Little Life Hacks: Perfectionism

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I'm not sure when it started, but I've had this lifelong situation that began small, I'm sure, and then grew!  While I've encouraged it to become a friend, some days it is not.  You may ask who or what this friend is.  It's a little thing called perfectionism.  It can make life a bit more challenging to meet goals, get things done in an orderly fashion (like writing this article) and being our best selves.  

Does this sound familiar? Are you wondering if you have it? Some of us could be in denial. A sure way to really know is to ask your friends or family. They’ll be the first to know. See if you recognize any of these symptoms.

• Do you have difficulty showing someone an article you’ve written or an assignment for work if it’s not your best?
• If there is a task at home, do you get upset if someone doesn’t perform it the way you would?
• Do you get upset if you can’t figure out something or avoid difficult tasks because you feel uncertain?

I’m a recovering perfectionist….at least I try to be as I re-read this article to make sure everything looks as I want it. Through the years of teaching mindfulness, I realize I’m not the only one. A major reason many take my mindfulness classes or courses revolves around the fact that they feel the stress of society to be the best at work, family and more. Because there is only so much time in the day, they’re stressing themselves out. In fact, I had a friend years ago who wanted a promotion. She was working overtime to make this happen. She was also a PTA parent and sat on the committees for many of her children’s organizations. Instead of buying something in the store for her kid’s class parties, she would go home and cook something until midnight. This was leaving her exhausted, not enjoying life and she realized that she simply wasn’t present. It wasn’t until she had a fender bender from lack of focus that she decided to get off the treadmill of life. That’s when she realized she couldn’t do it all and perhaps mindfulness could help.

She started simple breathing practices and began to recognize how her body was feeling, how her breath was flowing and made time to slow down. After two months of dedication (this is when perfectionism comes in handy), she was a new person. Her kids commented that she no longer overreacts to things such as spilling a drink or not putting away the dishes.  They also told her, in a loving way, that she isn’t grumpy. When she’s somewhere such as her kid’s soccer game, she is truly there and leaves her phone in her purse. She doesn’t bring work to games and realized that purchasing healthy food options instead of cooking her own for school parties saved her time and energy.

Adults aren’t the only who feel the stress. Children are also feeling the pressure of society to be the very best. Yes, we should try to be the best version of us but we shouldn’t sacrifice ourselves in the process. Many kids fall into the trap of perfectionism, making straight As and putting pressure on themselves for varied reasons. Social media comparisons don't help.  While there are pressures of life, some of us can simply be wired that way.  The beauty of this is we can also re-wire our way of thinking. Sometimes the best thing for a perfectionist is to get a B on a test or realize they are excellent at everything they do and that’s okay. The world doesn’t crumble and this experience can be an insightful moment.

When we’re rooted in perfectionism, we miss out on life. We think about future activities (our to-do list) and/or we ruminate on how we could have done something in the past differently. We miss the present moment and can miss out on making memories. If we continue down this path, we may find that our growth to learn new methods is stunted. We may not be as open to other ways of achieving something because we believe we know best. We may also lack the ability to delegate a task to help someone else grow. It takes a great deal of energy to be perfect!

Here’s a helpful tip that has worked for myself and many others. The next time you’re working with someone, avoid sharing your ideas and let them go first (work and at home). Be open to their approach. If they are new to a task, listen to their ideas and share your own without dominating. Work together to find the best method. This can be an excellent teaching moment for all. You provide growth and mentoring to them and for yourself.

If you are a perfectionist, recognize and admit it. You’ll be glad that you did. Be present, mindful. Check in with your breath and your body. Is your breathing calm? Is your body tense? Recognize what’s happening and take a deep breath.  Try this Breathing Lesson audio or another mindfulness experience

Another way to practice mindfulness is to prioritize what’s important to you. Take time for yourself daily. Whether it’s sitting in stillness, meditating, taking a mindful walk in nature (without earbuds, phones or distractions) or doing something you love like cooking, drawing or reading. Have fun and be in the moment. Let go of the belief that your soufflé should taste a certain way or your art should look like Picasso. Let it go and simply enjoy. Do something new...something you're not sure if you'd be good at. Embrace whatever happens. Know that by taking care of yourself, you also take care of the others around you. Believe me, they will recognize your efforts when you’re calmer, less reactive and happier. Be in the moment…moment by moment….breath by breath and live life!

Be in the moment…moment by moment….breath by breath and live life! Click To Tweet
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About Author

Celeste Cooper-Peel, ND, MA, MCHES, CWHC, E-RYT

Wellness & Fitness Manager

Celeste has been in the science, health and wellness field over twenty-five years. She began as a research chemist with a concentration in genetics and nutritional biochemistry. After working in the medical field, she saw the need to follow a path of proactive wellness and prevention. After receiving her Masters in Health Education, she ventured into the mind/body world receiving training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Yoga. Shortly after, she received the 2003 Wellness in the Workplace Award for a large health system in the state of Virginia. In 2004, Celeste joined SAS Institute, Inc. and continues to be passionate in her position overseeing Wellness. She believes curiosity and collaboration bring insight and new ideas which bring out the best in everyone from team members to those who are making healthy lifestyle changes. Believing that the body knows how to heal if given the proper tools, Celeste earned certifications in Aromatherapy and Essential Oils, Classical Chinese Medicine and Homeopathic & Naturopathic Medicine. She earned her Doctor of Naturopathy degree in 2020. Celeste is a published author, wife and mother and practices what she preaches and teaches. She is a nationally recognized Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) and has advanced certificates in Integrative and Functional Nutrition, Genetics and Genomics. She is an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) with the National Yoga Alliance, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Instructor, Certified Wellness and Health Coach (CWHC) and Certified Yoga Therapist (CYT). Follow @ccooperpeel on Twitter and Instagram.

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