When we think about overcoming perfectionism it is important to first think about imperfection. What is your definition of imperfection?
The dictionary defined imperfection as:
- a fault, blemish, or undesirable feature
- the state of being faulty or incomplete
When I defined it for my self I thought of it in terms of how it represents in my life and I defined it as the ability to be fully present with all of my flaws. I feel like imperfection is often looked at as a negative word but imperfection is the human condition. We are all imperfect which is what makes us relatable and interesting. It makes us who we are. It is in developing an attitude of acceptance and non-judgement with our imperfections that allow the word to become a more positive word. Look at the word “imperfect” notice how it changes when you pull out the prefix. Now it says IM-PERFECT!
Seeking perfection holds us back. Perfectionism can be debilitating! It is an impossible standard while imperfection allows us to move forward. Perfect does not really exist, it is not really obtainable. Seeking perfection is paralyzing and it is a reaction to fear. Allowing for imperfection however allows us to put ourselves out there and to progress forward, learning as we go. Overcoming perfectionism allows us to embrace our imperfections, and it is these imperfections that make us interesting. They make our work stand out. Imperfection is a human trait that makes us relatable to others.
Answer the following questions:
Questions are borrowed from a blog post by counseling@northwestern called “Pushing back on Perfectionism: How to be Happily Imperfect.”
- Worry about what others will think of you if they were to see who you really are?
- Procrastinate, put off starting or finishing projects because you want to make sure they are just right?
- Find that you are never satisfied with your accomplishments?
- Feel that something only counts if it’s done perfectly?
- “Collect” your failures and mistakes in your mind?
If you found yourself answering yes to any or all of these questions, then you are likely dealing with perfectionism in your life. Perhaps it is time to overcome perfectionism and begin to love and accept yourself as you are. Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Changing your mindset can be hard but with a little practice you can begin to embrace those imperfections that make you you. It is not that we shouldn’t strive to be better or to work towards or goals. We all want to be the best we can be. It is simply that we acknowledge the journey and accept ourselves where we are instead of waiting to reach the destination to feel worthy. You might also be interested in our post on a related topic, Impostor Syndrome.
So what can you do to overcome perfectionism?
- Remind yourself that “perfect” is only an illusion, it is not real.
- Interrupt your inner critic. When you notice that little voice rising in your mind, realize that you have the power to replace it with a more positive and accepting voice. Perhaps write yourself a mantra or a word that you can use whenever you need to silence that little critic.
- Recognize that perfectionism may be a part of who you are, genetic or learned through your childhood experiences. Offer yourself compassion for where you are. It is OK to feel your feelings whatever they are.
- Notice when you need help, seek it out. Help could be anything from a trusted friend or family member to a professional therapist. It is always OK to ask for help. I strongly recommend therapy, it has worked wonders in my life and in the lives of many of my closest friends.
- Develop a practice of mindfulness.
Bringing Imperfection in to your Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness- “Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement.”
This definition of mindfulness comes from a class that Dorothy and I took at MTSU. We really love this definition because it is simple and clear. So many people hear the word Mindfulness and feel that it is out of their reach. It is too woowoo or hard. This definition makes it feel achievable. Meditation is great and I highly recommend it, but it is not the only way to be mindful. It can be as simple as taking a moment to pause and notice a single breath, or notice your sensory input… Mindfulness also does not mean light and happy feelings, you can be mindful in your misery as well. Allow yourself to be exactly as you are with all your imperfections. Bring your attention to where you are in this moment and simply notice without judgement.
A mindful activity for overcoming perfectionism & embracing imperfection
Non-Dominant hand drawing
In your journals or on a piece of scrap paper such as a grocery bag or junk mail or newspaper, begin drawing.
Set up a still life, it could be anything from a plant to a child’s…
With your non-dominant hand try to draw the still life before you. Allow your eyes to travel around its edges, contour. Imagine that your eye is attached to the pencil/pen as your eyes travel so does your pencil/pen. Slow yourself down and notice every bump and curve. As you draw try to refrain from looking at your paper. It is not really important how it looks on the paper. It will in fact look quite different than you expect. Give yourself permission to create the marks. Give yourself permission to make an imperfect drawing. Spend only about 3-4 minutes on these drawings. Feel free to do several or even set up other still lives to try.
Once you have created 2-3 quick drawings, spend some time working back into these drawings. Add thickness or weight to the lines, add color or pattern to the spaces created. Round out sharp edges if you want, this is super relaxing! Have fun with it and allow yourself permission to play and create with imperfection.
If you are interested in a few more creative exercises check our our post on creating patterns.
The Creative Gap
Melissa Dinwiddie, a creativity coach and writer I follow discusses the Creative Gap, the difference between what we visualize creating and what we actually create.
She writes, “I think it is the gap that keeps driving us forward. It is the pursuit of mastery, rather than the achievement of it that makes the whole thing interesting.”
It is my belief that creativity and mindfulness go hand in hand. Creative activities of all sorts are part of my personal mindfulness practice as well as part of the founding philosophy behind or group, Creating Mindfulness. Creative exercises are a great tool to help you with overcoming perfectionism. Give yourself permission to create…even ugly art. It is OK. You owe no one an apology. As creatives go through childhood the adults that surround them (Even well meaning ones) often throw up criticisms. “Trees don’t really look like that.” “Is that a dog or a horse?” These small criticisms become our own inner critics or gremlins as Melissa calls them. They tell us we can’t or we don’t have permission to be creatives. It is simply not true. We all are born creative. We make creative choices each and every day. It is time we begin to silence these inner gremlins and give ourselves permission to create…even ugly art.
I want to invite you to share your reflections on imperfection with us. Do you suffer from perfectionism? How have you worked to overcome your perfectionism and embrace imperfection. Please leave a comment on this post and let us know your thoughts!