Defeat Perfectionism: How to Relax and Be Yourself

Life doesn’t require that we be the best, only that we try our best. Strive for excellence, not perfection. ~ Jackson Brown

I’ve told you before that I’m bossy. Luckily, I get away with it most of the time. I’ve got a supportive husband, and staff members that strive to please. But I have to tell you, it’s stressful – needing to maintain such a high standard in everything I do … and everything everyone else does, too! Perfectionism is tough.

A perfectionist is a person who ‘strives for flawlessness and sets excessively high performance standards’. While perfectionists are good at getting things done well, we can be manipulative and demanding. We are also prone to distress and irritation if things aren’t just the way we like them. We are driven to perform, to constantly make improvements, to ‘get it right’, not just good enough.

Particularly at this time of year, during the holiday season, our ‘perfectionist’ tendencies kick into overdrive. Decorating, house cleaning, baking, gifts, and all the expectations of the season put extra pressure on everyone, but particularly on those of us who strive for everything to be, well … perfect!

So … maybe you’re a perfectionist. Maybe you live or work with one. If so, it can be as stressful for family and friends as it is for you. Here are six tips to decrease your stress levels and help you (and them) relax.

Breathe. Deep breaths. Several of them! OK. Now, take a moment to remind yourself that maybe – just maybe – it’s good enough. That this one time, it doesn’t have to be totally perfect.  Remind yourself: God is my strength and power, and He maketh my way perfect (2 Sam. 22:33). You don’t have to do it all by yourself.

Notice. Take time to see what is right with the situation or project. Perfectionists see thorns but not roses. They note weeds but not flowers. Train yourself to pay attention to what is already good. The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me (Ps. 138:8). His favor, mercy and goodness are always working on your behalf, particularly if you’re watching for it.

Re-evaluate. Look at the project from another point of view. Most people – the ones most affected with the results of your efforts – probably will not even notice the minute details you want to improve. Ask yourself, “Is what I am asking (or demanding) necessary or even practical? What is the cost in time, effort and money to keep pushing for perfection?”  Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee ((s. 26:3). Let peace be your umpire. If you’re not peaceful with your efforts, back off.

Remember 80/20. The 80/20 rule says you get 80% of your results from just 20% of your effort. If your project is 80% complete, the last 20% will probably not make enough difference to matter. It certainly will be hard to justify a ‘return on investment’ for those last tweaks and changes you want to accomplish. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2).

Praise. Praise God for His presence, wisdom and favor in every situation. My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Also, recognize the efforts of others and thank them. Gratitude is powerful. It not only improves morale, it makes you more aware of how much is already done. A sincere ‘thank you’ also helps your team members, family and friends to be more supportive the next time you try to push them toward perfection.

Laugh. Humor is a great de-stressor. When you’re feeling that internal pressure to keep striving, take a laughter break. Get around people who make you feel relaxed and happy. Watch funny movies or read online jokes – anything that will sidetrack your intense drive to do more. When you’re feeling stressed, remember God’s wisdom: A merry heart doeth good like medicine (Prov. 17:22).

Perfectionists value themselves by what they accomplish rather than who they are. They set extraordinarily high goals and are driven to always accomplish more. Much more. The result is stress – on them, and on everyone around them. They have forgotten Paul’s advice to the Galatians: Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (v. 3:3). God’s presence will get you through anything as long as you remember to cast all your care on Him for He cares for you (I Peter 5:7).

When you recognize the pressure within yourself to push harder, ask yourself these four simple questions

  • Is this goal something I truly desire or is it based on an attempt for approval?
  • Is it reasonable and do-able or am I setting impossible standards?
  • Am I seeking approval based on performance instead of effort?
  • How can I enjoy the process not just the end result?

I in them and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me and hast loved them, as Thou hast loved me (John 17:23). Jesus himself said God loves you as much as He does Jesus! That’s the message of Christmas, not your ‘perfect’ house or dinner or gift.

Finally, ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen if it isn’t perfect?” Perspective is more valuable than perfection. With effort, you can learn to recognize the symptoms of perfectionism and take steps to counteract them. You’ll be healthier, happier and live a more balanced life. And that sounds just about perfect!

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