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How to Stop Perfectionism Taking Over

Not to long ago, as a new way to chill out at home, I decided to begin an activity of drawing in a coloring book.  I came up with the idea one day when I was at a bookstore and saw a huge stack of them near the bookstore entrance. When I saw them, they reminded me of how much I had loved drawing when I was younger and as I was then looking for a new activity to do at home as a way to decompress from the day. I thought this would be fun thing to do.  I found one that was simple and fun to draw in, bought it, and took it home.

When I got home, I laid down out on the floor with my big box of colored pencils and my coloring book ready to start my chill out drawing activity.  I chose a simple picture on one of the pages in the book and decided to go with a green color theme after looking over the various colors of pencils in my coloring box.  As I started to happily draw my various green colors within the picture, I begun to notice that as I drew my hand started to feel uncomfortable because I was gripping the pencil tighter & tighter in my hand.  

As I continued to draw, trying to ease up on my pencil hold, I started to also notice that each time I gripped the pencil tighter & tighter, I was saying to myself internally: “Stay within the lines or it will look horrible”…”Make sure you stay with that specific green color here and there”….”Be careful or it won’t look perfect”….

I immediately put down my pencil, looked at my drawing and thought “WOW….this looks like Perfectionism stole my artwork…I got to change this!”

Brene Brown describes perfectionism best as:

“Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight”.

I am all too familiar with perfectionism, is it something I have battled with for years.  As a child I grew up in a world where “being perfect” was the norm, and as a "good girl" I embodied it fully as an adult.  I have been blessed to have had worked with some amazing mentors, coaches, and therapists who have helped me see when perfectionism pops up it’s ugly head in my life.

They have taught me the skills I have needed to tell perfectionism where it should take itself. As well they have educated me on the difference between pursing excellence and being a perfectionist. A quote from Edwin Bliss captures these differences the best:

“The pursuit of excellence is gratifying and healthy, the pursuit of perfection is frustrating, neurotic, and a terrible waste of time”

One of the key things that I have learned in my personal development journey is that pursuing excellence is healthy.  It is a key factor to providing motivation, instilling perseverance, and allows flexibility and openness for successful achievement of a goal. Perfectionism on the other had, is not healthy.  Perfectionism is all about extremes, where you have to be one specific way and no other.  Which is closed, very rigid, and does not lead to success, because you become so overly obsessed with the task that you loose sight to the actual goal itself.

Thus, instead of me enjoying the drawing time as a chill out time, I was allowing perfectionism to rear its ugly head and take over the whole activity and make it stressful.  I had to take back my artwork!

In order to do this, I used one activity that I have learned that has been successful in helping me combat perfectionism.

If perfectionism is popping up its ugly head in your life somewhere, trying to steal something away from you?

Here is the activity I used, which you can use anytime to stop perfectionism from taking you over:

Step 1

Create a phrase you will be repeating to yourself before you begin an activity you think your perfectionism will come up.  Create a phrase which:

  1. Acknowledges your pursuit of excellence on the activity and
  2. Praises you for the work you have achieved so far on the activity.

For example in my drawing activity, I chose the phrase “I understand I want this to look nice, and that I want do a great job doing it.  However I am doing a amazing job and it looks very nice so far”.  

Step 2

Close your eyes and repeat your phrase three times.

After the third repetition, open your eyes and take a few deep breaths, then pick up a pencil and continued to draw.

If still feeling perfectionism is getting to you, go back and repeat the phrases again.

Each time you repeat this phrase, feel more and more stronger in preventing perfectionism, to the point that, perfectionism would eventually stop popping up. Leaving you finally, to be alone, to happily enjoy what you are working on!

Try this activity next time when you are encountering those moments when perfectionism wants to take over what you do.


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