Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How to Overcome Perfectionism (and actually enjoy life)

Last week we discussed the pitfalls of perfectionism, and there are many! The bottom line: perfectionism is not an effective way of being the best you can be; instead, it is an attempt to transcend feelings of shame and unworthiness, and it doesn't work.

In her best-selling book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes:
To overcome perfectionism, we need to be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities to universal experiences of shame, judgment, and blame; develop shame resilience; and practice self-compassion. When we become more loving and compassionate with ourselves and we begin to practice shame resilience, we can embrace our imperfections. It is in embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts: courage, compassion and connection.
Let's take a quick look at these three gifts.

  • Courage: As humans, we are extremely vulnerable, and if we've experienced a steady diet of judgment or criticism, we're more susceptible to wanting to protect ourselves or hide our weaknesses. Courage, however, is when we put our true selves out there, knowing that we might fail or others might not approve (and knowing that we can deal with this). Ironically, when we choose courage and personal authenticity over approval, we (and others) find us more lovable. 
  • Compassion: Cultivating compassion for self and others means that we understand we're all human and that we deserve kindness and the benefit of the doubt. This doesn't remove accountability, but instead replaces condemnation with respect and accountability. When we stop blaming ourselves, we stop needing to blame others.
  • Connection: When we're busy trying to be superhuman (or fighting that "never good enough" feeling), we disconnect from our true selves and other people, and we make ourselves less authentic and available for real connection. The truth is that we're all in this together and we're all imperfect. When we show up as real people, without hiding our "flaws," we attract other real people, and we get to experience the connection that we came into these bodies to experience. Face it, comparing ourselves to others and coming up "better than" or "worse than" is no way to live!  
For me, personally, it's also been of critical importance to realize that advertising and television images are not real. What looks like perfect ease, perfect self-confidence, perfect relationships, and perfect beauty are not realistic expectations or goals, and we set ourselves and our loved ones up for suffering when we demand those ideals in our lives. Also important is learning to "zoom out." Perfectionists suffer/cause suffering because they zoom in on what's "wrong" and fail to see the big picture.
Please join me here next week as we continue the work of overcoming perfectionism by exploring what Brown calls "shame resilience."

Thanks, and have an authentic, courageous, and compassionate week.