How to overcome perfectionism

"Perfectionism" has come up a lot recently in coaching conversations so I thought it'd be a good time to share some insights around it. 

One person said, "I hate doing things I'm not good at, and I dwell on mistakes I make, they're proof I'm not good I don't bother"

Another said, "If I don't keep on top of my studies then I end up avoiding it all together...because my revision wasn't perfect enough"

We talk about perfectionism as though it's 'a thing', or a condition, when really, it's just a set of beliefs that we hold on to but aren't useful. 

Like the two statements above - it's not useful to believe that we're not good enough just because we make a mistake, nor is it useful to think we should give up just because something wasn't done to the highest standard. 

So in both of these cases, I challenged the two people to consider why these old beliefs weren't useful or rational. Then I asked them to consider what would be a more useful perspective. In the first case, it was more useful to see mistakes as an opportunity to learn, rather than a sign of our value. 

In the second, we created the phrase 'doing is the new perfect' (like the phrase 'Thursdays are the new Fridays'), and in both situations these new perspectives made a massive difference. 

But there was one particular conversation that really stood out for me. It was someone who had got clear ideas on what he wanted for himself and his life, but he was demotivated and had given up trying. 

Through the conversation we uncovered his thoughts about why he'd given up his sport. He said "I used to be a lot fitter...and it's not easy to play anymore. It's supposed to just be easy and come naturally to me!" 


It's no wonder he wasn't motivated to act when he had this belief, in fact, he couldn't be expected to behave any differently when this was how he saw the world!

So we looked at where else this belief was showing up in his life. It turned out to be everywhere. As a child he had always been praised for the results he got, which at the time, he didn't need to work hard for. They just "came easy". So when the shit hit the fan and the desirable results weren't coming so easily anymore, he'd give up, because he just assumed he didn't have what it took. 

This is what's known as a 'fixed mindset' - focusing on results and expecting innate talent or ability to get you there, instead of realising that THIS RARELY WORKS. Results come from effort and practice.

I therefore told him to make the goal the effort, not the result. 

In other words:

Progress is the new perfect

Rather than focusing on the end goal, focus on the action. For example, instead of 'I want an amazing body', focus on 'I want to exercise 4 times per week' and 'I want to eat healthy food'. 

Or, instead of 'I want to get 90% on this exam', focus on 'I want to revise for an hour every day'. 

Have the actions be the desired result, and choose to feel accomplished by completing the actions instead of judging yourself for having not achieved the goal. 

And I promise you, the results you want will start to take care of themselves. 

Aimee TeesdaleComment