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5 ways to overcome perfectionism

Main image: spiritual and corporate leader Sheila Vijeyarasa. Image by Gina Bugs.

Sheila Vijeyarasa is an intuition expert, transformational coach, and author of Brave: Courageously Living Your Truth. By combining her spiritual wisdom with executive leadership coaching she has empowered hundreds of women to transform their life by overcoming perfectionism. Here she talks with us about how to identify and take control of perfectionism.

Perfectionism is exhausting and it keeps us busy, very busy. It shows up as impossible goals, standards beyond reason and self-worth tied entirely to productivity, accomplishment and looking good.

Exhausted yet? Believe me, so was I. This was my life for a long time. Until I became brave enough to be imperfect. This took courage as the need to be perfect means that average or anything less than perfect feels like a failure.

Here is a list of insights I have gathered over the years:

1. Gain awareness that may be a perfectionist
When I work with clients, I ask them a series of questions to awaken them to the fact that they may be a perfectionist. This trait for so many people is in their blind spot. These are some of the questions that I ask: Do you always have to be the best at what you do? You can’t accept being second best?

Do you feel like you deserve punishment or criticism when you make a mistake? Do you feel that nothing you do is good enough? Is there a destination in the future where you feel you will be successful, happy and at peace? If you have answered ‘yes’ to these questions, can you see that you may be adopting a black and white thinking to your life. You may be doing life with a perfectionist mindset.

2. Understanding where your perfectionism started
We are not born perfectionists. When we understand where our perfectionism started, we can identify a recurring pattern from that initial point. In identifying patterns that don’t serve us, we stand to break them. Most of the time our perfectionism begins in our childhood. We were taught that love is measured to standards and is not unconditional. You may have a memory where you did not meet this standard and had an experience of being shamed.

Praise may have been rare or non-existent as a child, whilst the expectations of accomplishment were very high. It is useful to identify early childhood moments where you may have had these experiences and to describe them in detail in a journal. Journal writing allows for a clear perspective and honest reflection.

3. Acknowledge that breaking up with perfection is difficult
Overcoming perfectionism can feel impossible at times. Workaholism – an expression of perfectionism – is an addiction that too often we are rewarded for. As a perfectionist, you get a lot of positive feedback. You receive validation, job promotions and sparkly new titles. There is zero motivation to overcome a way of being, that society places a great value on.

Another courageous truth is that perfectionism may have served you as you may be highly successful. This has given you great validation and lifts your self-esteem. Due to these factors, perfectionism is very difficult to overcome on your own. Fundamentally, you believe that if you let go of your exceptionally high standards, that your life is going to fall apart. So have compassion for yourself that this trait is a challenging one to overcome.

4. Understanding the negative impact breaks the cycle
When I work with clients, the breakthrough moment is when they discover that the cost of their perfectionism far outweighs the benefits. Perfectionism can be highly anti-social, as we are critical of people who do not meet our high standards. And when we are always comparing ourselves to others, it is hard to form truly close and vulnerable relationships. Perfectionism produces rigidity at work.

Whilst your work may be a high standard, it may be a common experience that your staff and colleagues around you will not, ‘feel’ good enough. There is a silent inner voice that is ‘heard’ and ‘felt’ by those around you. Perfectionists often procrastinate and there is a real loss of productivity. Finally, the body does keep score of our mental thoughts. We quite often find that we are burnt out, experience adrenal fatigue and exhaustion.

I request that my clients become very aware as to how big the costs are to them. How much longer are they willing to experience the increasing negative effects of perfectionism? Another journal writing exercise is to write an exhaustive list of all the negative impacts that perfectionism is having on your life.

… and one very important final insight.

5. Failure can wake us up
When life decides it has had enough of our perfectionism, it conspires to free us from it by letting us fail. If we do not awaken to our perfectionism, I have witnessed that the universe will help us to awaken to it. Can we let the disintegrating marriage, the redundancy, the start-up failure, bring us to our knees?

All these “failures”  teach us a much-needed life lesson, that it’s okay to fail. That we do survive. If we harness the learnings, we actually thrive on the other side of this challenging experience. Most importantly, the back of our perfectionism can be broken. As our worst fears have not come true. That we are loveable, accepted with the perceived imperfections in our life.

When we lower an impossible bar, even just a little, we actually create the space for energy and vitality. It is only then that we give ourselves the chance to grow into what we are truly destined to be.

And that is the now on-purpose versions of ourselves! What this creates, is a new liberated mindset to make brave decisions in our life and to give ourselves the freedom to live our lives authentically.

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