SALT LAKE CITY — I am often asked about the subconscious need to be perfect that afflicts many people in today’s world and in our community. Many people feel they have to do it all and perfectly, all the time, without fail, to have any value at all.
These high standards create a lot of stress, worry and frustration, which will inevitably strain your relationships. It can make the people in your life feel like they can’t do anything right. It can make them feel they aren’t important to you — since it feels like you care more about tasks and things than you care about them.
If you are constantly stressed and frustrated with everything in your life, the people around you could possibly feel it’s about them. Perfectionists tend to trigger huge fear of failure in their families and co-workers.
Some people who have perfectionist partners tell me they feel like they’re failing whenever their spouse isn’t happy. They tend to feel subconsciously responsible for their happiness. Others say they are giving up because no amount of help or effort changes the perfectionist's stress level, so why try.
These spouses often struggle with feeling inadequate and eventually they get tired of being a disappointment. I tell you this, so you will understand why your high expectations could possibly drive a wedge in your relationships.
Let go of unrealistic expectations
If you want to have healthy relationships, you are going to have to lower your unrealistic expectations and learn to be flexible and go with the flow — and you can do it. You just need some practice and to work on eliminating the fears that cause the perfection problem in the first place.
The fears in play are the fear of failure (the fear of not being good enough) and the fear of loss (the fear of not having things the way you want them). The fixes to these two fears are simple, but they take some practice to implement.
Your value never changes
Perfectionists must learn to take their value out of their performance. What I mean is let nothing you do, no task, no project, no clean house, dirty house, or job undone, changes your value as a human being at all.
You have got to separate your value from everything going on around you. If your children make bad choices, if your partner struggles with problems, if your business falls apart, you lose your job, lose money, or have a meltdown — none of that changes your value. You are still the same you — with the same value as everyone else on the planet.
Practicing believing this can change your life.
Eliminate your fear of failure
Some perfectionists have a subconscious policy or rule in their head that says "I literally have to be perfect at everything to even be OK." So if they don’t do everything perfectly, they can really feel like a failure.
Fear of failure is eliminated when you decide to see human value as unchangeable. When you commit to seeing all human beings as having the same infinite, absolute value, it means you cannot fail or have less value than anyone else, no matter what you do. Again, this takes practice choosing to believe it all day every day, but the more you work at it the easier it gets.
Fear of loss is eliminated when you choose to believe the universe is on your side and always brings you the perfect classroom journey for you every day. If everything happens to serve and grow you, then nothing is a loss. There is no loss — you either win or learn from everything.
Practice reminding yourself daily of these three truths:
1. Perfect isn’t possible. No one will ever get there. This means continuing to strive for perfection can set you up for a whole lot of misery. You must take perfect off the table. It isn’t real, and the sooner you get used to imperfect the better.
2. Your value can’t change. However close to perfect you get, it doesn’t really matter. You have the same value as everyone else all the time, either way. (This is if you decide to see human value this way, and I highly recommend you do.)
3. Your high standards on everything are straining your relationships and could blow them apart if you don’t work on this. Your need for perfection can make it difficult to live or work with.
It is your job to work on your mindset every day. You may want to make some signs declaring these truths and post them in your home, office and car.
You also need to give yourself official permission to be imperfect. As a life coach, my clients find it's powerful to literally create a permission slip on paper and post it somewhere they will see it every day.
Give yourself permission to make mistakes, leave things undone and have a messy-looking life — and let none of it affect your value. Be patient with yourself and do something every day to let go and lower your unrealistic expectations.
Use mindfulness techniques to work on changing your thought process. Try leaving the sink full of dirty dishes all night, or skip mowing the lawn for a few weeks and let the grass grow long. Then every time you see those dishes or that long grass, acknowledge the stressful feeling and practice letting it go. Remind yourself your value isn’t attached to that and that all is well.
This letting-go practice can really serve you.
You can do this.
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