much more likely to attend the meetings and lose the weight. If you hire a writing coach, submit your manuscript to a publisher, and tell the world you’re writing a book, then people will be expecting to see a book. We don’t always need to set something on fire to create the sense of urgency and not-so-gentle nudge we often need to get out of our own way and take action.
Not only does that extra layer of accountability help light a fire in your belly, but people see that fire burning. Just like the Aztecs, people know when you are laser-focused and hell- bent on achieving your goal. Sometimes you have to make it impossible to stay still or to retreat in order to make the necessary—yet frightening—moves in your career. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to burn a bridge.
That was just a bit from the section of the book that focused on dealing with perfectionism. While pursuit of perfectionism can be a great thing in some circumstances, balance is key. Perfectionism disorder can be paralyzing. I hope her tips are helpful to you in overcoming perfectionism.
Overcoming perfectionism is a gradual process that involves changing your mindset and behaviors. Instead of aiming for perfection, set achievable and realistic goals. Break larger tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. Pay attention to negative thoughts and self-critical statements. Challenge them by asking yourself if they are based on facts or unrealistic expectations. Understand that nobody is perfect, and it’s okay to make mistakes. Embrace imperfections as opportunities for learning and growth. Be patient with yourself as you work towards a healthier mindset.