Opinion: Dr Tracey Chandler – Managing perfectionism
One of the key perfectionism management tips is forgiveness and compassion towards yourself and others. This, in itself, is a powerful tool.
In the last opinion piece, we discussed the forgotten addiction of perfectionism. Ironically, the delay in writing this follow-up piece really ate at my perfectionist tendencies. Life and the cumulation of a year-long project led to a delay, which I am not proud of but am learning to forgive myself for.
That leads onto one of the key perfectionism management tips, which is forgiveness and compassion towards yourself and others. This, in itself, is a powerful tool.
Think of how you would respond to a best friend who admitted doing something which caused them to feel shame, guilt, regret, self-judgement. You would likely reassure them, saying things like, “Forgive yourself/you are human/what is the learning from this/you had a lot to deal with/was it a priority/nobody died”.
You can, and should, say the same things to yourself. Like your friend, you are a human, trying your best too! Not only is this being compassionate but it’s putting things in perspective. This doesn’t mean you settle for or allow poor behaviour from yourself or others, just that you forgive yourself/others, learn from the experience and move on.
As discussed last time, perfectionism can lead to a vicious cycle of stress, anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts, leading to more perfectionism and so on. That’s why measures to address stress can help to break the cycle of perfectionism.
There are many techniques to help alleviate stress which are summarised here. There are also many professional bodies that can help, which are listed below:
· GP, practice nurse, after-hours services (including 111)
· Lifeline:0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
· Asian Helpline: 0800 862 342
· Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7).
· Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
· Rural Support Trust: 0800 787 254
· Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (Monday-Friday, 1-10pm. Saturday-Sunday, 3-10pm)
· Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
· Samaritans: 0800 726 666.
Another strategy includes ‘looking for the grey’! Instead of succumbing to the black and white thinking, which is typical of perfectionism, look for the middle ground. For example, imagine you forgot your parents’ wedding anniversary.
Just because you weren’t the best child at that point, does not automatically mean you are the worst. Remember the powerful mantra when critiquing yourself or others: “I/they did the best I/they could with the knowledge, experience, and resources I/they had at the time”.
Practice imperfection in areas that don’t bother you. For example, I like to have clear floors as it creates flow in my house, but I am less concerned with how neatly or (in my case not) my wardrobes are arranged, or how perfectly my business Instagram page looks. Gradually build up to being less perfectionist in more areas of your life, so that you eventually break this habit.
When it comes to being measured by others or comparing yourself to others there are also some simple strategies. If you are being judged by another and you feel the critique is harsh, consider the tips in the book Feedback (and other dirty words) by my unrelated namesake M Tamra Chandler.
My favourite tip in this book is one describing how to switch our tendency from negative to positive thoughts. For example, instead of thinking “I can’t do this”, think “I am learning to do this”. Another great tip from this book, if needing feedback, is to ask multiple people. And be specific, i.e. don’t ask “am I a good mum” ask instead, “how could I support you with your homework better”?
It is the imperfect moments that give us the most chance for growth and spontaneously perfect moments. An example from my own life explains this. When my youngest was 7 I was driving her to school, and she reminded me it was ‘wheels day’ at school. Being nearly at school and having a full day of patients awaiting me I had no chance to go back and get the forlorn wheels.
After pacifying my wailing 7-year-old’s (and my own) tears, I rang a friend for a ‘shoulder to lean on’. Said friend, being a psychologist, immediately perked me up with a reassuring “That’s great that you forgot wheels day’, it helps her [my daughter] learn to cope with imperfection”!
Another tool is to celebrate all your little achievements. For example, I recently finished creating my online ‘Health Mastery’ course. It has taken over a year to write the materials and record the videos, but every day I would record in my journal a win related to the course. Some days the wins would be small, e.g. ‘I planned the topics for Module 1’, other days the wins would be large, e.g. ‘I recorded the videos for 2 modules’.
Some days life can feel like such a struggle, that your achievement might be getting out of bed. On these days, congratulate yourself for any added bonuses on top of that.
As Martin Luther King said: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”