More blasphemy: After the success of my first LinkedIn article about self-development with a spiritual twist last week, I decided to share another section of my book Life of a Lifetime – Inspiration for Creating Your Extraordinary Life.
I think the term perfectionism is often misunderstood and therefore misused. It sounds very negative, conjuring up images of people being slaves to their own unreasonably high standards. Perfectionism is a form of stress, but stress can be a good thing. It’s a tool – a compass – telling you whether you’re flowing or struggling. Let’s explore how you can use stress sensibly as a wonderful addition to your self-empowerment tool kit.
If you get stressed about something, it can mean you’re not projecting your energy in a useful way. But when you use stress as a motivational energy, it can be very helpful to you. It’s the same with perfectionism. It doesn’t have to be a curse. The next time you are frantically trying to accomplish something, all you need to do is to be aware of what’s happening. Remember the framing principle when we talked about anger? It’s exactly the same with perfectionism. When you realise you’re taking too much on or you’re constantly pushing yourself too hard, take a step back and be gentle with yourself. If you don’t slow down and take stock once in a while, you’ll become exhausted. You can experience burnout, and that prevents you from achieving anything at all.
Wanting to do things well is a blessing. However, doing so to impress yourself or others is when it becomes foolish. That’s when perfectionism turns into a heavy burden. If you get too invested in what somebody else thinks about you, you give away your power. As with many daily issues, your attitude will make the difference. If you’re inspired by the task ahead of you, by all means go for it, but use your energy wisely and pace yourself.
Today’s society expects us to produce non-stop results, but you can’t be a slave to that rhythm or you’ll go crazy. Find a way to balance your time and energy. (If you need help with that, approach an executive life coach or support group.) When you learn to befriend your perfectionism, it becomes a blessing rather than an obstacle on your path to daily happiness.
My mother has been a primary school teacher for three decades. She has always been a perfectionist, without a shadow of a doubt. But if you were to ask her, she probably wouldn’t know what on earth you’re talking about. She would just tell you about her passion for the job and how it empowered her to perform at a consistently high level. Her love of teaching shone through in everything she did for both her students and colleagues. The result was that parents contacted the school’s principal months before the start of the new school year in an attempt to reserve a place for their child in my mother’s class.
Yes, she may have been stressed at times about certain events (first communion, school trips, parents’ evening, etc.), but it was never harmful stress. It was pure excitement and a burning desire to get things right, to make it the best possible experience for everyone. Yes, that is perfectionism, but it’s the good kind. She didn’t need to prove anything to herself or anyone. Working diligently was natural to her. She wasn’t a slave to the system but revelled in the freedom she had created for herself by living her passion.
In my executive coaching work, I see so many people who are working their socks off to impress others or themselves for that matter. Sometimes they are working incredibly hard to cover up emotional issues that need to be addressed. That’s when perfectionism becomes a neurotic reaction and throws you off balance. That’s when you can fall ill and become depressed. You will really benefit from letting go of desperately trying to achieve perfection. You know it doesn’t serve you, and you hate the feeling, so why continue like this?
At the outset of a new project – whether it’s writing your memoirs, finding the perfect house, or planning your wedding – simply embark upon the task with the intention of doing the best possible job. That’s all. Be clear about your intentions, then flow forward by enjoying each easy or difficult step along the way.
All you need to focus on is doing a good job. Detach yourself from the outcome. Your detachment doesn’t mean you don’t care. It means you trust yourself and the process. You can obviously influence your own thoughts, but you can’t be responsible for someone else’s opinion about your work. Everybody is entitled to form their own opinions. Many people might like your work and some people might not, but it’s their free choice to miss out on what you are offering. When you can internalise that knowledge, that’s when you are detached from the outcome.
This book you’re holding in your hands right this minute is an example of positive perfectionism. At the outset, the prospect of writing a new book is both exciting and overwhelming. It’s exciting because it’s such a powerful way of sharing my ideas with you, but it’s overwhelming because it’s such a large project. This is where my attitude – my mental approach – will make the difference between negative stress and positive perfectionism throughout the writing process.
At the start of every chapter, before I write down a single word, I take a moment to get into my spiritual coaching zone. I frame my perfectionism by letting go of needing to write the right material. This would only create negative energy, blocking me rather than inspiring me. I get clear on what I want to tell my readers. I ask myself what people might like to know, what they would like to receive guidance on. By turning negative stress into positive perfectionism, I increase my creative energy. Inspiration flows effortlessly and turns the book project into a very enjoyable experience for me. When I feel stuck, I recognise what’s happening and quickly take a step back. By giving myself space to breathe and refocus, I stay in the flow and make sure I get the most joy from writing. And I do!
In addition, I can maintain my inner peace by realising that some people will resonate with some parts of my work and other people will resonate with other parts. Rather than allow this particular fact of writing life to slow me down, I accept it. I believe in being authentic in what I say or do and allowing others to draw their own conclusions. Different social, cultural, and religious influences often play a major role in this and create, in turn, wonderful learning opportunities for readers to think outside their own particular boxes and release dogmatic beliefs that no longer serve them.
When my favourite singer releases a new album, although I may not like every single track, I still love the quality of her voice. The artist’s intention is to create something beautiful, but different fans will like different songs. It’s all a matter of personal taste and preference.
In other words, it’s your attitude that will make or break your peace of mind. You can, of course, change your attitude. You can choose to enjoy your work or to let it drag you down. If you need help with changing your attitude, that help is available, and it’s up to you to reach out for it.