Does this sound familiar?
You have planned something, done it as well as you could, asked for feedback, changed a few things to make it just right, got some new feedback (this time all positive), made it that little bit better… and yet, you still find yourself wondering if it is good enough.
Does that resonate?
Maybe it’s an email you are sending.
Or it can be something at work.
It can even be something like choosing the new colour for your living room!
When I used to go to interviews, “I’m a bit too much of a perfectionist” used to be my stock answer to the unmissable question “Are there any areas that you need to improve?”
Admitting to perfectionism was a safe answer because being a perfectionist meant that I always did the very best that I could. And that, occasionally, I could get a little bit carried away on refining my work.
That’s all well and good but it turns out that perfectionism isn’t as innocent as it sounds.
Underneath the need to be perfect (and what is perfect by the way?!) there usually is a fear of not being good enough.
What if it’s not good enough?
There is a fear that if what we do isn’t good enough, it means we are not good enough and it then follows that we are at risk of being rejected.
As human beings we have an intrinsic need to be accepted, liked and seen as a valued member of society.
As a result, we may restrict what we do.
We don’t go for the new job.
We don’t approach the partner of our dreams.
We are scared to stand out and be ourselves for fear of being judged.
“Your playing small
Does not serve the world.”
Taken from Our Deepest Fear by Marianne Williamson
What can we do to stop giving in to the perfectionism and the fear behind it?
We need to take imperfect action…
It sounded seriously scary to me the first time I came across that concept. Something like “What do you mean imperfect action!? What if it doesn’t work? What will people think? I’m going to make a fool of myself. I have to make sure it’s right first!”
I have come to realise that imperfect action is the only way to do anything.
There is no such thing as perfection. What might seem perfect to you may not be perfect to somebody else.
The only thing you can do is be yourself and accept that there will be times when things don’t go as planned.
It doesn’t mean that you have failed.
It is only a sign that you need to redirect, to change something and to try again.
Everybody who has ever done anything valuable has failed a few times along the way!
And with its integration of body and mind, yoga can come to your rescue to help you come to terms with your perfectionism and start taking imperfect actions towards your goal, whatever that may be.
Try these at home
Anahata is the heart centre. It is the centre of love towards yourself and others. It is also linked to compassion.
By working with this breath and activating this centre, you are cultivating love and acceptance for yourself as you are, regardless of the results of whatever action you put out into the world.
And by developing this self-acceptance, you will find it easier to take risks and to make decisions and take imperfect actions in the knowledge that you are loved and that the fruit of your actions doesn’t have any impact of your loveability.
Sitting or standing, have your arms open at the level of your heart with the elbows soft and the palms turned towards you (as if you were holding a huge beach ball between your arms just in front of your heart).
As you breathe in, take the hands in towards your chest. As you breathe out, turn the palms away from you and gently push the hands away from you.
Examples of affirmations: “I love and accept myself.” “I am enough.”
Peace pose (aka standing forward bend)
The forward bend is amazing at calming your mind. It can help you let go of the worries and fears that feed the perfectionism.
Start in your mountain pose and place your palms on your thighs. As you breathe out, engage your core muscles.
Breathe in to lengthen the spine.
On your next outbreath, start bending forward from the hips as you slide the hands down your thighs. Pause when your back is parallel to the floor and your hands around the level of your knees.
Breathe in again to lengthen the spine and as you next breathe out, fold completely forward into your full forward bend.
Stay there for a few breaths. You may want to visualise that, with each outbreath, you are letting go of all your fears and worries.
Affirmation: “I let go of the need to be perfect.” “I release my fear of what people may think.”
Sometimes we just take things far too seriously and aiming at being perfect stops us from taking any action at all.
Another way of dealing with perfectionism, and the weight of responsibilities that it involves, is to shrug it off.
You’re not shrugging your responsibilities or your goals away, just that heavy need to be perfect.
So, next time that you feel yourself being paralysed by the fear of getting something not just right, shrug it off.
Breathe in as you shrug your shoulders up towards your ears. As you breathe out, release the shoulders fully by completely letting them go. Repeat that a couple of times.
Then, breathe in again to shrug your shoulders, and this time, as you breathe out, release your shoulders slowly and with awareness.
As you do so, feel yourself letting go of that need to be perfect.