Breaking Free From the Perfectionist Mindset
Updated: Jan 17
Some clients come to me and want immediate results. They come in thinking that coaching will finally “fix” things overnight. When I slow them down and I talk about the reality of how transformation doesn’t typically happen in 2 sessions – that we need to implement systems that will bring about real change in behavior that causes breakthroughs and results – they sometimes balk and leave. The truth is they want a fairy godmother, not a coach.
I don’t blame them. We all want immediate results. I have felt that way about my own life at one point or another. Who doesn’t want to be on the magic track to love, weight-loss, fitness, success, money, inner peace, enlightenment, etc. Shit, if I could, I would be on that long ass line to the Disney FastPass track to everything, too. But that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
For a lot of years, I lived inside a magical-thinking, b/w, all or nothing, perfectionist mindset that strangled a lot of the joy and satisfaction from my day-to-day experience. In that mindset I was either looking for proof of my specialness and perfection (in my relationships, at work, in life, etc.), or I felt like the biggest piece of shit that ever walked the face of the earth. Every day I would work compulsively and addictively towards unattainable perfectionist goals, measuring my self-worth by my productivity and accomplishments. But all I ever managed to do was set myself up for disappointment over and over because I was trying to prove something that didn’t need proving; my fundamental worthiness.
The irony is, when I was entrenched in that mindset, I rarely made real progress. Sure, I had successes but I was being driven by my hungry ghost1 of perfection, so my experience of worthiness was always fleeting and temporary, so a lot of times I would end up giving up out of shame and frustration.
I will say this; my perfectionist mindset was really good at helping me achieve one thing. It helped me avoid the pain, the suffering, and the almost unbearable vulnerability of being a regular, fallible human being. There is a high in trying to achieve specialness and perfection, temporary though that high always is. And that high was a great foil for dealing with the messy and uncomfortable grey in between the black and white; the ongoing humiliation and shame of what felt at the time like my everyday limitations and inadequacy.
Eventually, thank God, the high stopped working and I had to really deal with my shit and get to work.
There are no short cuts. Success is created in our small, every day acts. We build our lives, brick by brick, with behavior.
If we want to start making real changes in our lives, the kind that sticks, the thing to do is to start now and start small. Don’t get attached to the big grand vision. Do the small things and build from there. If you are someone who doesn’t make your bed every day, start there! Begin by making your bed every day. And then celebrate that achievement in your mind! Say “I did that! If I do nothing else today, I did that.” Acknowledge yourself. So many of us talk shit to ourselves and withhold our own praise and acknowledgement until we get to some imagined big movie denouement moment in our lives. That is cruel! That is stingy. That is all or nothing, B&W thinking and it’s killing the joy in our lives and making our paths to success impassable, uninhabitable, and soul-crushing.
That process – committing to a small act; doing the small act; celebrating/acknowledging the small act – is a major key to success. Do small things every day, acknowledge yourself for those small things, and build from there. We’re all courageous people doing really challenging things every day. Every single day. Don’t forget that.