Just Say No to "Perfect": Tips on How to Overcome Perfectionism
Raise your hand if you struggle with Perfectionism.
Every leadership workshop, bootcamp, and team building I have ever delivered has at least one. She shows up in my coaching clients, my events, my family members, and most of my close friends. She gets around like a marketing salesperson. She showed up recently in a private executive presence leadership session I was conducting the east coast.
*(Note, perfectionist can be male or female. Today I am choosing HER).
CASE STUDY: THE PERFECT PERFECTIONIST
There she was, sitting in my executive presence bootcamp. She showed up through a lovely young lady who by all appearances seemed to have it together. "Candace" was attractive, pleasant, and gently charismatic. She clearly had rapport with members of the leadership team as she sauntered around the room, greeting each one with a dazzling smile, and engaging them effectively.
I had already met Candace since she was coordinating the session internally for her organization, so I was very aware that she wanted everything to go well. She and I had talked, planned everything in detail for a smooth event, and created the agenda for the ideal day. That's when I noticed her.
"I need to know more detail. What time will each activity start? Can we capture that on the agenda?"
"I need you to tie it all together. I don't think they'll get it. We need to tell them (list off 5 tiny details) so they get it."
During the event, it was obvious that Candace did not want anyone to be uninformed, uncomfortable, or unclear. During breaks, she would approach me with extra tips and points to cover to ensure that nothing was left out, everything was covered, and everyone was having a great time. Her worrying efforts to control the environment caused her to feel stressed. As a result, some interesting coping behaviors manifested.
Candace began overusing humor and giggling to influence the group. As the participants started moving into deeper learning, Candace was stuck in entertainment mode. The Perfectionist was having her way with Candace, trying to deflect attention from her fearful nature to a more fun-loving personality that people would like. This ended in Candace diminishing her power, influence, and presence. The group moved on.
THE FORCE BEHIND THE PERFECTIONIST
The one major emotion that acts as the fuel for perfectionism is FEAR.
In Candace's head, the event needed to be perfect because she believed it was a reflection of her value and worth. She needed validation, acceptance, and she believed that one small mistake or imperfection would surely crash her career. She was operating from a fear-based perspective.
What are the key words you notice in Candace's story?
When someone repeatedly says, "I need you to, I need this...", it's a symptom of a deeper struggle that stems from fear. In order for Perfectionists to be happy, certain things have to be in place. In Candace's case, she was looking to secure:
People who carry around The Perfectionist struggle to feel like they are enough, and are afraid of being irrelevant, unaccepted, and unworthy. A common way of thinking is this:
If I just do (list any task or action), then people will like me.
If I just appear (list the ideal picture of your life), then people will accept me.
If I just avoid (list any mistake or negativity), then people won't notice my (flaw, imperfection, etc.).
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO JUST SAY NO TO THE PERFECTIONIST
I recognize The Perfectionist because she's of my biggest inner critics that I shut down on a regular basis. These personality characters show up as a result of what I call pre-existing conditions. We learn from our key milestones and experiences in the course of our lives, and we apply filters to the way we view the world.
In order to deal with perfectionism, you have to deal with your pre-existing conditions. It's not a 3 step instant process, it is an actual belief and behavior change that has to be addressed. You literally have to reprogram your brain and disrupt your current thinking pattern to break the stronghold of perfectionism. Here are some tips to free yourself from the grips of perfectionism:
1. Do a milestone/experience map.
In order to change your experience, go back and look at your life from the time you were a kid up until now. What experiences or milestones did you experience that helped birth the Perfectionist? Capture these in a journal or make an actual map to assess the original source. What thoughts pop up in your head as a result of these experiences? Write down how the Perfectionist actually speaks to you.
2. Create a STOP SIGN for your brain.
Once you recognize what's been causing your "friend" to show up, and what she says to you, it's time to put up a stop sign. I personally am a visual and metaphor kind of gal, so I like to create visual reminders. If I am dealing with a negative thought, then I post my stop sign response on my computer, on the refrigerator, and anywhere else I need to remind myself to disrupt the pattern. For example, my current stop sign is:
"I CHOOSE EFFECTIVE OVER PERFECTIVE RIGHT NOW!"
3. Intentionally make mistakes..
Consider this as a mental stretching exercise. Get comfortable with discomfort. Send an email and include extra periods at the end of your sentences. Get a canvas and glob paint onto it without drawing something prescriptive. Instead of obsessing over a meeting going perfectly, be prepared to use the words, "let's just go with this".
Perfectionism and pre-existing conditions are some of the topics we address on in The School of Executive Presence. Interested in learning more about us, our events, and coaching opportunities? Learn about us here.
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Angela Nuttle is an author, speaker, talent remodeler™, and consultant in talent and organizational development. As founder of The School of Executive Presence, she teaches business people how to show up with executive presence. She also works directly with CEOS, Business Leaders, and HR Teams to develop people, potential, and processes that create productive and profitable business environments. To learn more about her experience with Fortune 500 companies and relevant solutions, visit www.corporatetalentexpert.com or www.schoolofexecutivepresence.com.
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