In Part One, I showed you the roots of perfectionism. The soil that it grows from and the people who plant the seeds. I also gave clear examples of how perfectionism is destructive to your health and happiness.
In Part Two, I want to explore solutions for healing perfectionism. Concrete stuff that you can implement immediately to free yourself from the prison of not living your authentic life. Understand, though, that healing perfectionism is a long and sometimes frustrating process. If you expect microwave-style success then you’re going to feel let down.
Are you ready? Here’s 5 steps for overcoming perfectionism…
Step 1: Explore your perfectionism
Most people see challenges, such as perfectionism, as “bad” aspects of them. They see the solution as “making the bad thing disappear.” But this is a destructive way of looking at the challenges you face.
There’s a reason that perfectionism has manifested in you. In Part One, I gave you an entire list of seeds to consider. When understood in context, perfectionism is not a “bad” thing, it’s the thing that saved you. It’s how you learned to survive and cope.
It’s important to explore perfectionism in this way. I recommend journaling specifically around your perfectionism and the things you experienced that may have led to your perfectionist behavior. Do this with the intention of reconnecting-with and validating any wounded parts of you.
Once that is done, ask yourself what perfectionism serves to do in your life now? You survived the past. You have full autonomy over your present. Do you still need perfectionism to survive? Or is it far more destructive than helpful at this point?
Step 2: Put Your Authentic Self in the Driver’s Seat
Ideal outcomes are great things. There’s nothing wrong with having big goals and working hard to achieve them. The problem occurs when you attach your worth to ideal outcomes.
It would be ideal to always align your behavior with your good intentions when it comes to healthy eating, but it’s not always possible. And sometimes you just want to relax and eat some ice cream. These moments don’t make you a failure. They don’t make you a bad person. They don’t mean you’ve fallen short.
It’s not the ice cream that’s the problem in this scenario, it’s your attachment to your Ideal Self. Your Ideal Self should be seen as a living, breathing part of you. It’s the part of you that drives “I should…” statements. It’s the part of you that drives negative self-talk. It’s a manipulator.
Where your Authentic Self is the real you and drives authentic behavior, the Ideal Self is the perfect version of you that creates standards and expectations that your Authentic Self can’t possibly live up to. Ever. Not in a million years.
If the Ideal Self is allowed to get out of hand, it can actually manufacture another sub-self called “The Reviled Self” which then joins the competition for the driver’s seat of your mind and has its own unique consequences.
The Ideal Self and the Reviled Self are both highly susceptible to something called the “Just World Fallacy,” which I also call the “Hollywood Fallacy.”
The Just World Fallacy says that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people because we live in a just world. I call it the Hollywood Fallacy because this is how 99.9% of Hollywood movies end (which further drives this programming in people).
The truth is that bad things happen to good people all the time and good things happen to bad people all the time. And vice versa. It’s not all bad. And it’s not all good.
Sometimes people “get what they deserve” and sometimes they don’t. There’s no fate. There are no “shoulds.” There is no pre-determined outcome.
The Ideal Self and the Reviled Self easily feed off the Just World Fallacy because it’s an amazingly convenient justification and an even better distraction (the main job of a sub-personality is to distract you from the pain and uncomfortable nature of the Real World).
“I should be rich and famous because I follow the rules and I’m a good person.”
“How did I get cancer? Why don’t the bad guys of the world get cancer instead of me? I should be healthy.”
“I must be inherently bad/stupid/unworthy/ugly because bad things keep happening to me (now I can stop trying and wallow in my nothingness).”
Makes sense. And it’s total nonsense. This is called “The Oppression of Shoulds” because this thinking is psychological tyranny. The level of disempowerment and victimhood that this thinking drives is often insurmountable. It drives debilitating depression, anxiety, and disordered eating.
By putting your Authentic Self back in the driver’s seat, you will end shame, guilt, negative self-talk, toxic beliefs, and so on. It’s a huge step toward healing.
Step 3: Practice Big Picture Thinking
Every little thing is not the end of the world. You know this in your head, but if you’re a perfectionist you have trouble feeling it and accepting it.
Going back to the ice cream scenario, it’s helpful to understand that a bowl of ice cream a week is not going to derail you from reaching your goals. That’s a Big Picture fact.
I often talk about treating your body and life like a health bank account. Living a rich life isn’t about being perfect, it’s about making more deposits (healthy behaviors) than withdrawals (subtractive behaviors) and staying out of debt (pretend or borrowed success).
This requires work though, especially when it comes to food. You can’t just say you’re going to live a life of moderation. Moderation is the prize you win, not the weapon you wield. It’s not a tool, it’s an ability. It’s a skill that you have to work to develop.
Big Picture thinkers don’t care that the ship is rocking side to side while being battered by the waves. They continue to navigate. Challenges and setbacks don’t consume them. They pour their energy into things they can change rather than wasting time worrying about things they have no influence over. They see obstacles as the path to success. This mindset makes them impervious to failure.
Step 4: Gut-Check The Perfectionist Part of You
It’s helpful to have tools you can use on a day to day basis. I’m going to give you three of them right now. They’re questions to be asked when you feel yourself being consumed by perfectionism. They’re meant to gut-check that perfectionist part of you.
Question #1 — “Will this matter a year from now?”
If the answer is “no,” then it doesn’t require perfection and it certainly doesn’t require manic stress or obsession. If you answer “no,” dial yourself back.
A year from now, will it matter that I enjoyed this bowl of ice cream with my friends on this warm Summer night? Hell no. Then dial back the stress!
A year from now, will it matter that a slide was missing from your presentation? No? Then take a deep breath and let it go.
If it will matter a year from now, will it matter five years from now? How about ten? This is also great practice for developing Big Picture thinking.
Question #2 — “Who cares? What’s the worst that will happen?”
Who or what are you wanting to be perfect for? Perfectionists usually answer, “I care!” But when you dive deeper, they only care because they think their boss cares. Or because they think their spouse cares. Or because they think their friends care. They’re approval-seeking. Love-seeking. Acceptance-seeking. Asking this question helps you identify who you’re trying to please or what you’re trying to attract.
The second part of this, “What’s the worst that will happen?” is designed to help you tell the truth about the situation. Will my spouse stop loving me if I don’t do this perfectly? Will my boss fire me? Will someone laugh at me? What’s (really) the worst that could happen here? And even if that does happen, can I survive it?
Question #3 — “Who is driving right now?”
The more your Authentic Self is in the driver’s seat, the happier and more stable you’re going to be. If the Ideal Self (the perfectionist) or the Reviled Self (shame/guilt) are in the driver’s seat, you’re likely to crash and burn.
Bring this to the forefront of your awareness by asking the question, “Who is driving right now?” Who is in control? Who is making decisions? Is it me, authentically? Or is it a part of me that’s trying to meet its own needs without regard for the rest of me?
If you answer anything other than, “My authentic self,” it’s time to take a step back and regroup.
Step 5: Celebrate Every Win
One of the worst aspects of perfectionism is what I call Success Amnesia. It’s the magnificent ability of perfectionists to overlook every single win they’ve ever had, choosing only to focus on what has gone wrong or what has fallen short of the mark.
They can nourish their body with amazing real food day in and day out for a week, prioritize sleep, and collect hours of functional movement, yet a bowl of ice cream with friends can lead to overwhelming guilt and despair to the point that they quit. Completely.
What? What the fuck just happened?
You have to deliberately counter this by celebrating every win. Any time your Ideal Self steps up and tries to highlight the negative, you have to redirect to the positive. Stop focusing on what went wrong and start focusing on what went right. Not only will you avoid self-imposed shame and guilt, you’ll attract more positive outcomes.
Continue the Discussion…
The comments section is open if you want to share about your own perfectionism, ask questions, or chime in on what others are saying. If you found this series valuable, share it with someone who you think can benefit.
Kevin Geary is the founder of RebootedBody.com and a respected expert on cravings, eating psychology, and long-term habit change. He’s helped tens of thousands of men and women in over 35 countries around the world through his online academy and now offers all of his signature programs through a “pay what you want” model.