Papercut and colored pencil art by Sheryl Aronson X 5

Monday, December 20, 2010

You Don't Have to be Perfect

Last night, my husband was eating some dove chocolates, and I noticed that they had short quotes on the inside of the wrappers. and there was one wrapper that caught my attention.  It said "Remind yourself that it's okay not to be perfect."  Working in psychiatry, I often see patients who believe they need to be perfect, and are stressed  and anxious because they don't measure up.  I ask them if they think they are better than everyone else, and they say 'no'.  I then ask them why they expect more of themselves than they expect of others.
The belief that one must be perfect can come from a variety of sources.  It may be from parents or someone else in the past who said things like "You're not as smart as your sister", or "you'll never amount to much".  This can lead a person to always try to prove that person wrong, or to try to gain their approval (even long after that person has died).  The opposite kind of feedback can also create perfectionism.  "You always get A's on everything you do", or "You're the smartest one in the family".  These  kinds of feedback, for most people, would be positive motivators and self esteem builders.  For some people, however, they feel like they need to keep up this high level of performance in order to keep the other person's respect, and so they aren't able to accept any less than the best from themselves in everything.  For some people, the need to be perfect develops for no traceable reason.   Some people expect perfection from others as well as themselves, but most perfectionists expect it mainly from themselves.
There are some things in life that do need to be perfect.  I would not want my surgeon to be satisfied with mediocre work.  I would not want my architect to use estimates instead of accurate measurements for building my house.  Most areas of life do not require perfection.  Will the world go off kilter and stop revolving if your sheet was two inches more to one side of the bed than the other?  Will your house explode if you don't get every little speck off the floor?
I have never been a perfectionist, but I do get overly wrapped up in details at times.  When I do, I often feel fatigued afterwards.  I try to catch myself, and remind myself (as the Dove wrapper said, I don't have to be perfect.  It takes alot of energy to be perfect in anything.  I don't have extra energy to waste on unnecessary perfection.
If you are a perfectionist, and it doesn't bother or hamper you in  any way, you may see no reason to change.  If, however, it does bother you (or others in your life), there are things you can do to change this aspect of yourself.  When you do any task, think about the 'good-enough' factor.  This is the level at which the task is 'good enough', and any more energy spent on it will not improve the results significantly.  This is also known as the 'law of diminishing returns'.   For each task, there is a different 'good-enough' factor.  If you have variable energy levels, then what is 'good-enough' one day may be too much another day.  Look at the task in the larger scheme of your life, and learn to gage  how much of your time, energy and attention it deserves.  Be selective in where you use your energy to make something better than it needs to be.  
You may want to practice not being perfect.   Try leaving one corner undusted, or two grains of something on the carpet.  Though you may be uncomfortable if things aren't just so, nothing bad will actually happen.  I have heard that the people who make those beautiful Persian rugs will make a mistake on purpose, because only God can make something perfect.  I don't know if this is true, but it certainly gives something to think about.   

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