We hear it from the time we are little.
“Practice makes perfect.”
Or course, moments later, we are reminded that no one is perfect.
After being fed a bunch of conflicting information about perfection, it is no wonder that we become adults who can’t seem to win the perfectionism battle.
The topic of perfectionism comes up a lot with mothers and why shouldn’t it? We are all trying to do all the things and be all the things for everyone else and ourselves. We want to do it right and do it well. Actually, not well. Perfect.
The problem is that, as the old saying above goes, no one is perfect. So like chasing an imaginary unicorn that doesn’t exist, we spend our lives following the illusion that if we just try hard enough, work long enough or do more, we’ll be closer to perfect.
Pshh. It ain’t never gonna happen and the sooner we realize it, the sooner we can move on with our fabulously imperfect lives.
The problem is that perfectionism comes in many shapes, colors and sizes and does not always show up as the type-A, OCD-style mom that we are used to. Perfectionism is sneaky and shows up cloaked in other robes, making us believe she isn’t there. But that sneaky bitch always manages to find a way in and does some serious damage while she is there.
As a coach and strategist for moms, I have seen that the most prevalent way that perfectionism shows up for mothers is in the form of procrastination.
I know you are probably thinking, “But how is being lazy at all similar to wanting to be perfect.”
Procrastination rarely has anything to do with being lazy and everything to do with the paralysis that occurs when we are too worried about having things done perfectly to even begin.
Here are some ways perfectionism may be showing up as procrastination for you.
1. You won’t start unless you know you can finish the entire project, meaning you won’t ever start because you’ve convinced yourself that you’ll never be able to finish it.
2. You feel paralyzed before starting something new, even when you have all the plan laid out.
3. You constantly worry that it won’t be done right.
4. You refuse to delegate work to others, but still find yourself putting it off.
5. You set impossible deadlines that you know you won’t reach, thereby reinforcing your need to put it off until a later date.
Sound familiar? Well, I will raise my hand because I have experienced almost every single one of these as a mother, homemaker, business owner and just a person.
The desire to do and be perfect creates such havoc in our minds that our egos scream “JUST STOP. Don’t bother trying. You’ll never do it right. It won’t get done. You don’t know what you’re doing. It won’t look as good as someone else. You won’t be able to maintain it. Just forget about it.” And we listen, because usually, we don’t know any better.
When we are worried about making the wrong decision, we do nothing instead. When we worry that we won’t know how to do it right, we do nothing. When we aren’t exactly sure where to start, we do nothing.
Take redecorating your living room, for example. You look at it every day and would love nothing more than to repaint, get new furniture, plaster the walls with beautiful art work and photos and redo the floors. You’ve set aside a budget and know that you could send the kids away for a weekend to get it all done.
But you’re frozen. “What if I pick the wrong paint color? Or the couches don’t match the walls. Or they are uncomfortable? What if the floors scratch too easily, or the art work is outdated? What if I spend all this time redecorating and then I don’t like it? Or I can’t finish on time? What if I am left with a bigger mess, or I remember how bad I am at painting? What if I can’t find exactly what I want? You know what, I’ll just put it off.” And so you do. Your need to know every single detail and perfectly execute has now stopped you from performing a task you would love nothing more than to accomplish. Perfectionism came in dressed as procrastination and killed your dreams.
So where does perfectionism come from and how can we stop it?
Basically, perfectionism is neediness. Like the most obnoxious boyfriend you’ve ever had, who called or texted you 100 times a day wondering where you were, how you were doing, and why you hadn’t called him back, perfectionism nags at us constantly, telling us that the small victories we have acquired throughout the day aren’t good enough.
Rather than “Great job!” perfectionism’s motto is “But why isn’t it all done?”
It’s no wonder we all sit around on our proverbial (or, uh, literal) couches in our pajamas doing nothing when we’d love nothing more than to reach our fullest potential as mothers, women, partners and human beings.
It’s time we put a stop to it, once and for all.
1. Remember that done beats perfect every time. If you can get off that couch and just do something, you’ll see that the feeling of doneness trumps perfection each and every time. Because perfection will never exist, the feeling of accomplishment that comes with just doing one small thing will create the momentum to keep doing more small things which add up to big things.
2. Develop finite goals that you can give you quick wins. Why is it that we give kids a piece of candy or a sticker for just sitting on the potty even when they don’t actually do anything is said potty? Because the positive reinforcement of meeting even a small milestone creates the momentum to push forward. How effective do you think potty training would be if we said things like “Geez, Billy. Your first time on the potty and no poop? Why can’t you get this right?!” Develop small goals for yourself. Maybe organizing the entire house to look like a Martha Stewart catalogue is a bit lofty and daunting, so instead, set a goal to declutter the junk drawer in the kitchen.
3. Realize that mistakes are learning experiences. It is so cliché to say that there is no such thing as a mistake if you learn from it, but it’s true. That’s why clichés exist. Each time you fall off a bike is a learning experience. You learn how to hold your hands, steer and peddle. You get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. You know who you won’t learn how to ride a bike? By sitting around thinking about how perfectly you want to ride it right out of the gate. There are very few mistakes in this world that can’t be fixed or learned from. Dive in and learn to embrace mistakes for the glorious teachable moments that they are.
You may never be able to fully stop perfectionism from creeping into your life, but you can start by recognizing how reckless she is by causing chaos and keeping you paralyzed by procrastination. She'll keep showing up, like that friend you can't get rid of, but stand up for yourself and tell her she isn't welcome anymore. Tell her you've chosen a more honest friend, one who stands by you even when you make mistakes. Choose enoughness over perfection. She's more fun at parties anyway.
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