Why Do We Have the Need for Perfect?
You can’t get good at something if you don’t start.
Sounds pretty straightforward… right?
But we don’t do the THING - because we fear we won’t be good at it.
We don’t apply for the job because we don’t know if we can do the work.
We don’t write the book because “what if it's not any good?”
We don’t start the podcast - because what if no one likes it?
Well, you can’t get better at it if you don’t at least TRY.
In my work, I’ve seen so many people fail to start because they want everything to be perfect. They don’t start if they can’t see the gold medal at the finish line.
This is perfection. This is our NEED for control.
And it is keeping us STUCK.
I love talking about perfectionism, because the more we understand what it is, and how it shows up in our lives, the easier we can move past it!
I never thought of myself as a perfectionist. I don’t mind messy rooms, I don’t feel the need to have every hair in place on my head, and you can damn sure expect my emails to have spelling and grammatical errors. I just want my point to get across!
But after a podcast recording with a fellow momma, I realized that perfectionism isn’t what I THOUGHT it was - and it was showing up in my life.
I always thought perfectionism was someone who looked perfect, acted perfect, got perfect grades, and presented herself as that picture-perfect colleague, wife, and momma. You know she shows up at carpool on time, everyday makeup and hair ready, volunteers with the PTA, and manages to have a three-course meal on the dinner table while wearing her business suit.
I didn’t realize it could be ME - messy bun hair and all.
You see, perfectionism is about your need for control.
As kids, we think that if we get the perfect grades, we can control where we will be accepted into college, which turns into controlling our first job, our career, and our life (see how I spiraled there?) Yes, that is an INTENSE scenario, but it's TRUE.
Perfectionism is the need to create these perfect conditions so that we can control the outcome.
Yes, perfection is complicated - there are different degrees to perfectionism, ranging from harmless, like keeping a tidy desk or a color coordinated closet (yesssss I am guilty of that!) to toxic and debilitating, that if one thing isn’t perfect, it's all ruined.
Perfectionism is not the act of self-improvement or trying to be your best. It is a false belief that if we look perfect, act perfect, are perfect, we can avoid being uncomfortable, and we can avoid the judgment of others. It is a way to earn approval and validation from those we value.
When you expect perfection, you inevitably spiral down a path of anxiety, depression, and sometimes self-destruction.
So I come from a family of divorce - my parents split when I was a toddler, and for my entire life after that up until college, I lived in a split household. Looking back, my parents did a relatively good job maintaining peace between each other. I didn’t come from a household where there was constant negativity, gaslighting or parents talking negatively about each other - but let's be real, they were divorced. There were times of snide comments and criticism. And that criticism made me veeeery uncomfortable.
I think, that as a child, I wanted to control that, and the way that I COULD control that was to always make everyone happy. To get the good grades, to be the picture-perfect child. That if I looked perfect, acted perfect, WAS perfect - everyone would be happy. But as you all know, no one is perfect. No one. We all have our faults. And what that meant for me was to hide my faults. To put up the smoke and mirrors, so that I could portray this picture of perfect and of happiness. I think to some degree that followed me into adulthood.
I’m hoping you can see that this pattern- this pursuit of perfection that led me nowhere.
Because at the end of the day, I don’t have control over others. I can’t control how they act, how they feel, or how they respond to me. In reality, a perfect person isn’t going to takeaway any pain or hurt the other person is feeling. That is out of your control.
The good news is you CAN change this pattern of thinking by boosting your confidence and self-worth. If you start thinking “oh, this isn’t good enough, this isn’t perfect” you can STOP! Ya’ll- perfectionism is a HABIT and its one you can break. Here is what I want you to do.
I want you to have self-compassion for YOURSELF. Respond to these trash statements centered on forgiveness - Hey! It's OK that you made a mistake.
Create a mantra that works for you, that can center your thoughts - It could be as simple as “no one is perfect.” or “for me- where exercise meant 60 full minutes of full-on high intensity - it could be “Some is better than none” or “You are doing more than everyone sitting on the couch.”
You can also call up a memory where you DID knock it out of the park, even though something wasn’t perfect. You do amazing stuff ALL the time - anchor, yourself down on something positive!
Surround yourself with people who push forward DESPITE things not being perfect. You need these people in your life! They don’t have to be your spouse or best friend - but find them, and have them in your life. It's bound to rub off on you.
And if all else fails, I want you to think of me - pushing myself out of my comfort zone - and I want you to think “What would Erica do?” Ya’ll, I’m by no means perfect, but I AM TRYING. And that's all I need you to do. TRY. So if you are STUCK in perfectionism - if you feel that anxiety creeping in and you feel these guardrails go up around you - think about me. What would Erica do? (Fun Fact: The research shows that when you are OBJECTIVE and you think about someone else, it takes you out of the habit of talking to yourself the way you do.)
If you start by doing one of those 5 things, you can break the pattern of perfection! It isn’t going to happen overnight, and its not going to just one day click and make sense. Remember, these are patterns that we have put into place over YEARS and years.
You have likely heard or read about my struggle with perfectionism and how it shows up in my work out. I have this deep-rooted belief after years in the fitness industry, that how LONG I work out for and how HARD I work out for is mission critical. It derails me because if I can’t get in what I believe to be a good workout, I just don’t do it. We all know that is garbage. 15 minutes of walking is better than 15 minutes of sitting on the couch. But this is something I have to work on DAILY. I find myself coming up with reasons why I shouldn’t jump on the treadmill to walk for 15 minutes or why only stretching is “good enough” for today. And when I start going down that spiral, I go to the mantra: Some is better than none. Some is better than none.
Perfect does not exist.
Our conscious mind knows this - but now it's time to get our unconscious brain on the same track. And you can do that starting today. You can break the habit and you can change your thought pattern.
Change your thought pattern, you can change your life.
If you remember, I said perfectionism was all about this need for control, but we know now that perfectionism takes away the control we were striving for! Now you have the tools to fight against perfection, accept less than perfect, and to take help you take messy imperfection action.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and take back control by taking messy action!