- Aditi Surana
Are you a perfectionist? You may say… kind of. I am very particular about some things and I don't like to compromise. Most of us loosely understand perfectionism as the desire or pursuit of excellence. In Bollywood, we call Aamir Khan - Mr. Perfectionist as he doesn’t compromise on his standards of work. In real life we refer to someone as perfectionist, when he or she is intolerant to mistakes.
So the question is ‘What is perfectionism?’ Perfectionism is an innate, deep rooted, camouflaged fear that implies if you drop your guards, then people will see you for who you are. Who you truly are. At some levels, you feel what you truly are is imperfect and unacceptable. Being a perfectionist is a dynamic trap that you and your mind have invented. If you stay perfect in the way you speak, dress, behave, interact or at least pretend or fake it, then you will avoid all possibilities of being ridiculed, shamed, blamed and rejected.
But here is the problem, perfectionism is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it can motivate you to perform at a high level and deliver top-quality work. On the other hand, it can cause you unnecessary anxiety and slow you down. It is one of the most ailing fears that our generation is suffering from.
Before we dwell more, here is the key difference between striving for excellence and being a perfectionist. You will hear me say this point again and again. In many stories, conversations and examples. ‘It is not about what you do, but it is about how you feel when you do it. Your experience is determined not by the result, but the motive behind your actions.’ This principle is applicable to perfectionism too.
‘Striving for excellence’ is all about giving your best shot. Making sure you have done everything in your capacity to deliver a masterpiece. Or at least your best work. However, perfectionism is about ‘What will people think?’ Will they like your work? How many likes do you get on Instagram or Facebook? Is your work good enough? Are you good enough? The quest for perfection actually is a search for certainty, for a sense of control. Anything that stays within specified limits is under our control.
If in your mind you are perfect, the rest of your life can... at best... be spent in maintaining and nurturing this perfection — that flawless skin, the perfect figure, the perfect score or that perfect moment in time. Anything less would be disappointing.
Let’s take a moment to see how graphology can reveal some truth for us.
A stroke that Michael Jackson had in his signature, reveals fear of rejection or in other words - Self consciousness. My research shows that people with this trait also show explicit as well as hidden traits of perfectionism. The stroke is found in the letter m - upper as well as lower case. Notice the way you form your two humps in the letter m. If the second hump is taller than the first one, then you do fear rejection and invariably will show perfectionism in some form or another.
Does it sound technical to you? Graphology is both mathematical and artistic. We study every stroke with precision like a chemist. And then explain it to a person in a poetic, nurturing and explorative manner.
Let’s look at what you can do to deal with this perfectionist monster. Oh that’s you! I mean the ‘perfectionism’ monster! What can you do to break the spell?
Spell breaker 1: Become Aware of Your Tendencies
You may not realize how pervasive perfectionism can be. By becoming more aware of your patterns, you’re in a better position to alter them. Journal your thoughts by answering a question for the next 1 week: How exactly did I choose perfectionism today? Look for moments in your day, when you felt you’d failed, or hadn’t done well enough, and write down how you felt at the time. Do not do it too close to your bedtime as it is never a good idea to go to bed immediately after intense introspections. Leave a minimum gap of at least 2 hours. This exercise will help you become more aware of your perfectionistic thought patterns and triggers.
Spell breaker 2: Take Baby Steps
A Perfectionist tends to set goals of unreasonable excellence with no learning curve. These goals tend to be unrealistic and cause problems by being so rigidly demanding and leaving little room for error. Instead, you can reduce a lot of pressure by setting experiments instead of goals. Try out different things each month. See how you can strive excellence over focusing on just trying to avoid making mistakes.
Spell breaker 3: Don’t believe the mean abuser!
In my sessions, many people have narrated the horror of their demanding, abusive, mean and critical inner voice! How that voice drives them crazy and they can't help but find faults in themselves and others. Please stop beating yourself up. This conversation with yourself - what we therapists call self talk - is constantly shaping your beliefs about your own self. You may think you only fear rejection when it comes to your body image, and other than that, you are a confident person. But unfortunately our mind does not have that compartmentalised approach. It feels stuck at once by the criticism enforced by your own inner dialogue.
Spell breaker 4: Embrace yourself for being ‘perfectly imperfect’
The Japanese call it ‘kintsugi’. This is the art of repairing broken pottery with a golden inlay. Instead of discarding the broken piece, it is restored. The gold serves to highlight the break and becomes part of the history and presence of the piece. The fault is not hidden but highlighted. The piece is perfectly imperfect. All your imperfections tell a story of where all you have been. These are your battle scars. Ugly as they may appear but they are the authentic and powerful parts that shaped you & made you the person that you are today. You may choose to deny these parts but you can never disown them. What if you choose to embrace them instead.
Imperfection is fluid, perfection is cast in a stone. Progress requires imperfection. The very moment you embrace your imperfections, your defensive guards become redundant and useless.
Author and researcher Brene Brown says, ‘Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are.’ perfectly imperfect.
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