Does anyone who identifies as a perfectionist read this blog? Perhaps some overachiever types who currently feel like you’re failing at everything? I thought so. (Raising hand over here.)
Today, I’m excited to welcome to the blog someone who has one or two (or many) helpful things to say to us about perfectionism. Deborah Hurwitz is a composer, conductor, recording artist, and coach, who specializes in helping recovering perfectionists get out of our own way. I love her three tools below. And I’m also grateful to her for inviting me to be a speaker at her upcoming online (free!) program that will run from March 15-28, Productivity for Perfectionists – sign up here!
Here’s Deborah’s advice on how to calm down our perfectionist minds when they’ve run amok.
As the former child of two perfectionistic parents with intense career commitments who constantly battled for control, I can let you know one thing right off the bat. Your loving, compassionate presence in your child’s heart means more than ANY perfectly planned, meticulously scheduled, or wildly impressive feat of parenting.
That said, I do understand the demands of our social and educational structures on our already-taxed family units. And I’m here to provide some relief. Especially for those perfectionists in the house.
Whether you lean towards people-pleasing or control-freaking, “not enough” or “never done,” here are 3 tools you can put to work immediately on behalf of your beleaguered brain:
1) Catch Yourself in the Act
Black-and-white thinking is the bugaboo of the perfectionist mind. We’re constantly running projects and priorities through filters like, “If I can’t do everything, I won’t do anything.” And, “If I can’t do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all.” This leaves us stuck, procrastinating, anxious, and out of sorts.
We also contend with a vigorously vocal inner critic, whose relentless takedowns keep us second-guessing our decisions, our communications, and the very fabric of our relationships. 24/7. For every creative idea, generous intention, or intuitive hit that arises, our internal Judgy McJudgerson is there to tell us that we don’t know what we’re doing. And it’s all going to hell in a hand basket.
But those voices — the inner critic, the black-and-white thinker, the judge — are just bubbling up from a subconscious system that’s designed to protect us from harm. They don’t give a damn about our quality of life, or our worldly accomplishments, or our good parenting. They’re there to keep us SAFE. Meaning ALIVE at all costs. And SAFE doesn’t leave any room for change, evolution, or the beautiful experiments that are our lives in the making.
Simply catching yourself in the act of automatic, pre-programmed thinking, and bringing awareness to the thoughts that arise, can bring a deep and expansive feeling of relief to the present moment.
So try this on:
In THIS moment, right now, are you breathing?
Is your child safe?
Do you still have a job?
GREAT! Congratulations, you did it! You are a successful working parent.
Slow down your breath. Exhale ALL the way. And remind yourself that you have a choice about what’s next.
When you catch yourself in the act, you open up a playing field in your brain where things not only get easier, but more FUN. Take all those worries and “what ifs” and tuck them in for a nap. They’ll still be right there when you’re done with whatever you’ve CHOSEN to do.
2) Watch Your Damn Perfectionist Language
Now that we’ve brought our awareness to the present moment and become conscious of the thoughts rolling through our heads, let’s notice how downright MEAN we are to ourselves.
Even the most productive, competent, and confident of kindreds can fall prey to narratives that victimize and disempower us. These narratives leave us at the effect of our circumstances, relationships, or environments. And it all comes down to the language we’re using with OURSELVES.
What are you telling yourself about a particular situation or project? How would you describe your current state? If you find yourself using words like “overwhelmed” or “crazy,” notice how it makes you FEEL to believe that.
Now try on some different language to describe the facts at hand. For example, instead of saying, “I’m exhausted and there’s way too much on my plate and what was I thinking, saying I’d take care of that other thing TOO?” — you could reframe the dilemma. “I notice that my energy hits a low threshold around this time. So I’m going to take ten minutes to focus on ONLY what needs to be delivered tomorrow. I’ll give myself the gift of undivided attention on that. Now, I will take a deep breath and exhale completely.”
Do you still have a million things to do in the background? Are there a dozen shoes still waiting to drop? Sure there are. As perfectionists, we long for control. And we feel wildly stressed when things feel uncertain or out of reach.
But it’s actually incredibly freeing to realize that we only (and always) have a choice about our ATTENTION. We choose where to place our attention in any given moment. And we control the quality of that attention. Get down to brass tacks, and it really is that simple.
You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel when you actually GIVE that thorny task ten minutes of your time, rather than fretting about it for hours while you attempt five OTHER things instead.
3) Celebrate the Smallest Wins
Perfectionists can write world-class to-do lists, complete eight out of ten items before breakfast, and then ruminate ALL DAY about the two that didn’t get done.
We create impossible standards for ourselves and then beat ourselves up for failing to meet them. But when we DO get something done? We dismiss it with an impatient wave. “Ugh, that should have been done MONTHS ago.”
Grinding away at what still needs to be done, or should already have happened, without properly celebrating what you HAVE accomplished, is downright brutal. It reinforces the notion that you can’t get anything right. Discourages the tender shoots of your creativity from taking hold in any meaningful way. And ultimately engenders resentment, burnout, or sheer exhaustion.
You don’t need to throw a big party for your newly-cleared desk or two loads of laundry. But DO acknowledge that you got it done. Even if the rest of the house is a mess and the clothes still need to be folded and put away. Give yourself a pat on the back in some form. Even if that’s just ten seconds to sit still and breathe, with NOTHING TO DO.
Like I said, everything you need will be there when you get back.
Using her signature P.A.C.T. System, Deborah Hurwitz helps ambitious professionals to break through the paralysis of perfectionism and procrastination so they complete the projects and goals that matter most to them. Deborah is a composer, conductor and recording artist whose internationally acclaimed projects include Cirque du Soleil, Cyndi Lauper and the Broadway smash hit Jersey Boys. She is also the creator of Productivity for Perfectionists®, the Founder and CEO of COBALT Coaching and co-author of the Amazon #1 Bestseller, “She Made It Happen: 22 Inspiring Stories From Female Entrepreneurs Around the World.”
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave