How to Stop Struggling with Perfectionism and Start Enjoying Life

Saying about embracing life with joy

I’ve tried my hardest. That’s the only life-guiding principle someone could possibly require.

~Lin-yutang

The very concept of “perfectionism” conjures up mental images of methodical, efficient, and successful operations.

This is the image of the ideal “perfectionist” and the standard to which people aspire. Aiming for perfection has a certain allure.

People who strive for perfection are often seen as more successful because of it.

Nonetheless, I can attest that it feels very much like being ensnared in a trap.

A sense of being trapped and helpless pervades the air.

Negative emotions such as inadequacy and incapacity consume one’s mind and rob them of the pleasure of life.

I have no idea when or how I got myself into this predicament.

What I do know is that I have felt the agony of attempting to meet the impossible standards set for me as a daughter, a student, a sister, a friend, and so on.

And I’ll never forget the instant I knew I was helpless.

When I was fifteen years old and in the 10th grade. The final exams of the tenth grade are a big deal in India.

These tests would determine whether or not I was admitted to the university of my choice.

Because of my previous academic success, it was assumed that I would do well on these tests. I felt pressure to fulfill these high expectations.

That realization alone sent me to the lowest point of my life.

Even as a teen, I struggled with self-esteem problems, bullying, and making new acquaintances.

To top it all off, I had an insatiable drive to succeed in the classroom.

It was the tears themselves that sent me to sleep.

Suicidal ideation plagued me. I was contemplating a dramatic elopement.

I defied my mother and father.

I blew even little slip-ups out of proportion and preoccupied myself with fictitious character defects.

I just wasn’t competent enough.

I was sad all the time, but I never discussed it with anyone.

My mom was very concerned.

She brought me to a guru she believed in with the expectation that he would be able to assist me.

The intelligent and kind guru asked me just one question.

He added, “Listen, I don’t know what problems you’re going through, and you don’t have to tell me.

But let me tell you that life is quite straightforward at your age.

Your responsibilities and the situations you’ll have to adapt to will increase as time goes on.

How will you deal with what’s to come if this is how you are now?

The inquiry sparked a torrent of responses. I sobbed till I couldn’t weep any more, not because I was unhappy but because I knew I had to accept responsibility for my situation and figure out how to fix it.

Eventually, I had to stop being so hard on myself.

It wouldn’t help me enjoy life to its fullest extent. I needed to make a switch immediately.

I began by telling my mom how nervous I was about the upcoming examinations, and she reassured me that she and my dad would still love me no matter what the results were.

They liked me for me, not because of anything I did.

Because of it, I started questioning my identity.

Instead of seeking approval from others, I found that the more I learned about myself, the more I could love myself for who I was.

I abandoned the norms that others had set for me. A system of my own design.

Living up to standards, whether they are actual or imagined, is a major contributor to perfectionism.

Changing your outlook is the first step towards conquering it.

See also  The Pursuit of Happiness: Discovering Joy in Everyday Life

Drawing on my upbringing and my understanding of cognitive-behavioral treatments, I was able to set goals for myself that were both reasonable and attainable, allowing me to experience the satisfaction of success without the accompanying worry and sense of lack.

Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to curb my perfectionist tendencies:

Pay More Attention to the Process than the Outcome

One thing I’ve learned from past mistakes is that stressing about outcomes is pointless and usually ends in failure.

Keeping our minds at ease and our attention on the task at hand allows us to perform at our highest potential.

This has a lot in common with the idea of mindfulness.

Focusing on the here and now, in the moment, is the key.

We are always better able to devote our all to the activity at hand when we are not distracted by thoughts of possible outcomes or regrets about previous attempts.

Modify Your Vocabulary

One of my teachers in college warned me that I was using too harsh language while discussing my errors.

I was notorious for labeling every misstep as a failure.

When this was brought to my attention, I immediately made an effort to modify my vocabulary.

These days, I call them “learning chances” instead of “mistakes.”

This linguistic shift affected how I thought and acted after making a mistake. I’ve come to accept them more now.

I’m still upset, but not as battered as before.

With the benefit of hindsight, I am able to prevent the same errors from happening again.

Being less hard on myself when I make a mistake has helped me accomplish more.

This is only one way that I’ve modified my speech.

In general, I make it a point to counteract any bad language with something upbeat.

What you give your attention to grows.

Simply focusing on using positive language to describe myself and my activities has a ripple effect that enhances my performance in every given situation.

Seek Out Companionship

It’s not simple to break free of the perfectionist mindset.

I used to have a habit of dwelling excessively on the tiniest of concerns, such as whether or not people would like my work.

After plenty of experience, I still make mistakes every once in a while.

It’s hard for me to take action since I have no idea when I’ll be in this state.

Knowing oneself is the first step toward mastery of one’s own behavior.

I’ve sought the help of reliable friends, family, and coworkers to let me know when I’m falling off track.

Those closest to me are the first to point out when they see me struggling to let go or when they sense that I am being too critical of myself.

I am able to redirect my internal monologue via conversation with them.

Others will always have certain expectations of us.

The degree to which one internalizes and prioritizes these demands distinguishes people who fall into the perfectionism trap from those who do not.

The second group understands that, although people do have expectations of us, very few of them demand perfection.

When we make a mistake, others are usually understanding and forgiving.

Just being patient with and forgiving of oneself is all that’s required.

Perfectionism is a trap from which one may free oneself at any time.

Regain your zest for life while contributing your best to the world.

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