7 Action Habits of a Recovering Perfectionist

Photo by dan carlson on Unsplash

Living in the tension between sharing your heart and message with excellence and knowing when you’ve reached the best for that moment is a daily challenge for perfectionists.

You want people to know you care and that you’ve given your best. You hope people don’t judge or misunderstand you if you have to…

…leave your project or day job on time to be with your family instead of putting in overtime

…say no to someone you don’t want to disappoint

…send that email without proof-reading it for the 5th time

…share your story when you don’t feel prepared enough.

Transforming from perfectionist to recovering perfectionist to authentic, intentional freedom means dancing with that tension daily. The feelings of fear and uncertainty might not go away completely. They haven’t for me.

But the more I’ve recognized my values, accepted grace from God, myself and others, and practiced the dance with intentional choices… the easier it feels.

You’ll find your own rhythm of action habits so that you see progress. But if you need ideas, feel free to borrow ones that have helped me:

1. Schedule balance and self-care

You’ve heard these buzz words before. Frankly, I don’t find them as inspiring as the results they produce.

Your life is like a beautiful pond nestled in a meadow. It welcomes wildlife such as deer, muskrats, and songbirds. Willow trees, cattail reeds and pond lilies draw life from it. Its vibrancy flourishes from a stream that flows into the pond, shares its oxygen and energy and meanders back out towards the woods beyond. Without the stream flowing in and out, the pond would become stagnant with algae and silence.

Perfectionism can easily transform your life into stagnancy of fear, shame and guilt. Scheduling balance and self-care means placing rhythms of input and output, responsibility and delight in your life so that you thrive with replenished energy to give, help and lead.

Where do you need to schedule replenishing rhythms the most?
In your meals and exercise? Relationships? Strengths vs weaknesses? Giving and asking for support?

2. Develop and delegate

I will never forget meeting an 18-year-old guy who came on staff when I was a housekeeping supervisor in Banff. The small town, nestled in the majestic Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada attracts young adults from all over the world to come to spend a season skiing and working. This poor British student somehow landed the job in housekeeping, even though he had never touched a vacuum in his life. He told me his mom had done all the cleaning during his childhood so that it met her standards. Had she assigned and trained him on a few home chores, he would have been more equipped to handle real life as an adult.

It’s a challenge for a perfectionist to release a task into someone else’s hands. Yet, some great choices I’ve made have been when I took the time to train a co-worker, volunteer or family member on how to do what didn’t need to be done by me.

It wasn’t easy. Things weren’t always completed the way I would have done them. I had to correct mistakes. What inspired me to follow through was the perspective that I was empowering someone to be a bigger part of a picture. And the perspective that by not doing so I would be robbing them of opportunity in the future.

Where would developing and delegating to others open new opportunities?

3. Invite productive critique in safe places

I admire people who are genuinely open to receiving feedback and criticism. For most of my life, this was NOT me! I had no clue how to “turn off” my defensiveness when people pointed out something I did wrong.

Then I began writing a novel and joined a small group of writers who were a spicy bunch of characters. Their passion for flavourful, quality writing set the tone for me. It became a safe place where I eagerly anticipated their honest feedback.

As I came to trust their perspective and experience, I noticed their criticism and comments weren’t merely sharpening my writing skills. They were strengthening me as a person. Gradually, I realized this ‘sharpening mentality’ was shifting into other areas of my life. I became more ready to welcome and invite feedback.

Who or where is your safe place to grow through imperfection?

4. Laugh at yourself

I never realized how seriously I took myself until I was in a relationship with someone who laughed easily at himself and at me. I usually felt like an idiot, and didn’t enjoy being laughed at. But since it seemed immature to throw a hissy fit, I started joining in. Soon it became easier. Eventually, I could initiate laughing at dumb things I said and did. Choosing to take myself lightly when I felt otherwise has helped me relax about little flaws I used to obsess over.

Do you find it easy or hard to laugh at your mistakes and misunderstandings?

5. Take imperfect action

Do you ever freeze before a daunting project, because you’re not sure where to start or it seems any actions won’t be good enough? Once you start thinking down that negative road, you conjure up all kinds of defeating scenarios. In that case, I’m ready to take a nap before the job has even started. Or I just go find chocolate.

When you feel that familiar critic haunting you, cut off the negativity by just doing something.

Anything.

Take a small step or two to get out of your head. Set a time to evaluate what’s been done. Whether it's seeing words on a formerly blank page, seeing a clear space in a cluttered desk, looking at a list of ideas, often you can feel a little more inspired by seeing progress. And whether or not progress was made, you get to choose to feel good that you tried.

Where could you take imperfect action — just to make some progress?

6. Fifteen minutes of hustle

What frazzles you the most? When the dishes are piling up? When projects take over your workspace but there isn’t enough time to clean and organize? This is the moment I want Mary Poppins to come, snap her fingers, and everything to put itself in order so I can think straight again.

Cleaning, decluttering or doing laundry can be a procrastination tactic that might need to be replaced. However, research shows that peace and calm enter our brain when we work in a clutter-free, tidy environment.

When you need to tackle the clutter or a task you’re dreading, but also need to get other important things done, it’s time for 15 minutes of hustle. Put on a timer. Turn on your turbo-charged focused energy. Get as much done as you can until the timer rings. Then give yourself permission to move on to your next project.

What task are you dreading that would invite relief if you gave it 15 minutes of hustle?

7. Celebrate

Often, I get so focused on striving to achieve something that I forget to appreciate the part that did succeed. I forget to be grateful for who I am becoming in the process.

Taking time to celebrate helps us recognize the elements of our success. Instead of zeroing in on what didn’t get done yet, we honour the progress we have made. It re-energizes us for the next leg of the journey. It not only boosts our spirits but encourages the family members, friends and collaborators who supported us as well.

What do you need to celebrate today?

You’ve got this, recovering perfectionist!

Instilling mindset and action habits of a recovering perfectionist is like a prism.

In my parents’ home, a prism hangs in the sunniest window of the house. When the sunlight streams in, it catches the angles and facets of the diamond-like stone and casts tiny rainbows around the room.

Some weeks the habits feel like a variation of the same lessons you’ve learned over and over. But sometimes just a slightly different perspective on the same lesson is all you need to shine and move forward.

Which habit resonates with you this week?

More Resources:

9 Mindset Habits of a Recovering Perfectionist

14 Signs Perfectionism Might Be Sabotaging Your Dream

The Prayer and Daily Affirmations of a Recovering Perfectionist

I‘m a mom, purpose coach and author of Dare to Decide: Discovering Peace, Clarity and Courage at Life’s Crossroads (July 2020).

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