Health Tools for life improvement

Prison break for perfectionists – a first aid guide

prison break

Have you ever experienced that your ambition to do a really good job actually becomes a problem, since your fear for making mistakes forces you to spend much more time than people around you for the same task – or even blocks you from making decisions or taking action?  If so, you are far from alone.

I sincerely believe that perfectionism is one of the most common reasons for people to be stuck and unsatisfied, and that it causes depressions, burn-outs, and a lot of other health problems, effectively preventing a lot of people from living fulfilling lives. (if you´re not sure wheter you´re a perfectionist, first turn over to “Are you stuck in perfectionism prison? (Most people who are doesn´t even know)”)

Today I consider myself a recovering perfectionist. I wouldn´t say I´m totally free from the problem, but I´m slowly learning how to handle it. Actually I believe most of the things we carry within us since childhood – like being shy, or being a perfectionist – will always be there in some way – but, like with diabetes (or alcoholism),  we can learn how to live with it so it doesn´t affect our life quality too much.

My brain still runs amok from time to time, creating impossible visions of “perfect” results made in no time – and telling me that this is the only thing that counts, that if I cannot make XXX (whatever the vision is about) perfect (meaning “best-ever-in-the-world–standard”) I´m a total failure. But today, compared with some years ago, this doesn´t throw me into a black hole of hopelessnes and paralyzation. I do get affected, but usually I remember to remind myself that it always is better to do something than nothing, even if it´s just a little part of the long term goal, and that no one can do everything.

I still have piles of undone stuff. I still have days when it feels like I didn´t manage to move one bit closer towards my goals. But most of the time I feel ok, and most of the days I do get something done from the list. My home is in a totally decent state most of the time, even though I have a small child making his best to create a mess every day, I´ve even learned to do certain things with a deadline before it´s a total emergency.  I cannot remember when I was in that deep hole of hopelessness the last time.  For me, this means an immense improvement of life quality, and I will try to list the most powerful strategies I have found to bring me here:

  1. Accept that you will never be able to do everything on your list. In 10 minutes you can create a to-do-list that would need a life time or more to check off. When your mind runs off creating impossible fantasies, try to remind yourself that these dreams would be possible only if you could do magic.
  2. It´s better to do something than nothing, by many reasons: When you achieve something, even if it´s a small thing like washing the dishes after breakfast, it moves you in the right direction, and you should always try to remember to give yourself credit for that. (My old thinking could tell me it was no use washing those dishes, since the kitchen was in such a mess anyway, and if I still did it I wouldn´t give myself credit for what I´d done but just point out all the other things that I still didn´t do. And since the list of undone things is always endless (see nr1.) I would never allow myself to feel satisfied. ) When I instead give myself credit even for that really small and easy thing, I feel proud and get a boost of energy. This energy often turns into inspiration, making me do a few more things on the list, giving me MORE energy, making me do even more things… alas starting a positive spiral.
  3. It´s ok to do something “half-baked”: Try starting to look at what you do more as sketches or prototypes. When you write a text, or put up a picture on the wall, or put things into a cupboard after moving to a new place, it doesn´t have to be perfect the first try. You might not be able to “think out” the best way in advance, but doing SOMETHING instead of just thinking about it will help you to try things out. And what usually happens is that it turns out to be good enough.
  4. Things usually don´t take as long as you think. When you do something you´ve been procrastinating, try to check how long it actually takes. Very often, the result is quite intimidating… Some things, like putting something away, usually not takes more than a minute, often less! But you might have been thinking about doing it every time you saw it for 3 months! Imagine how much time (and energy) you´ve spent trying to find the “perfect” time to put it away…
  5. You don´t have to do everything at the same time. This can be applied to everything from cleaning the house to writing a book. Many small steps are what lead to a result. With my old thinking, cleaning the house would be a one day project. It´s not so often you want to spend the whole day cleaning, so usually I postponed it until my home had turned into a health hazard.  Today I live in a three floor house with a small child. I have cleaning equipment on each floor, so I can do a little at the time when I get an impulse. One day I clean the bathroom while in there anyway for taking a shower. The next day I clean the floor in the bedroom, the next day it might be the kitchen floor that’s on turn. I usually don’t spend more than 10 minutes on a task, and usually not do more than two task a day, but the house is decently clean all the time. The same way I´ve started to write a book, a few minutes at the time when I get an impulse. I´m so far only in the beginning, but feel convinced this is how I will get it done, and not by putting myself isolated in a cottage for half a year.
  6. Sometimes, the best way to get going is to decide not to do anything at all. This might sound awkward but if you on times when you feel tired and uninspired give yourself permission to rest you will recover much faster – and since most of us also have an obnoxious childwithin us, it´s very possible   you will start doing a lot of things in spite of your decision. And everything achieved will be a bonus!

Over to you: What´s your best strategies to get around perfectionism? (Now, please don´t let some perfectionism thinking stop you from sharing your advice with the rest of us 😉 )

4 Comments

  1. Dear Ann-Sofi, so much of what you have written sounds too familiar… 🙂 There are so many unfinished or even unstarted projects in my life, that I often wonder if I will ever be able to start or finish any of them. Reading your wonderful article made me feel like it is possible and made me feel very motivated to start some of those tasks and projects in small steps at a time. Thank you for that! Best regards, Natasha

  2. Wonderful to hear you got some inspiration, Natasha! Wish you good luck with those small steps!(btw. I just remembered one of the best tools, that I forgot to mention above: To set a timer. Like, I will deal with those papers for 15 minutes, or clean the house for one hour. If you have any competition instinct this can make you do wonders;) (and if not, at least it will make it easier to start, when you know that you can finish after a certain time and not after recieving a certain quality level))

  3. I think I’ve been stuck in a perfectionism rut for years now. I never considered that I was a perfectionist but when I think about it now it’s obvious. I continually wait til the very last minute and produce passable work, but when I have time to do it right, I get paralyzed and either reading the newspaper or social media for hours or play video games. The longer I do these the more of a failure I feel like. Thanks for this info. I will try to put some of these tips into practice.

    • Hi Dustin, thankyou for sharing your experience! Glad to hear you found the article helpful, would be curious to hear if any of the tips have been working for you ?

      (so sorry for my late answer, somehow I missed it before – but better late than never, right 😉 )

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