I have long dealt with the reality of being a complete perfectionist. As a child, I would stress so much about getting a good grade on my elementary school project that my parents would have to take away my homework to force me to take breaks. As I got older, my perfectionism creeped into the world of food and exercise, leading me to an unhealthy relationship with both. Perfectionism is the reason I quit soccer; I literally could not handle making mistakes. This pattern has continued in almost every aspect of my life.
My upper years in highschool were largely spent working on my overall mental health upon learning that I had mental Illnesses. Since then, I’ve picked up a few strategies to help offset the feeling of constant failure that comes with perfectionism.
1. Say it out loud.
Thinking about a whirlwind of reasons that you’re a complete failure after a tiny misstep is very different from speaking that whirlwind out loud, especially to someone you trust to listen free of judgement. Saying it out loud takes its power away by making you think more logically about your irrational thoughts.
2. Learn a lesson
When perfectionists make mistakes, they tend to feel like that mistake characterizes them. They’ve failed at something, which makes them, as a person, a failure. Writing down the mistake you made is the first step. Include no judgements – only include what happened. Then, either say how you think this mistake defines you out loud, or write it down. Finally, reflect and write about how you’re going to become even better from your mistakes. Use the concept of “failing forward” and remind yourself that the more you fail, the more you learn. This takes the negativity out of failure. This strategy is especially useful if you’re really into self-reflection and writing like I am!
3. Practice affirmations
Perfectionism and negative self talk go hand in hand. Sometimes, it can be hard to come up with positive things to say about yourself, especially after a mistake. When I can’t think of anything positive to say about myself in a moment, I like to flip through my little book of positive affirmations. A quick Google search would find you lots as well. It sounds silly, but saying them out loud is really empowering. It doesn’t hurt to try it!
While I can’t give you a cure to perfectionism, I can offer some tools that helped me to change my own mind and to become more resilient. Try to keep in mind that it is not your mistakes that define you, but how you move forward from them that will shape your every day. Striving for perfection all the time is not only an impossible task, but a draining one. Give yourself grace as often as you can.
Written by: Kenzie Morin