What to do when You are stuck in Perfectionism

The Good and Bad Versions of Us

Do you ever feel like there is a good version of you and a bad version of you? Like you’re all on one side, and then all on the other? You do everything right, and then you throw it all out of the window and do everything poorly? This is an obvious sign of perfectionism!

Been there, done that. Especially with eating…

And honestly, this “all or nothing” mentality is exhausting. And absolutely counter-productive!

All or Nothing is fueled by Perfectionism

Perfectionism never lets you make a mistake. Nothing less than perfect is acceptable. So as soon as we “mess up” and aren’t perfect anymore, we throw in the towel and go to the other end of the spectrum.

All or Nothing concept on the road signpost, 3D rendering

But that’s not how life works.

Growth is a process

During the process of growth, there are setbacks.

When a baby learns to walk, he experiences lots of them. Nobody tells him that he is bad for falling down, so he is okay with that. He just keeps learning how to walk. Falling is part of the process of learning how to walk.

But when we grow up and become perfectionists, we don’t accept the setbacks. We make them mean that we are a screw-up or a failure, and these negative thoughts about ourselves cause us to throw everything out of the window.

So you did well for three months on your diet, and you mess up one day and you are back at square one.

But that is not how life works.

The toddler who falls down isn’t back at the very beginning of the learning how to walk process. He just fell down, that’s all. It’s time to get up and keep going.

Perfectionism is rooted in a wrong premise.

Perfectionism is all about our actions. Perfectionism says that our worth comes from what we do, what we achieve, how we act. So of course, we think that if we want to feel like a good person, we must be perfect. We make sure our actions are perfect in our misguided attempt to feel better.

Perfectionism is how we unconsciously seek to feel worthy. It is founded on the premise that the way we feel about ourselves has everything to do with what we do.

Behavior and Self-Worth

It’s a vicious cycle if you ask me.

We feel horrible about yourself because of something that we did, and therefore we throw in the towel.

Then we think that the way to fix ourselves is by doing everything right and never making mistakes, and this becomes exhausting and truthfully, impossible. So we mess up, and we start the cycle all over again.

We attach our worth as human being to actions: what we do, achieve, how we behave–therefore, the need to be perfect. We have to be perfect so we can feel good about ourselves.

Getting off the seesaw of “all or nothing”

Do you see how we need to get off this insane seesaw? But we can’t do it by being perfect!

We can only do it by questioning why we think you need to be perfect in the first place.

Worthiness is not in what we do.

The issue here is that the feeling of worthiness is not caused by what we do. It comes about because of what our thoughts. Because of our beliefs.

Worthiness is a feeling created by our thoughts.

It may be too difficult to consider what creates our personal worthiness as a human being. But it might be easier to answer the question, “what creates someone else’s worthiness?”

Is his or her worthiness connected to what they do and what they achieve and how they behave? Does your child, mother, best friend, husband have to earn their worthiness or is it innate?

You and I probably will answer by saying that the people we love do not have to earn worthiness. It just exists.

What if they make a mistake? What if they do something they said they weren’t going to do? Do they lose their worth?

Again, you and I probably will answer by saying that they are imperfect humans who did something wrong but are still worthy.

Our own personal worthiness

It’s interesting how other people get to be human, get to make mistakes, get to be imperfect, get to be worthy either way.

But not us.

Let me tell you the truth: your own worthiness is intact. We don’t have to earn it. Our worthiness exists because God made us.

Our worthiness has nothing to do with being perfect, and never making a mistake.

There is room for us to be messy, to be human, to be flawed. We’re not robots. We are human beings.

Let’s let go of “all or nothing”

As long as your brain believes that your good behavior is what allows you to feel good about yourself, you will be stuck. You will stay on the “all or nothing” seesaw.

But worthiness is not created by what we do. It’s created by what God says about us. It is created by what we choose to believe about ourselves.

Here is how to start changing perspective:

Here’s your challenge for this week:

  • Go ahead and list the people in your life that you believe are worthy. You can make that list as long or as short as you want.
  • Ask yourself: what makes them worthy? Where do they derive their worth? Why do I think that they have
    worthiness?
  • Then I want you to ask yourself: Do I feel worthy? And if not, why? What is getting in the way of you accepting yourself? What are you telling yourself that you have to do or you have to be in order to feel good enough? Answer in writing.
  • And then finally, once you’ve answered that question, ask yourself, how would I show up differently if I genuinely believed that I was already good enough, that I was already worthy of love, and that nothing I did could improve or change that fact?

All or nothing thinking is fueled by perfectionism and perfectionism is the idea that in order to feel good about ourselves, in order to feel like we are enough and we are worthy, it is entirely dependent on what we do. And
that will keep you stuck because we’re not robots.

We have to create room for us to be human. And that’s really how we can shake the all or nothing thinking.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments! Also, if you have a “perfectionist” friend or two, do them a favor and share this blog post with them!

This Happens When You Try so Hard to Better Yourself…

Two steps forward, one step back

So you took ten steps forward in that area where you so want to change, but then you took three steps back, and you are being crazy hard on yourself. Sounds familiar?

And you and I both intellectually understand that less harshness and more compassion would go a long way towards positive change, but our brains actually believe that being kinder on ourselves will make us get worse and not better–like we are giving ourselves permission to “be bad.”

As though if we stop cracking the whip, we will go back to being irresponsible, or over-eaters, or undisciplined, or whatever the issue is we are trying to improve about ourselves.

The Think/Feel/Act Loop

Do you remember the Think/Feel/Act loop? It explains the reason we do what we do in life: our thoughts create our feelings and drive our actions.

This works from what we will do when we have a flat tire to why we leave our marriage or not. It always goes back to the thoughts we choose to create and entertain.

So let’s look at how the Think/Feel/Act loop works when we are hard on ourselves for not improving fast enough:

The thought is “I have to be hard on myself, because if I am not, I will never get it done, because I always… I never…, I keep on…”

You and  I can both see that going down that road is not conducive to moving forward. Those thoughts that we ruminate bring about the feelings of guilt and hopelessness–“I always have to crack the whip or I’ll mess up.”

And how do we generally act when we feel these kinds of negative emotions?  For most of us, we start to focus on everything that isn’t working, we compare ourselves to others, we get even more discouraged and we wind up discouraged and give up, or do something stupid to relieve the pressure, or take massive unreasonable actions that are not sustainable–“I’ll fast for the next week since I overate yesterday.”

Being mean to ourselves backfires one hundred percent of the time

The ability to feel guilt is a good thing–we certainly don’t want to be immune to Godly conviction!

However, there is a huge difference between Godly conviction and guilt about all the little things you did not do perfectly today.

If we are hard on ourselves because deep down we believe that this is how we can create change, it will backfire every single time.

All we have to do is understand how our thoughts create our feelings and our feelings drive our actions, and we will all be able to see that beating ourselves up doesn’t work. All it does is create more negative emotion.

Our thoughts always play out in our lives.

So, what’s the solution?

A small shift in thought about change.

What if we shifted from having to fix ourselves to growth?

Growth is not about fixing. It is about evolving. It’s about stepping into the next level of us.

The parable of the Tree

Trees go from seed, to sprout, to seedling, to a sapling, and finally to a mature tree.

Trees are not improving, becoming better, fixing their flaws. They are simply growing, developing, increasing, expanding, and evolving.

We don’t look at saplings and think, “this is a really messed up tree.” We don’t berate it for not being far along enough in the process. We simply accept that it’s not where it’s going to end up yet.

Mindset about ourselves

Let’s be as kind to ourselves as we are to trees, shall we? Let’s not say, “Look at all these things I’m doing wrong. Look at all these places where I’m broken. Look at all these areas where I need to
be fixed,” instead of seeing it as a process of growth and evolution.

This is such a small shift of perspective, but it can change everything in your life.

What if growth doesn’t stop when you reach your adult height or you pass through puberty? What if growth is all about how you keep developing, and expanding, and growing as a person?

Language matters.

When we begin to see ourselves as growing rather than fixing ourselves, we will begin to talk differently to and about ourselves.

It feels so much better. And brings about much better results.

If you have any questions or input about this blog post,  please start a conversation in the comments! And if you found this post useful, and I really hope you did, don’t be selfish–please share it with your friends!