It can be challenging for us to think about how we may cause some of our own stress. Yes, that’s right, sometimes we can be our own worst enemy, creating stress by the way we think!
We are a generation of humans seeking perfection. We curate our feeds, follow beautiful images on Instagram, and share a version of ourselves that can be one-sided, the good-stuff, the high-light reel. It’s become second nature to photoshop, or take a quick 50 photos to find the one that is “just right”. At certain stages in life, this might not cause too many problems other than extra anxiety or pressure. But throw in a family or children, or an illness, and many people are forced to change – or to endure high levels of stress in the quest for perfection.
Brene Brown makes this point well. “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best.” And she is right. Even so, we regularly applaud perfect performances as the pinnacle of achievement, celebrated in sports, the classroom, the office, and everywhere else too. It’s deeply ingrained in our cultures and our systems.
Work is usually performance based. It makes sense that we strive hard – failing to perform well can lead to being overlooked for promotion, or even losing a job. Working hard gives us purpose, accomplishment,enjoyment. Until perfectionism sneaks in and adds stress. When we begin to consider our work as not good enough (when it is good enough for others) then we risk feeding the fears that can lead to burnout and other mental health problems.
The problem is that excellence is not the same as perfection. When we buy into perfectionism and the pressure to judge ourselves on tasks, joy seems to get lost. Perfectionism is a demanding master,stealing time and pleasure.
And despite being a hard taskmaster, perfection is never satisfied. No matter what you do, it could have been better.
And it’s not only in the workplace. Yes, it might be possible to have a ‘perfectly’ clean home when you share it with either no-one or another adult – but it’s not going to be possible once you have kids. And that beautiful Christmas tree on Pinterest you have in your mind? Leave it there in your mind – that photographer didn’t have children who were stealing, chewing or playing with shiny, breakable ornaments!
And that perfect relationship? – All relationships are imperfect.
Perhaps it is time to acknowledge more widely that the research suggests perfectionism is linked to anxiety and low mood. To accept that it can steal fun. Not just your own fun, but the fun from the people around you.
Watch what happens when words such as “should”,“must” or “need to” appear – either in your own thought processes, or in conversation with others.
Notice that they don’t add much to your day – other than pressure.
Perfectionism often shows up as unrelenting high standards. It’s not about setting goals and doing your best, but seems to stem from underlying fears of judgement by others. Fears that other people will be harsh, cruel critics. Good enough is never enough – and that means that every task becomes an opportunity for burn-out, for disappointment, for self-criticism.
If you are ready to embrace “good enough”, or “excellence” as a new framework, and to let go “perfection”, then let me share with you one of the simplest strategies I share in my work.
- Begin to notice your use of these following words: “should”,“must” or “need to”.
- Replace them with the word “could”.
- Pay attention to how it makes you feel to change your language.
- Recognise that you have a choice in how you act, and a choice in how you spend your time.
Choose happiness. Choose to be good enough. Choose wellbeing.
Dr Amanda Mullin is a Doctor of Clinical Psychology, and the Director of Mindworx Psychology, an award-winning Clinical Psychology and Executive Coaching Practice based in Sydney, Australia. With a family of her own, a stellar career, and her own set of hurdles to jump, Dr Amanda understands the challenges faced in avoiding burnout and the search for positive mental health.
Dr Amanda is the creator of the popular “Think Differently” program, with the big, fat,hairy, audacious goal to change lives for the better.
Think Differently is now being taught in schools and workplaces.
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