Dear Perfectionists, a Note to Offer Hope and Direction for Your Striving

Dear Perfectionists,
Oh friend, how well I feel I know you, we are in fact, kindred souls. Can you imagine the kind of life we would all experience if everyone committed just a bit more to excellence? What a gift you are to those around you who reap the many benefits of your unyielding insistence on growing skills, talents, and labor! I could sing of the benefits of perfectionistic traits for pages! However, I suspect there is no need for that since it is in this looped list of benefits and desired outcomes that we find the source of such relentless striving.
In this note to you, friend, I urge you to shift the focus from your self-imposed obligations to excellence to a deeper understanding of the actual cost of these deep-rooted personal vows. The commitment to excellence is likely productive; this value is not actually on the cutting board when committing to make a change, a change to intentionally step out of this extreme and impossible thought pattern. The damage is done in the ridged, “all” or “nothing” perspective that leaves you all too often dissatisfied or worse. “All” becomes expected and unfulfilling, and the “nothing” leaves you feeling like a failure. The wake of a self-identified “fail” raises the stakes of the next unhealthy thought cycle that will inevitably strengthen your damaged perceptions of your own self-worth. Why are you so ruthless in your thoughts towards yourself? Take that beautiful focus and drive, and shift it towards productive thoughts and accurate beliefs. Challenge yourself to make a habit out of separating self-worth from performance by considering the following:

  1. If productivity is important, remember that productivity is not simply a metric of tangible outcomes. Are your current thought patterns moving you in a positive or negative direction?
  2. Decipher facts from assumptions. (Get some insight from trusted friends or specialist. Our thoughts cannot always be trusted so this can be more difficult than it sounds!)
  3. Avoid unconditional terms such as “always,” “nothing,” and even “or.” Catch the use of these words even in your spoken words and thought life, and challenge them for accuracy.
  4. Recognize your black and white thinking and realize that there is usually a gray area. Most situations have simultaneous pros and cons, and learning and growth can happen in both places. Seek help when needed seeing multiple sides of a situation.
  5. Make a quick plan for the “worst case.” Try to conceptualize the actual magnitude of this real risk and plan a few steps out. Fear can be diminished when it is recognized as such, and you are armed with a plan.

Our thoughts are in fact, powerful things. You are too valuable to let them run wild and unchecked! The process and practice can be exhausting, but the end goal is quite simple, love yourself without contingencies.

Signed, your fellow work in progress,
Dr. Flatt