If you find it hard to enjoy your achievements, be they big or small, you might be struggling with perfectionism. Perfectionism makes it impossible to love and accept yourself for whom you are and what you do with confidence. That is because perfectionist attitudes, rules and assumptions take everything a step further. “Big” becomes “bigger” and “good” becomes “better”. The language of perfectionism is never satisfied with the present, but it revolves around past – and often idealistic – future experience. Thoughts such as “if I had done it better, that wouldn’t have happened”, “I’ve done it better before” or “I need to get it absolutely right next time” take the power away from the here and now. You become obsessed with results, like a hamster on a wheel or a greyhound chasing a fake rabbit around a racetrack, focused but slightly delusional.
Perfectionism has the potential to kill the little pleasures that make life worth living. That beautiful moment of lying in bed after having just changed the sheets, while enjoying their fresh smell, can be ruined by the thought of “Designer sheets are much softer”. Perfectionism also makes your efforts seem pointless. After realising you have managed to meditate successfully for 15 minutes, you feel a little pride building up. Then, the thought “If I had managed it for 30 minutes, I would be feeling much more relaxed” comes racing through and completely changes your mood. Perfectionism makes you feel as if you were in a constant battle against yourself and the world around you. A moment of joy becomes something unattainable.
Feeling good and fulfilled in life also relies greatly on your ability to have a good relationship with yourself. A perfectionist attitude, however, hinders that process. That is because perfectionist thinking and self-criticism are partners in crime when it comes to murdering one’s self-esteem. Perfectionism does not only make you second-guess yourself, but it fuels self-denigration. Under its spell, you may easily find yourself stuck in a fault-finding cycle that only ends when you feel completely taken by guilt, shame and/or anxiety. Perfectionism threatens your mental health and is at the core of problems such as depression, eating disorders and low self-esteem. Contrary to popular belief, perfectionism does not lead you down the path to success and happiness, but it makes you weak and miserable, as if you had lost your own sense of self and self-direction.
To put an end to perfectionism, start actively monitoring and challenging your own negative thoughts. If you need help with that, I highly recommend starting a Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thoughts to identify and target them effectively. After challenging automatic thoughts with a DRDT for a reasonable period, try doing it without the help of a piece of paper, but mentally or even orally if you are in a private environment. Create the cognitive habit of being very suspicious of thoughts that seem to try to convince you that who you are, what you do or achieve is not good enough. Quiet the voice of your perfectionist gremlin by introducing a compassionate attitude towards yourself, as if you were your own best friend. Forgive and praise yourself, always recognising the value of your efforts in the here and now. Learn how to live in the present and for, not against yourself.