Monday, July 26, 2010

The Problem of Perfectionism: Part 2

Last week, I talked about the problem of perfectionism and this week, I want to give you some practical tools for overcoming it.  There are a number of ways to begin to break the cycle of perfectionism:

· Knowing is half the battle: If you find yourself identifying with some of these symptoms, that’s the first step. Awareness is necessary in order to begin to change.

· Stop worrying and start doing: Many times, it is taking that first small step that seems to be an insurmountable task. Usually, once a task is started, much of the anxiety and worry decreases.

· Start small: Break the task into “bite size” pieces. This will actually help you to “stop worrying and start doing”, and makes the task as a whole more manageable and less overwhelming. If your challenge is beginning, convince yourself to sit down for 20 minutes rather than the entire three hours that the task will take to complete.

· Encourage acceptance of limitations, performance, and mistakes: Perfection is an impossible goal. There will always be areas of possible improvement, and there will be days when “good enough” is often “more than okay”.

· Be mindful of the conversations in your head: Our self-talk contributes to anxiety and depression and the internal drive for perfection more than we often realize. If the discussions in your head suggest that your entire self-worth (or my future, etc.) is based on how well you complete a task, your internal dialogue needs to be adjusted.

· Ask yourself, “Is it worth this amount of effort?”: Put your tasks into perspective. Is the paper that may be worth 10% of my grade really worth the significant number of hours I have already put into it? The effort put out should match the significance of the task at hand.

· Increase mindfulness: Finally, there is a great deal of talk about the benefits of mindfulness. Mindfulness allows us to be present and in the moment, less worried about yesterday (and the mistakes of the past) and tomorrow (and the fears about what may or may not happen). Being mindful will allow you to focus on the process rather than the outcome. Increasing mindfulness will help you begin, accept your limitations, and enjoy the process.

Perfectionism at it’s best may help you get the job done…eventually…but at it’s worst can contribute to depression, anxiety, and failure, and make the process of completing even a simple task much more difficult than it needs to be.

Dr. Nyaka Niilampti is a licensed psychologist at Southeast Psych who specializes in performance enhancement, as well as the treatment of anxiety and depression in teens and adults.