Embracing Imperfection: Liberate Yourself from Perfectionism

In this blog post, we’ll delve into perfectionism – what it is, what is costs us and how to let go of it!

Perfectionism – it’s a word that resonates with many of us, especially mothers juggling the endless demands of family, work, and personal life. 

But what does it truly mean? According to the American Psychological Association, perfectionism refers to the relentless pursuit of exceptionally high standards and the tendency to be overly critical of oneself when those standards are not met. 

Similarly, the Cambridge Dictionary defines perfectionism as the tendency to demand of oneself or others a higher standard of performance or achievement than is realistic or necessary, often accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns about others’ evaluations.

Living with perfectionism can be exhausting. It’s a cycle that leaves you feeling inadequate, no matter how much you achieve and you keep on striving and working even harder.

So, how can we break free from this cycle and embrace the beauty of imperfection and find more joy in every day life? Here are some thoughts and tips to help you along the way.

Before we delve into strategies, it’s crucial to ask ourselves, “What is perfect anyway?” 

Perfection is a subjective concept. What’s perfect to one person may not be to another. Moreover, striving for perfection often leads us to miss out on the joy of the present moment. Think about it – is there anything in life that is truly perfect?

And aren’t it the imperfections that make things memorable? A slightly chipped front tooth that makes a smile unique, or a slightly messy house brimming with creativity and joy?

Perfectionism is an illusion. It’s like chasing a mirage in the desert. The closer you think you are, the further it recedes. Instead of aiming for perfection, aim for progress. Celebrate the small victories and appreciate the journey. Life is beautifully imperfect, and that’s what makes it real and worth living!

If you’re like many mums (and me once upon a time), you might not think of yourself as a perfectionist. But do the following signs feel familiar?

  • Constantly trying to optimising yourself and your schedule
  • Beating yourself up over (small) mistakes
  • Struggling to let go of control and the ‘rules’
  • Feeling like ‘good enough’ just isn’t really acceptable
  • Buying a lot parenting books (and possibly feeling bad for not reading them!) and constantly looking for parenting advice (including on social media).

These habits can drain the joy from parenting, turning it into a stressful pursuit of the impossible. Your kids don’t need perfection; they need a good enough caregiver who tries their best and models how to manage the inevitable mishaps and mistakes in life. As a fellow mother, I know you deeply care and do your best.

Perfectionism can negatively affect you by leading to negative self-talk, low self-esteem, procrastination, extreme task avoidance, and strained relationships. No one, including yourself, can live up to impossibly high standards.

Four Ways to Resolve Perfectionism

1. Setting Realistic Goals

Setting realistic goals is essential for managing perfectionism. Instead of aiming for unattainable perfection, strive for goals that are challenging yet achievable. Be honest about your capabilities and resources.

Consider that reaching 80% of a goal or achieving it 80% of the time is ‘good enough.’ The remaining 20% should allow for not meeting your goal occasionally. As Laura Vanderkam – mother of five children – nicely puts it in her book Tranquility by Tuesday – 9 Ways to Calm the Chaos and Make Time for What Matters: “Three times a week is a habit.” As perfectionists, we may self-sabotage by setting goals too high.

This doesn’t mean you’re lowering your standards; it means you’re being practical and kind to yourself. If healthy nutrition is important to you, achieving it 80% of the time might mean allowing for one night a week with a frozen pizza or letting your child have a bit of chocolate or another sweet treat once a day. This approach recognises that occasional indulgences are not failures but part of a balanced life.

Realistic goals reduce stress and increase the likelihood of success, allowing you to celebrate progress rather than feeling inadequate. Achieving 80% of your goal 80% of the time is a great success. It’s a sign of consistent progress, and that’s what truly matters. Perfection isn’t the goal; growth and improvement are.

2. Not Judging Yourself Negatively When You Don’t Reach Your Goals

3. Breaking Free from Certain Goals or Tasks

Not all goals and tasks are equally important. Learn to let go of those that add unnecessary stress or don’t align with your priorities and the values of your family. Evaluate your to-do list and identify items that don’t serve you and the family dynamics. 

For instance, simplify elaborate birthday parties if they cause undue stress – something I finally did this year for my daughter’s 5th birthday she celebrated at Coop, nothing for me to do other than book the place & invite the other kids. 

Freeing yourself from non-essential goals creates space for what truly matters, reducing the burden of perfectionism.

4. Investing Energy in Goals or Tasks that Do Not Require High Performance

Focus your energy on activities that bring joy and fulfillment without demanding perfection. Hobbies, relaxation, or simple pleasures like reading or walking can be rewarding without the pressure to excel. 

Painting, gardening, or casual baking are soothing activities where the process is more important than the result. This shift allows you to experience satisfaction and happiness without the relentless drive for perfection. 

This is a big one for me. Upon reflection, I realised that I rarely do anything in my life without a goal or target. So, after a 25-year break, I decided to pick up painting again, just for myself, purely for enjoyment.

Pain is Unavoidable, Suffering is Optional

One profound truth to remember is that pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional. Life will always have its challenges, but how we respond to them is within our control.

Perfectionism often magnifies our pain because we feel we must meet impossibly high standards. When we fail to meet these standards, we suffer. By embracing imperfection, we allow ourselves to experience pain without the added burden of suffering. It’s okay to make mistakes; it’s okay not to have everything figured out. Letting go of the need to be perfect opens us up to growth, learning, and ultimately, a more fulfilling life.

Sharing our ‘imperfect’ moments more openly and vulnerably with others will also foster connection. How often has a seemingly silly and embarrassing ‘parenting mistake’, when shared with another mum, created a laugh, sparked a new friendship, or deepened an existing one? By being open about our imperfections, we can form genuine connections and support each other in our shared experiences.

Perfectly Imperfect

By incorporating these strategies, you can begin to free yourself from the grips of perfectionism and enjoy a more balanced, joyful life. Remember, the goal isn’t to be perfect; it’s to be perfectly human, or as one of my yoga teachers said: ‘perfectly imperfect’.

Embracing imperfection is about recognising that you are enough and worthy just as you are. It’s about understanding that perfection is a myth and that striving for it only leads to stress and dissatisfaction. 

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